The Clothed Maja and The Nude Maja by Goya

La Maja Desnuda (The Naked Maja) by Goya (c.1797-1800)

I ended my last blog with the tantalising statement:

“…I will offer you a work by another famous Spanish artist, Francisco Goya, and tell you about the connection it has with myself, as a naughty schoolboy, and my first sighting of erotica !!!!…”

I suppose I will be accused of cynically employing cheap tactics in order to get people to read my blog but there is a connection between the two Goya paintings I am featuring in this blog with the dubious habits of a young school boy.   My early school days were back in the late 50’s and the first sight of what I loosely termed as “early erotica” came in the form of a pen.  It was not just any pen.  It was a pen which had a picture of a beautiful and fully clothed young woman.  However the titillating aspect about the pen was that if you  turned the pen upside-down the clothed lady slowly shed all her clothes !!!

La Maja Vestida (The Clothed Maja) by Goya (c.1800)

Today I am looking at, not one painting by Francisco Goya, but two, albeit as you will realise, they are almost the same except for one major exception.  His two paintings are entitled La maja vestida (The Clothed Maja) and La maja desnuda (The Nude Maja) were painted around 1800 and 1803 and the only difference between the two is that in one the woman is fully clothed whilst in the other she is naked.  I suppose the first question that comes to one’s mind is who is this lady and how come Goya painted her reclining portrait.  The question has never really been answered but the names of two ladies are often bandied about by historians as being this sultry temptress.  The two candidates are the 13th Duchess of Alba and Pepita Tudó.

The Duchess of Alba or to give her, her full title, Doña María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva-Álvarez de Toledo y Silva, the 13th Duchess of Alba de Tormes was a Spanish aristocrat who featured in a number of Goya’s paintings.  Francisco de Goya profited from wealthy patronage probably more than any other artist. He was without doubt the darling of the Spanish monarchy.  His first appointment as court painter came from King Charles IV of Spain. The King and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa, sat for the artist themselves many times.   For their portraits they would dress in the most colourful and showy costumes adorned with the royal regalia.  Besides the royal portraits Goya received many lucrative commissions from other high-ranking government officials as well as requests for altarpieces for churches and cathedrals.  However without doubt and notwithstanding his many prominent sitters, one stands out above all the others – the 13th Duchess of Alba.

The Duchess of Alba was not just any royal courtier.  She was a very wealthy and powerful woman in her own right.  She was a  member of Spanish nobility and held the title of 13th Duchess of Alba.  She married José María Alvarez de Toledo y Gonzaga, who was the 15th Duke of Medina-Sidonia, and she became the wealthiest woman in Spain. She was quite a character.  Besides her natural beauty, she was the height of eccentricity, and very strong-willed.  Goya was besotted by her and rumours had it that, at one time, the two were lovers.  He recounted the time she came to his studio and asked him to apply her make-up:

“…the Alba woman, who yesterday came to the studio to make me paint her face, and she got her way; I certainly enjoy it more than painting on canvas, and I still have to do a full-length portrait of her…”

It has been suggested that the two paintings were originally owned by the Duchess of Alba and later acquired by Manuel de Godoy after her death. Goya’s close and intimate relationship with the Duchess of Alba has made her the most popular candidate as a model for the Majas, or at least as a source of inspiration.  Another persuasive argument in favour of this candidate is the many drawings of herself and members of her household Goya made during his visits to the Duchess’s country estate. However the face of the Majas does not show a close resemblance to the facial qualities of the drawings of her but this could be put down to the need to conceal her identity.

