Murillo is considered by critics, together with Velazquez, Ribera, and Zurbàran, to be one of the greatest exponents of seventeenth-century Spanish painting. He began his pictorial studies at a young age in the school of Juan Castillo, thus approaching Flemish painting. Murillo received essential commissions in Spain, such as the decoration of Seville Cathedral and the picture of canvases for the Capuchin Convent Church in Madrid. The experience of his contemporary colleagues very much influenced his style, but he also learnt the dark and soft tones of Venetian chiaroscuro. There is no record of his travels and commissions in Europe, so he likely never left his native country. However, today, many of his works are exhibited in prestigious museum collections worldwide. The painter is known to have devoted most of his production to two themes: Madonnas accompanied by the Child or representing the Immaculate Conception, and genre scenes depicting young people from the working classes. In this oil on canvas, the young shepherd sits almost dishevelled on a plinth, with a kid lying at his feet. The portrait is set in a dense, dark wood, rendered in such a way as to bring out the best in the figure of the protagonist, who emerges from the scene through a thick, intense, slightly shaded brushstroke. The artist is not particularly interested in detail or in describing what is revealed to the observer’s eye, but more in the psychological definition of the subject represented. The ability to provoke an emotional reaction in the viewer and an innate talent for describing popular characters of all kinds – almost as if in a chronicle – make the production of this formidable Spanish painter truly unique.
Bibl.: D. Iñiguez, Murillo, Madrid 1981, vol. II, pp. 163, 164.