After seeing this meme on the internet today, I’m inspired to talk about Francesco Goya and two paintings he created called “La Maja Clothed” and “La Maja Nude.” All kidding aside, (apologies to the Spanish Queen Maria Louisa pictured above, painted also by Goya) the Maja paintings are among Goya’s most famous works of art in an oeuvre that spans a lifetime, that is visually unique.
Goya was a Spanish painter born in Fuendetodos, a small village in Northern Spain, on March 30, 1746. He painted about the time of the American revolutionary war. His full name is: Francisco de Paula Jose Goya y Lucientes. Early on, Goya showed interest in art and received encouragement from his father to pursue a career as an artist. He was apprenticed to a local artist and learned how to paint and draw by copying the works of other artists and masters.
At seventeen, Goya went to Madrid, Spain’s capital, and studied at the Art Academy. But, he received abysmal grades from the art selection committee. Undiscouraged, he began to make living painting portraits of the leaders of Madrid’s high society. About this time, Goya married his former art teacher’s sister, and they were lived together for thirty-nine years until her death. Of their five children, their only son, Xavier, survived.
Goya early in his career achieved notoriety with his portraits and as a result was invited by Charles III, the King of Spain to become his court painter. Goya accepted the position and set about painting portraits of the royal family and many the dukes and duchesses that lived at court.
“La Maja vestida” or “Maja Clothed” was painted between 1800 and 1805. The term “Maja” is a Spanish word that refers to the smartly dressed female commoners on Madrid’s streets. The fashions they wore were similar to today’s punk rockers. They were considered very faddish and outrageous. Main stream society wouldn’t dare to wear the same thing.
There is also an exact duplicate of this painting, but the model has no clothes! Why? Because people were so outraged by the nude image that they demanded that Goya paint over his original painting, putting clothes on the girl. Goya, however, refused to destroy his original painting and created instead a duplicate painting, putting clothes on it instead.
Who is La Maja’s true identity?
The paintings of La Maja are thought to be portraits of the Duchess of Alba, who was a friend of Goya’s. However, Goya and the Duchess never admitted this fact, and still today, there is controversy over the woman’s identity. You see, if the famous duchess dressed up as a commoner a “maja”, it would have caused a bit of a scandal in her day.
On a side note… one hundred years after the death of the Duchess in an attempt to escape the “disgrace” of the portrait’s true identity, in 1945, her family had her body exhumed to measure the skeleton and compare the measurements with those of the painting. Some contemporary relatives were convinced the figure in the picture was too small to have been their ancestor, so the results are inconclusive. People still wonder who the woman in the painting is.
What do you think of how the la Maja is
is posed in Goya’s paintings?
If you were going to photographed or have your portrait painted, would you let yourself be posed this way? Does the woman look relaxed or uncomfortable?
This particular pose—showing a person outstretched and extended on a couch—is called an ODALISQUE pose or a reclining pose. An “odalisque” is a French word that means a woman slave or a chambermaid in a harem.
The reclining pose is one that early Greek and Roman artists used. They used this pose to decorate funeral byres or coffins.
Here is an example of a more contemporary portrait featuring the reclining pose. It is a portrait of Napolean’s sister Pauline by Canova, who portrays her as a Roman Goddess.
Here is another example of the reclining pose in art. Matisse’s portrait of an “Odalisque in red pants.”
And still, an even more contemporary example—Henry Moore’s statue of a reclining figure.
Goya’s Style of Painting
Goya’s style of applying paint is painterly. He used layers of paint to create texture and patterns. He tried to capture the way things feel in actual life visually. Look at Maja’s dress. How does it appear to you? Is it light and slippery, like satin? Can you see the texture of the lace on the pillows and the embroidery on the woman’s jacket?
Goya’s Color Schemes
What about the colors Goya uses in his painting. Are they colorful, like the painting of Matisse above? No, on the contrary. Goya used very dark colors, and his figures seem to emerge out of murky backgrounds. One wonders if the hauntingly bleak canvases result from Goya’s depressed state of mind that resulted from a severe illness that befell him in 1792. Goya recovered but lost his hearing. The buzzing in his head was so horrible that it almost drove him insane. From then on, he communicated with others through sign language.
After his illness, Goya, feeling cut off from other people, turned inward and started painting strange and mysterious images from his imagination. He preferred to draw and sketch rapid pictures rather than painting large portraits. He turned these drawn images into etchings he made on copper plates.
When war broke out between Spain in France in 1808, Goya was profoundly influenced by the reports of the numerous bloody battles that devasted the Spanish people. As a result, he made a series of famous drawings called the “Disasters of War.”
After the French were defeated, Goya continued to be disillusioned by the state of Spanish politics and its leaders, who were corrupt, lazy, and vain. His depression caused him to paint a series of paintings called the “Black Paintings,” which depicted terrifying images in dark colors. Despite the war and his deafness, Goya continued to function as a famous artist. But, the king began not to trust him due to his changing political views. As a result, he withdrew his protection, and Goya decided it would be safer to leave Spain and seek asylum in France. He died at the age of 81 and was buried in France. However, in 1919 his remains were returned to Spain, and you can now find Goya buried in la Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid.
And there you have it! A little Goya history and insight into
this tormented painter who continued to paint and
create art despite disillusionment, pain, and deafness.