Goya: Who was his mysterious model?
Sunday, April 04, 2010 8:18 AM
Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) is regarded both as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns. His bold handling of paint and his subject matter and the way he expressed it provided a model for later generations of artists, including Picasso and Manet.
Kay Sluterbeck, From the Palette
Goya was a Spanish painter and printmaker, and was not only a court painter to the Spanish Crown but also a chronicler of history.
La maja desnuda, known in English as The Naked Maja, is an oil on canvas painting by Goya created sometime between 1797 and 1800. Because of the outrage in Spanish society over the painting, which showed a nude woman with no allegorical or mythological reference, Goya painted another picture of the same woman posted in the same way, but clothed.
La maja vestida, known in English as The Clothed Maja, portrays the same beautiful, dark-haired woman, clad in a clinging white garment, reclining on a bed of pillows. The two pictures are usually hung next to one another. No one has ever discovered the model's identity, or why the paintings were created.
Both of the paintings are recorded as first belonging to the collection of Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, Duke of Alcudia. Some art historians conjecture that the woman is his young mistress. However, it has also been suggested that the woman is Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo, the 13th Duchess of Alba. Goya was rumored to have been romantically involved with the duchess and did several known portraits of her. But other scholars feel that Pepita Tudo is a more likely candidate. Still others think that the woman is actually a composite of several different models. None of these theories have been verified.
In 1815, the Spanish Inquisition saw the two paintings hanging side by side and hauled Goya in for questioning. He was told to reveal who commissioned him to paint the "obscene" La maja desnuda (The Naked Maja). No one knows if Goya revealed the client's name, or if Goya was tortured (not uncommon with the Spanish Inquisition). No records with this information have ever surfaced. However, the Inquisition confiscated both works from the Prime Minister, stating they were "obscene". They were returned in 1836.
Goya was born in Fuendetos, Spain in 1746. He began his career at age 14 when he was apprenticed to a local painter. As a young man he studied with Francisco Bayeu y Subias, who had access to the Spanish court. Goya married Bayeau's sister Josefa in 1773 (he nicknamed her "Pepa") and his father-in-law helped him to get work with the Royal Tapestry Workshop designing patterns for tapestries. This was not a small job; the tapestry designs were actually detailed full-color paintings. Some of Goya's designs were used in the decoration of El Escorial, a new palace near Madrid, which brought his talent to the attention of the Spanish monarchs. Another painting job led to his appointment as a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Art.
Goya suffered from a serious illness which was never diagnosed. One of his attacks left him deaf. He also had a physical and mental breakdown possibly due to the effects of his condition. It is speculated that he may have suffered from Meniere's Disease, viral encephalitis, or a series of mini-strokes resulting from high blood pressure. Throughout all this he continued to paint, creating many of his masterpieces in the second half of his career.
In later life he bought a house which became known as Quinta del Sordo (Deaf Man's House). Deafened and driven half-mad by his illness, he decided to free himself from the artistic styles of the time and paint whatever horrifying visions came to him. Painting both on canvas and directly on the interior walls of his home, he did a series of frightening and unusual pictures known as the "Black Paintings."
. They are much different from his paintings of the beautiful maja. In Goya's lifetime he traveled from making paintings of loveliness and joy to creating paintings of ultimate terror, sorrow and despair.
After Goya's death in 1828 the wall paintings were transferred to canvas. Many of these works are in the Prado Museum in Madrid. They are powerful works depicting insanity, madness and fantasy. Goya often painted himself into the foreground, as if to let us know that he did, indeed, see these horrific visions firsthand.