The second candidate for the model in Goya’s two paintings was Pepita Tudó, whose full name was Josefa de Tudó, 1st Countess of Castillo Fiel.  Pepita being the diminutive of Josefa.    She was born in Cadiz.  When she was just sixteen years of age, she along with her mother and two sisters, were living in the household of Manuel de Godoy.  Five years later, aged twenty-one, she became the mistress of Godoy who was then Spanish Prime Minister and because of the influence he had with King Charles IV and his wife Queen Maria-Louisa he became one of the most powerful men in Spain.  In 1797, Queen Maria Luisa arranged a marriage for Godoy toMaría Teresa de Borbón y Vallabriga, 15th Countess of Chinchón, the granddaughter of Philip V of Spain, despite him still having Pepita as his mistress.  This was an arranged marriage, set up by the queen as the bride and groom had never met.  The Queen ensured that the partnership was financially advantageous to both bride and groom.  So what was in it for the Queen?  Historians would have us believe that the queen’s ulterior motive was two-fold.  Firstly she had hoped that the marriage was a way of ending Godoy’s dalliance with Pepita and secondly the marriage would act as a cover for her own relationship with Godoy. Godoy was pleased with the arrangement as it boosted his finances and despite what the queen had hoped for, he continued his liaison with his mistress Pepita,  who bizarrely lived in the same house as his wife.  In 1805, Godoy’s wife gave birth to a son, Manuel, and in 1807, she gave birth to another son, Luis.  His wife died in 1828 and Godoy married Pepita although rumour had it that they had married years earlier.  Godoy was a very amorous and amoral man and had many lovers but who was his one true love –the Duchess of Alba or Pepita?  According to the ninety-year old Pepita who died in 1869, Godoy had one, and only one true love, and that was Queen Maria Luisa.

The paintings I am featuring today were possibly first owned by Manuel de Godoy.   The Clothed Maja was hung in a room in his house and placed on top of The Naked Maja.  He had arranged a pulley mechanism to be attached to The Clothed Maja so that it could be raised, revealing the naked version which was behind it !!!

In 1807 Godoy was at the height of his power and as prime minister had negotiated the Treaty of Fontainebleau with Napoleon and the French, which in essence carved up Portugal and Godoy was awarded the “Principality of the Algarves”, under the protectorate of the King of Spain. However as is the case of most powerful men he had made a number of enemies, one of whom was the heir to the Spanish throne, Ferdinand VII.   Unfortunately for Godoy France did not keep to their non-aggression treaty with Spain and Godoy, along with King Charles IV and Queen Maria Louisa went into exile in Bayonne.  Charles IV was forced to abdicate and Ferdinand VII, Godoy’s enemy, became king of Spain.

The following year, in 1808, all Godoy’s fate was sealed.  His property was seized by the Spanish monarch and in 1813 the Spanish Inquisition confiscated both of the La Maja works considering them to be obscene.  In 1815 Goya was denounced to the Inquisition as being the artist who painted the two “obscene” works.  In May of that year he was summoned to appear before the Inquisition and pressure was brought to bear on him to reveal who had commissioned the works, who were the women and what were his intentions for such paintings.  Alas, it is not known what Goya told his inquisitors.

Las Majas at the Prado Museum, Madrid

The two paintings were eventually returned in 1836 and housed in the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.   We will probably never be one hundred per cent sure as to who modelled for the two paintings.  Since 1901, both The Clothed Maja and  The Nude Maja have been exhibited side by side in the same room at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

Thankfully there was no Inquisition around when, as a pre-teenager, I giggled as I watched the woman’s clothes disappear with just a flick of my prized pen !!!!

I send this blog from a very hot Spain and I am reluctant to return to the cold and wet place I call my home.

The Third of May 1808 by Goya

The Third of May 1808 by Goya (1814)

My Daily Art Display featured painting for today is the second of a set of two works by Goya entitled The Third of May 1808.  If you have just come to this website I suggest you read yesterday’s blog first as it is a prequel to this painting.

Yesterday we looked at Goya’s painting entitled The Second of May 1808 which was a depiction of an uprising of the people of Madrid against the Napoleonic forces including some of Napoleon’s fiercest fighter from the French Imperial Guard, the Egyptian Mamalukes.  The rebellion was put down after several hours of fierce fighting with loss of lives on both sides.  The French commander, Murat, was in no doubt as to the fate of the captured rebels unequivocally stating:

”…The population of Madrid, led astray, has given itself to revolt and murder. French blood has flowed. It demands vengeance. All those arrested in the uprising, arms in hand, will be shot…”

Today’s painting is a depiction by Goya of the promised French reprisals.  Hundreds of Spaniards were rounded up on the night of May 2nd and the next day and taken to various locations and executed by firing squads.  The painting is based on the executions which took place at one of these sites, the hill of Principe Pio on the outskirts of Madrid.

The scene is set at night.  The menacing sky is pitch-black and there is not a star in sight.  This alone adds menace to the painting.   Nearly a third of the canvas is black.   This blackened background darkens the painting but we can just make out the silhouette of the town and another group of people which may be inquisitive on-lookers or may even be the next batch of rebels destined for the firing squad.   The scene is only lit up by the light from the lantern which lies on the ground between the two sets of men. See how the rays of light from the lantern and the shadows form a dividing line on the ground between the killers and those to be killed.   The condemned are lit up by the lantern’s light. The lantern as a source of illumination in art was extensively used by Baroque artists, and later perfected by the Master of chiaroscuro, Caravaggio.

