For a biography of Murillo, see the Catalogue Entry for Virgin and Child
For a brief introduction to Murillo’s works in this genre, see the Catalogue Entry for Don Andrés de Andrade y la Cal
This is thought to be Murillo’s earliest full-length portrait, and it captures the artist’s approach to both his technique and this particular genre prior to his trip to Madrid in 1658. Against an extremely spare background, the dramatic fall of light across a nearly monochromatic palette works in tandem with broad brushstrokes that derive from his admiration for the early secular portraits by his older contemporary, Francisco de Zurbarán. While condition has exaggerated the effect of this feature, it is consistent with other paintings from this moment in Murillo’s career. Contrasting with the sobriety of the fashionable black clothing, the interlaced pattern of his sleeves and the cuffs of his leather gloves have been depicted in a more belabored manner. Murillo would soon abandon this highly descriptive approach to clothing that harks back to an earlier generation of portraitists such Alonzo Sánchez Coello (1531–1588). To judge by rare surviving examples of comparable textiles, it is probable that Murillo was trying to represent something far more three-dimensional than we might assume: silk embroidered with cording and even beads, or possibly passementerie (as in 08.180.793
). Such meandering, interlaced patterns, closely related to strapwork decoration, were arguably out of fashion by the date of this portrait, though even the higher echelons of early modern society often repurposed such labor-intensive, costly materials. Other signs of rank—the sword and the floral cross (which may be read as the emblem of either the knights of Alcántara or Calatrava, see below)—are inserted discretely. Murillo reused the pose of the legs and the hand clutching an overturned hat, in other full-length portraits of the 1650s, including his Portrait of Diego Félix de Esquivel y Aldama
(ca. 1655; Denver Art Museum; see fig. 1 above).
Probably early in its history, this painting was widened along its vertical edges by adding cut-down, recycled religious canvases (if the image is pivoted horizontally, the crowned heads of the Virgin can be seen). Whether or not Murillo was involved in this modification, these sections of paint were not executed by him.The Sitter:
The sitter of this portrait is traditionally identified as Pedro Núñez de Villavicencio (1635–1700), a well-born follower and friend of Murillo. While his name appears in the earliest references to the painting, these come late in its history: a sale in London in 1874 and Charles B. Curtis’s influential Velazquez and Murillo
(1883). In 1976, Marcus Burke outlined that Pedro Núñez de Villavicencio was a member of the Knights of Saint John of Malta (whose famous insignia of the red cross is absent here), but was not a member of either of the two military orders indicated by the floral cross Murillo depicted (painted in ivory, it is difficult to determine whether it represents the Calatrava or Alcántara order, which should be red or green respectively). The Núñez de Villavicencio family, based in Jerez de la Fontera, Cadíz and Seville, included multiple important military members, including several holders of the Calatrava and Alcántara orders. Burke proposed that the most likely candidate for the sitter is Pedro Núñez de Villavicencio y Enriques de Colmenares, born in Valladolid in 1603 and made a knight of Calatrava in 1633.
José Manuel Cruz Valdovinos has recently proposed that the sitter is instead José de San Víctores de la Portilla (ca. 1615/20–after 1682). With Valdivieso, he concludes that the cross is definitively green, aiding in this identification. San Víctores received the order of Alcántara in 1644 and later became mayor of Burgos. A document dated May 27, 1650 links Murillo and San Víctores financially over a loan made to support galleons operated under a Captain José de Guermendi, though no mention of a painting is made.
David Pullins 2020
 I am grateful to Elizabeth Cleland, Eva Labson and Amanda Wunder for sharing their expertise in discussing this textile.
 See Xavier F. Salomon and Letizia Treves, Murillo: The Self-Portraits
, exh. cat. Frick Collection, New York, 2017, pp. 25–27.
 Confusingly, Curtis 1883 lists two works under no. 4761, the present work and one in the collection of the British vice-consult in Seville, Julian Williams. Such a painting is not, however, listed in the earlier inventories and catalogues of the Williams collection and it is unclear whether this refers to a lost work or The Met painting. See Angulo Iñiguez 1981, vol. 2, p. 331.
 After various attributions of the medal worn by the sitter, August Mayer seems to have been the first to question his identity. See Mayer 1923, p. 293, and Marcus Burke, interdepartmental memo, dated November 1976.
 He notes a future publication will provide additional details on this document; see Cruz Valdovinos 2019.