Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (30 March 1746 – 16 April 1828) was a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker regarded both as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns. Goya was a court painter to the Spanish Crown, and through his works was both a commentator on and chronicler of his era. The subversive and imaginative element in his art, as well as his bold handling of paint, provided a model for the work of later generations of artists, notably Manet, Picasso and Francis Bacon.
Goya was born in Fuendetodos, Aragón, Spain, in 1746. He spent his childhood in Fuendetodos, where his family lived in a house bearing the family crest of his mother. His father earned his living as a gilder. About 1749, the family bought a house in the city of Zaragoza and some years later moved into it. Goya may have attended school at Escuelas Pias. He formed a close friendship with Martin Zapater at this time, and their correspondence from the 1770s to the 1790s is a valuable source for understanding Goya’s early career at the court of Madrid. At age 14, Goya entered apprenticeship with the painter José Luzán. He moved to Madrid where he studied with Anton Raphael Mengs, a painter who was popular with Spanish royalty. He clashed with his master, and his examinations were unsatisfactory. Goya submitted entries for the Royal Academy of Fine Art in 1763 and 1766, but was denied entrance.
He then relocated to Rome, where in 1771 he won second prize in a painting competition organized by the City of Parma. Later that year, he returned to Zaragoza and painted parts of the cupolas of the Basilica of the Pilar (including Adoration of the Name of God), a cycle of frescoes in the monastic church of the Charterhouse of Aula Dei, and the frescoes of the Sobradiel Palace. He studied with Francisco Bayeu y Subías and his painting began to show signs of the delicate tonalities for which he became famous.
Goya married Bayeu’s sister Josefa on 25 July 1773. This marriage, and Francisco Bayeu’s membership of the Royal Academy of Fine Art (from the year 1765) helped Goya to procure work as a painter of designs to be woven by Royal Tapestry Factory. There, over the course of five years, he designed some 42 patterns, many of which were used to decorate the bare stone walls of El Escorial and the Palacio Real del Pardo, the newly built residences of the Spanish monarchs near Madrid. This brought his artistic talents to the attention of the Spanish monarchs who later would give him access to the royal court. He also painted a canvas for the altar of the Church of San Francisco El Grande in Madrid, which led to his appointment as a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Art.
In 1783, the Count of Floridablanca, a favorite of King Carlos III, commissioned Goya to paint his portrait. He also became friends with Crown Prince Don Luis, and spent two summers with him, painting portraits of both the Infante and his family. During the 1780s, his circle of patrons grew to include the Duke and Duchess of Osuna, whom he painted, the King and other notable people of the kingdom. In 1786, Goya was given a salaried position as painter to Charles III. After the death of Charles III in 1788 and revolution in France in 1789, during the reign of Charles IV, Goya reached his peak of popularity with royalty.
In 1789 he was made court painter to Charles IV and in 1799 he was appointed First Court Painter. He painted the King and the Queen, royal family pictures, portraits of the Prince of the Peace and many other nobles. His portraits are notable for their disinclination to flatter, and in the case of Charles IV of Spain and His Family, the lack of visual diplomacy is remarkable. Modern interpreters have seen this portrait as satire; it is thought to reveal the corruption present under Charles IV. Under his reign his wife Louisa was thought to have had the real power, which is why she is placed at the center of the group portrait. From the back left of the painting you can see the artist himself looking out at the viewer, and the painting behind the family depicts Lot and his daughters, thus once again echoing the underlying message of corruption and decay.
Goya received orders from many within the Spanish nobility. Among those from whom he procured portrait commissions were Pedro Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna and his wife María Josefa Pimentel, 12th Countess-Duchess of Benavente, María del Pilar de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba and her husband José María Álvarez de Toledo, 15th Duke of Medina Sidonia, and María Ana de Pontejos y Sandoval, Marchioness of Pontejos.
At some time between late 1792 and early 1793, a serious illness, whose exact nature is not known, left Goya deaf, and he became withdrawn and introspective. During his recuperation, he undertook a series of experimental paintings. His experimental art—that would encompass paintings, drawings as well as a bitter series of aquatinted etchings, published in 1799 under the title Caprichos – was done in parallel to his more official commissions of portraits and religious paintings. In 1798, he painted luminous and airy scenes for the pendentives and cupula of the Real Ermita (Chapel) of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid. Many place miracles of Saint Anthony of Padua in the midst of contemporary Madrid.
French forces invaded Spain in 1808, leading to the Peninsular War of 1808–1814. Goya’s involvement with the court of the Intruder king, Joseph I, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, is not known; he did paint works for French patrons and sympathisers, but kept neutral during the fighting. After the restoration of the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, in 1814, Goya denied any involvement with the French. In 1812, he was processing the war by painting The Charge of the Mamelukes and The Third of May 1808, and preparing the series of prints later known as The Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra). Ferdinand VII returned to Spain in 1814 but relations with Goya were not cordial. He painted portraits of the kings for a variety of organizations, but not for the king himself.
Leocadia Weiss, the artist’s maid, younger by 35 years, and distant relative, lived with and cared for Goya after Bayeu’s death. She stayed with him in his Quinta del Sordo villa until 1824. Leocadia was probably similar in features to Goya’s first wife Josefa Bayeu, to the extent that one of his well known portraits bears the cautious tilte of Josefa Bayeu (or Leocadia Weiss).
Goya’s works from 1814 to 1819 are mostly commissioned portraits, but also include the altarpiece of Santa Justa and Santa Rufina for the Cathedral of Seville, the print series of “La Tauromaquia” depicting scenes from bullfighting, and probably the etchings of “Los Disparates”.