Before us, we see two groups of men, on the left hand side of the painting we see the rebels and, across a narrow gap, on the right hand side of the painting we see a line of French soldiers, with their shako headgear,  engulfed in shadow, rigidly poised with their guns with fixed bayonets  pointing at the condemned.  The soldiers, almost like robots, are solidly lined with immaculate military precision whereas the condemned are crumbling before their very eyes.   We are seeing the soldiers almost from behind and the faces of these executioners are hidden from view.  Goya has probably painted them like this to emphasise that these men are simply dehumanized perpetrators of brutality and tyranny.

The Condemned Man

Goya has carefully painted the condemned as individuals each showing different reactions to their fate.  One stares out defiantly at his executioners and another, a monk, we see with his hands clasped before him, praying for his soul.  The central figure within the bunch of rebels, with his white shirt and yellow trousers is lit up by the lantern and is the main focus of the painting.  His face is racked with terror and we see him kneeling amidst the bloodied corpses of his executed colleagues. His plain white shirt contrasts against his sun-burnt face, which gives the impression that he had been used to working outdoors in the fields as a simple labourer.   Look at his stance.


His arms are flung wide in what must be presumed as an act of defiance or maybe it is terror.  Note how Goya has depicted this.  His arms are spread as if he has been crucified and on close inspection of the palm of his right hand we see the marks of the stigmata, the bodily marks, in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ.  This was Goya’s way of portraying that this man and his comrades were martyrs, innocents battling against the persecution of a foreign power.  This condemned man was the very man we saw in yesterday’s painting, holding his dagger aloft about to thrust it into a Mamaluke soldier which he is dragging from his horse.

On the ground in front of the line of condemned men lie the blood-soaked bodies of those already executed.   Face down in a pool of his own blood is the rebel we witnessed in yesterday’s painting, who had just run his dagger into the shoulders of the white horse.   To the right of the white-shirted man we see a group of cowering rebels awaiting their fate.  They have been marched up the hill and have now come face to face with their fate.  They can hardly bear to look at the scene before them.

By the time of the painting’s conception, the public imagination had made the rioters symbols of heroism and patriotism. The two paintings by Goya were not glorious scenes of a great victorious battle but simple acts of anonymous heroism in the face of defeat.   Although I have highlighted the two paintings of the series it is thought that at one time the set may have comprised of four works – the two I have featured and one depicting the revolt at the royal palace, the other being a painting depicting the defence of the artillery barracks.  The fact that these latter two paintings have disappeared points to the possibility that they were destroyed by Spanish officials who were unhappy with the depiction of the popular uprising.

The painting received a mixed reception when first exhibited a good many years later, with critics pointing out its technical flaws with its perspective and the lack of realism.  Critics pointed out that the distance between executioners and victims was far too small and the fact that the power of the shot hitting its victim would probably propel the rebel backwards and not forwards as shown in the painting.  The other lack of realism lies in the fact that in reality the executions were carried out in the day time and not at night but I am sure Goya chose night as the time of day for his painting to make the painting more spectacular.   Other critics come to Goya’s defence pointing out that the painting was not supposed to be technically accurate but the way the artist had depicted the scene and his use of chiaroscuro added to overall effectiveness of the painting.

The Second of May 1808 by Goya

The Second of May 1808 by Goya (1814)

My Daily Art Display featured paintings for today and tomorrow are both by Francisco Goya and they depict events which happened in Madrid on two consecutive days in 1808.  I am guessing that most of you will have seen one or both of the paintings but may not have realised the connection between the two.  Today I am going to look at the painting entitled The Second of May 1808 which Goya completed in 1814, just a couple of months before he finished the companion work entitled The Third of May 1808.  So what happened on these two days that made the Spanish Romantic painter, Goya want to pictorially record the events.

I need to go back a little from 1808 and go over the run-up to the terrible events of May 1808.   The main protagonists in this story were France and Spain.  In 1799, in France, Napoleon Bonaparte had declared himself First Consul of the French Republic and five years later he was crowned Emperor of France.  Meanwhile in Spain King Charles IV had reigned supreme since 1788.  He had proved a weak and ineffectual leader who left the governing of the country to his wife, Maria Luisa of Parma and his Prime Minister, Manuel de Godoy, a wealthy nobleman who had taken office in 1792.

