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Murillo Lagreca

Date Born.:

Painter, Profesor

Murillo Lagreca

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 05/09/2017

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Pernambuco painter Murillo LaGreca, registered as Vicente LaGreca, was born on 3 August 1899 in the city of Palmares. His parents, Vincenzo LaGreca and Teresa Carlomagno, were Italians who had come to Brazil at the end of the 19th century when Italy was suffering severe crises in all areas. They met in Recife, married and had twelve sons, with Vincent being the youngest.

Probably his interest in painting was sparked at twelve while a student at the Salesian College. There he accompanied the work of Father Solari, who painted large panels and scenarios for the plays staged by the students.

His artistic career was influenced by various painters. At fourteen, he was a pupil of Italian painter Carlo di Servi for a month, who was passing through Recife to inaugurate his exhibition. The admiration that Murillo had from an early age for seventeenth-century Seville painter Bartolomé Esteban de Murillo caused him, at seventeen, to make a copy of a painting by Bartolomé entitled Mendigo (Beggar), and incorporate the name of the painter into his identity in 1953, from when he became known as Vicente Murillo LaGreca.

Also at seventeen, encouraged by his older brother José LaGreca, Murillo went to Rio de Janeiro where, for eight months, he studied painting in the studio of the Bernardelli brothers (sculptor Rodolfo and painter Henrique). From then on, Murillo began to spend his time with good painters, becoming friends with Cândido Portinari, and Italian Pietro Brugo, who facilitated his trip to Italy. In Rome (1920), he enrolled at the Royal Institute of Fine Arts, the International Arts Association and the Free School for Nude Studies. It was a period of intense learning and improvement in which he devoted himself to painting life models. Standing out were drawings Estudos de Cabeça de Mulher (Studies of a Female Head), Sírio (Syrian), Velho Modelo (Old Model) and Nu Feminino or Velha Sentada (Female Nude or Old Woman Seated) and the paintings A Fonte de Castália (The Fountain of Castalia) and Os Últimos Fanáticos de Canudos (The Last Fanatics of Canudos).

He returned to Recife in 1925 and the following year, in April, held an exhibition with 53 pieces (drawings and paintings) at the International Club. He won critical and public acclaim. He went to Rio de Janeiro in 1927, and exposed five canvases in the National Salon of Fine Arts. One of them, Os Últimos Fanáticos de Canudos, received the Silver Medal. Other exhibitions followed: at Palacete Santa Helena, located in Cathedral Square (São Paulo, 1928); at Teatro de Santa Isabel (Recife, 1929); and Casa Canetti in Rio de Janeiro’s city centre (1930).

In the 1930s, by invitation of his older brother José LaGreca, Murillo went to Natal (RN) where he was welcomed in artistic and social circles.

Also in this decade, he participated in the movement of artists and intellectuals to create the Pernambuco School of Fine Arts from its beginning. This initiative arose from the need to have an educational centre dedicated to artistic vocations in Northeast Brazil. When the school began its work, Murillo was a pioneer in the Northeast in creating and administrating the Live Model Drawing course as well as the open course modality, which accepted the participation of any person, even those not affiliated with the school.

In 1933 and 1934 his artistic activity was intense when he then participated in exhibitions of Painting and Sculpture in Natal (RN), where he received the first prize, and in Recife, in Casa Laubitsch Hirth’s galleries, as well as producing a series of portraits of personalities of the Republic at the Army’s request.

He was also a lecturer at the School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, where he met student Sylvia Louise Decusati, of Italian origin, whom he married in 1936. Silvia became his constant companion, support and artistic inspiration. After their wedding, they went to Rome, where Murillo devoted himself to the study of frescoes (“application of colour simply manipulated and diluted in water on a – fresh and still-moist – lime plaster surface”). To master this ancient technique, he interned with the Italian painter Emílio Notte, chair professor of decorative art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, and visited the frescoes of Pompeii, the Catacombs in Rome, and the work of Pietro Perugino, Michelangelo and Giovanni Battista Tiépollo – masters of Italian painting.

On the eve of World War II, Murillo and Sylvia returned to Brazil, when he was invited by the Capuchin friars to paint the frescoes in the Basilica of Our Lady of Penha in the neighbourhood of São José, Recife. He painted The Four Evangelists in the dome of the high altar (1939/1940). Each fresco bears the image of a holy evangelist (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) and measure about three metres in height, while each panel has a painted area of twenty metres. The development of these frescoes demanded that Murillo – who was also helped by his wife Sylvia – work twelve hours uninterrupted to use the wet mortar. It was physically demanding work and the many hours inhaling lime damaged his lungs. His work received various accolades from art critics and the press.

In the 1940s, he was invited by the rector of the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), Joaquim Amazonas, to create a large painting (7m x 3.5m) whose theme was Hippocrates and whose focus would be a classical scene of the first class of medicine. Work was started in the 1950s, a period of great tribulation in the life of Murillo: he was director of the School of Fine Arts of Pernambuco and had the shock of his wife’s illness, who would pass away in 1967. This fact led Murillo to interrupt his work several times.
[...] with the death of Silvia a vast emptiness descended upon Murillo. All his activities stopped. He even moved from his home in Apipucos, where everything reminded him of his dear companion. (MELO; BORBA, 1999, p. 96).

The painting was finished in the 1970s and delivered to UFPE in a solemn session in September 1975, in the Grand Hall of the Faculty of Medicine, entitled A Primeira Aula de Medicina (The First Lesson of Medicine).

He again travelled to Italy in 1976 to visit relatives and sightsee, and was also very well received by the art world and the media.

Returning to Brazil, he continued his artistic activities and participated on judging panels and art show juries. In 1983, he received the Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (Order of Merit of the Italian Republic), at the Cavaliere (Knight) degree.

Two years later, the dream of creating a museum in Recife, the Murillo LaGreca Museum, composed of his works and those of his wife, was realised through Municipal Decree No. 13,301, inaugurated on 12 December 1985. Murillo did not actually see it ready; he died on 5 July 1985. He only had the opportunity to visit the venue and participate in the initial arrangements for the collection and sorting of the archive. The property expropriated by the Recife City Council is located at 366 Leonardo Cavalcanti Street, in the Parnamirim neighbourhood, on the banks of the Capibaribe River. The Museum has ten rooms, regularly holds exhibitions, drawing and painting courses, and promotes lectures. The collection consists of over a thousand works – including paintings and drawings – prepared using different processes and techniques, making the institution a study resource for teachers, students and researchers.
Recife, 24 October 2013.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.

sources consulted

MELO, Carlos Alberto Barreto Campello de; BORBA, Fernando de Barros. Murillo LaGreca: sua arte, sua vida. Recife: Bagaço, 1999.

MURILLO LaGreca. Available at: <>. Accessed: 16 out. 2013.

MURILLO LaGreca. Available at: <>. Accessed: 18 out. 2013.

PAINTING FRAME of Murillo Lagreca. Available at: <>. Accessed: 05 sept. 2017.

ROCHA, Raquel. Uma história de amor que conheci em um Museu do Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: 16 out. 2013.

how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Murillo LaGreca. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Ex. 6 ago. 2009.