In 1819, with the idea of isolating himself, he bought a country house by the Manzanares river just outside of Madrid. It was known as the Quinta del Sordo. There he created the Black Paintings with intense, haunting themes, reflective of the artist’s fear of insanity, and his outlook on humanity. Several of these, including Saturn Devouring His Son, were painted directly onto the walls of his dining and sitting rooms.
Goya lost faith in or became threatened by the restored Spanish monarchy’s anti-liberal political and social stance and left Spain in May 1824 for Bordeaux and then Paris. He travelled to Spain in 1826 in 1826, but returned to Bordeaux where he died in 1828 at the age of 82. He was of Catholic faith and was buried in Bordeaux; in 1919 his remains were transferred to the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida in Madrid.
Goya painted the Spanish royal family, including Charles IV of Spain and Ferdinand VII. His themathic range extended from merry festivals for tapestry, draft cartoons, to scenes of war and human debasment. This evolution reflects the darkening of his temper. Modern physicians suspect that the lead in his pigments poisoned him and caused his deafness since 1792. Near the end of his life, he became reclusive and produced frightening and obscure paintings of insanity, madness, and fantasy, while the style of the Black Paintings prefigure the expressionist movement.
Two of Goya’s best known paintings are The Nude Maja (La maja desnuda) and The Clothed Maja (La maja vestida). They depict the same woman in the same pose, naked and clothed, respectively. The identity of the Majas are uncertain. The most popularly cited models are the Duchess of Alba, with whom Goya was sometimes thought to have had an affair, and Pepita Tudó, mistress of Manuel de Godoy; Godoy subsequently owned them. Neither theory has been verified, and it remains as likely that the paintings represent an idealized composite. The paintings were never publicly exhibited during Goya’s lifetime. They were owned by Manuel de Godoy, the Prime Minister of Spain and a favorite of the Queen, María Luisa. In 1808 all Godoy’s property was seized by Ferdinand VII after his fall from power and exile, and in 1813 the Inquisition confiscated both works as ‘obscene’, returning them in 1836 to the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.
In a period of convalescence during 1793–1794, Goya completed a set of eleven small pictures painted on tin; known as Fantasy and Invention, they mark a significant change in his art. They no longer represent the world of popular carnival, but rather a dark, dramatic realm of fantasy and nightmare. Yard with Lunatics is a horrifying and imaginary vision of loneliness, fear and social alienation, a departure from the rather more superficial treatment of mental illness in the works of earlier artists such as Hogarth. The condemnation of brutality towards prisoners (whether criminal or insane) is the subject of many of Goya’s later paintings.
As he completed Yard with Lunatics, Goya was himself undergoing a physical and mental breakdown. It was a few weeks after the French declaration of war on Spain, and Goya’s illness was developing. His symptoms may indicate a prolonged viral encephalitis or possibly a series of miniature strokes resulting from high blood pressure and affecting hearing and balance centers in the brain. The triad of tinnitus, episodes of imbalance and progressive deafness is also typical of Ménière’s disease. Other postmortem diagnostic assessment points toward paranoid dementia due to unknown brain trauma (perhaps due to the unknown illness which he reported). If this is the case, from here on—we see an insidious assault of his faculties, manifesting as paranoid features in his paintings, culminating in his black paintings and especially Saturn Devouring His Sons.
In 1799 Goya published a series of 80 prints titled Caprichos depicting what he described as “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual”.
The dark visions depicted in these prints are partly explained by his caption, “The sleep of reason produces monsters”. Yet these are not solely bleak in nature and demonstrate the artist’s sharp satirical wit, particularly evident in etchings such as Hunting for Teeth. Additionally, one can discern a thread of the macabre running through Goya’s work, even in his earlier tapestry cartoons. Mostly popularist in a rococo style, the cartoons were completed early in his career, when he was largely unknown and actively seeking commissions. In 1774, he was asked, on behalf of the Spanish crown, by the German artist Anton Raphael Mengs, to undertake the series. While designing tapestries was neither prestigious nor well paid, Goya used them, along with his early engravings, to bring himself to wider attention. They afforded his first contact with the Spanish monarchy that was to eventually appoint him court painter.
In the 1810s, Goya created a set of aquatint prints titled The Disasters of War. Although he did not make known his intention when creating the plates, art historians view them as a visual protest against the violence of the 1808 Dos de Mayo Uprising, the subsequent Peninsular War of 1808–14 and the setbacks to the liberal cause following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814. The scenes are singularly disturbing, sometimes macabre in their depiction of battlefield horror, and represent an outraged conscience in the face of death and destruction. They were not published until 1863, 35 years after his death. It is likely that only then was it considered politically safe to distribute a sequence of artworks criticising both the French and restored Bourbons.
The first 47 plates in the series focus on incidents from the war and show the consequences of the conflict on individual soldiers and civilians. The middle series (plates 48 to 64) record the effects of the famine that hit Madrid in 1811–12, before the city was liberated from the French. The final 17 reflect the bitter disappointment of liberals when the restored Bourbon monarchy, encouraged by the Catholic hierarchy, rejected the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and opposed both state and religious reform. Since their first publication, Goya’s scenes of atrocities, starvation, degradation and humiliation have been described as the “prodigious flowering of rage”.
At the age of 75, alone and in mental and physical despair, he completed the work as one of his 14 Black Paintings, all of which were executed in oil directly onto the plaster walls of his house. Goya did not intend for the paintings to be exhibited, did not write of them, and likely never spoke of them. It was not until around 1874, some 50 years after his death, that they were taken down and transferred to a canvas support. Many of the works were significantly altered during the restoration.The effects of time on the murals, coupled with the inevitable damage caused by the delicate operation of mounting the crumbling plaster on canvas, meant that most of the murals suffered extensive damage and lost a lot of paint. Today they are on permanent display at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.