Napoleon seeing an opportunity of gaining more territory suggested to Charles that they join forces, attack Spain’s neighbour, Portugal and divide up the conquered land between themselves, one third to France, one third to Spain and one third to the Spanish prime minister Godoy, who would be given the title of Prince of Algarve.  Godoy was seduced by such an idea and persuaded the king to agree to Napoleon’s plan.  Unfortunately Napoleon had an ulterior motive and a different scheme in mind when, in November 1807, 23,000 French troops marched into Spain unopposed under the guise of supporting the Spanish army prior to the joint attack on Portugal.   Napoleon had hatched a plan with Charles’ eldest son Ferdinand that France would, with his help, overthrow the Spanish monarchy, which of course was his father, and the Spanish government of Godoy and Ferdinand would become King of Spain.

It was not until February 1808 that it became apparent to the Spanish what Napoleon’s true plans had been but even so the French army met with little resistance.  Charles IV and Ferdinand his son were, at the insistence of Napoleon, in the French city of Bayonne for discussions on the terms of the abdication.  At the beginning of May 1808, the French commander and Napoleon’s, brother-in-law, Joaquim Murat, tried to forcibly move the daughter and the youngest son of Charles, the Infante Francisco de Paulato from Madrid to Bayonne and this was the catalyst for the rebellion of the local Spanish population and the fierce street fighting in Madrid on May 2nd.

On that day, a crowd gathered in front of the Royal Palace in Madrid. Those gathered entered the palace grounds in an attempt to prevent the removal of the Infanta.  Marshal Murat sent a battalion of grenadiers from the Imperial Guard to the palace along with artillery detachments. The latter opened fire on the assembled crowd, and this sparked the start of the rebellion which soon spread to other parts of the city.

What followed was street fighting in different areas of Madrid as the poorly armed population confronted the French troops. Murat had quickly moved the majority of his troops into the city and there was heavy fighting around the Puerta del Sol and the Puerta de Toledo.   Martial Law in the city was then imposed by Murat and the French commander assumed full control of the administration. Slowly but surely, the French took back control of the city, and many hundreds of people died in the fighting.   There were Spanish troops in the city at the time but they were confined to their barracks and with the exception of one brigade did as they were commanded.   The bloody rebellion lasted several hours before the French troops recovered control of the city.

My featured painting today, The Second of May 1808, sometimes known as The Charge of the Mamelukes, depicts the street fighting that took place at the Calle de Alcala near the Puerta del Sol in the heart of Madrid.  The Mamelukes, which were a fierce band of Muslim fighters in Napoleon’s French Imperial Guard, charged the crowd and the ensuing savagery was captured by Goya in his painting.  Goya did not actually paint the picture until 1814 at which time the French army had been expelled from Spain.  He applied to the ruling council of Spain for financial aid to paint the picture as he put it:

‘…to perpetuate with the brush the most notable and heroic actions or scenes of our glorious insurrection against the tyrant of Europe…”

There is differing opinions as to whether Goya actually witnessed the scenes of the rebellion at first hand.  This massive painting measuring 265cms x 345cms (almost 9ft by 11ft) depicts the bloody skirmish.  Goya chose to depict the people of Madrid armed just with knives and rough weapons as unknown heroes attacking the might of the Mamelukes and a French cavalry officer.  The whole painting depicts a scene of chaos which in some ways stirs up a feeling of realism and authenticity.  The two figures you need to focus on are the man who is plunging the knife into the thigh of the white horse and the man who is at the rear of the horse and who is just about to plunge his knife into a Mameluke warrior who he has dragged from the horse.  Why?  In tomorrow’s painting The Third of May 2008 we will again see these two men and what happened to them as a result of their deeds.

Art historians have been somewhat critical of Goya’s handling of the painting stating that the horses appear static and the figures in the painting seem posed.  Of the two paintings, the Third of May 1808 is considered the better and more memorable

As a footnote, during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s, when Madrid was bombed by Nationalist troops, the Republican government decided to evacuate the paintings from the Prado. A truck carrying Goya’s paintings had an accident, and The Second of May was badly damaged: there were tears and even pieces missing. When the painting was later repaired, some damage was left unrepaired at its left border to remind viewers of the events of the civil war.