Famously known as Francisco de Goya, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was a Spanish painter and printmaker who tended to record the happenings around him in his art. He is highly regarded in Spanish art history as the most relevant artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Little wonder why his artistry influenced other notable artists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries!
Francisco Goya art characteristics to effortlessly straddle traditional and contemporary art earned him a reputation as “the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns.” His bold painting style and subversive imagination convey the intense emotion that defines him as a Romantic painter.
Goya’s appointment as a painter for the Spanish Royal Court was his first notable move toward success. In addition to commissioned works for Spanish nobility, he produced satirical paintings that commented on the socio-political upheavals of his time. In this article, we dive into some of Goya’s most famous works.
Who was Francisco Goya?
Born in Aragón, Spain on March 30th 1746, Goya was the fourth of six children born to José Benito de Goya y Franque and Gracia de Lucientes y Salvador. He grew up in Fuendetodos with his lower-middle-class family before relocating to their newly bought residence in Zaragoza.
Goya’s father was a gilder who specialized in religious and decorative craftwork.
He supervised the gilding and ornamentation to rebuild Zaragoza’s central cathedral — the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Santa Maria del Pilar). Goya attended Escuelas Pias, a local public school that offered free education. He met Martin Zapater, a close friend with whom correspondence for about two decades played a vital part in knowing more about the artist Francisco Goya and his years at the Royal Court in Madrid.
At the age of 14, Goya became an apprentice under a local painter called José Luzán; it is believed that this marked the start of his formal art training. He later moved to Madrid and furthered his training with Anton Raphael Mengs, a famous German painter among the Spanish nobility. Subsequently, Goya submitted entries for the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1763 and 1766, but he was rejected.
After the Academy’s rejection, Goya trained with Francisco Bayeu y Subías and later married his sister Josefa. Their affinity and Bayeu’s membership in the Academy secured commissions for Goya to create designs for the Academy’s tapestry factory. His designs were used to adorn the walls of El Escorial and Palacio Real del Pardo, newly built residences for Spanish monarchs. The works of artist Francisco Goya caught the attention of the Spanish elite, paving the way for the creation of many of his famous paintings, which include:
The Nude Maja
La Maja Desnuda is an 18th-century oil painting by Goya, likely commissioned by Manuel de Godoy, who was the Spanish Prime Minister.
The painting depicts a nude woman resting on pillows with her hands behind her head. She seems relaxed as she stares back at the viewer with a slight smile on her lips.
The background lacks features and is simply a dark backdrop with the lighting solely focussing on the nude subject. The nudity depicted in the painting was hugely controversial. The lady’s identity was also a point of interest to critics, but it is widely believed to be Pepita Tudó, Goya’s young mistress.
The Clothed Maja
Goya – The Clothed Maja (La Maja Vestida)
La Maja Vestida is a nearly identical version of La Maja Desnuda. Goya created a censored version of the painting about five years later due to the latter’s controversial nature.
The composition and pose remain the same in this version, but the subject is fully dressed, complete with shoes and long sleeves. The paintings are usually presented as a pair, like an unruly woman and her timid twin.
It is said that Godoy originally hung the clothed version of the painting, but with the pull of a string, the nude version placed underneath it would come into view.
On The Third Of May 1808
Given to observing and recording the world around him, Goya documented the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in his art. His famous series, Disasters of War, captured the socio-political turmoil in Spain during the Peninsula War.
The Third of May 1808 is part of Goya’s war paintings, featuring the devastating effects of war on people. It depicts French soldiers aiming their guns at a Spaniard who has his hands raised in surrender, resigning to the unfortunate fate that awaits him.
The pile of bloodied corpses at his feet and the other Spanish rebels in the corner awaiting the same fate add to the chilling theme of the painting. Goya’s raw and unglorified depictions of war have singled out the series in modern art.
Charles IV Of Spain And His Family
Goya – Charles IV And His Family
In 1799, Goya became Primer Pintor de Cámara (First Chamber Painter), the highest position for a painter in the Spanish court. While his predecessor Diego Velázquez sought to paint his subjects in a positive and dignified light, Goya was brutal with his depictions, favoring realistic renditions over fine-tuning.
This painting was created in 1800, a year after his prestigious court appointment. It features the Spanish King and his Queen, Maria Luisa of Parma, surrounded by their children and relatives. Goya details the Royal Family’s flaws, resulting in a painting that depicts a staged look of a stiff and flamboyant family.
Goya also features himself in the painting; the artist is visible working at his easel in the left corner of the canvas. This signature style is reminiscent of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
Goya’s impressive portfolio displays the merger of tradition and modernity, old reverencing techniques as seen in many of his court portraits yet creating unique pieces by boldly departing from conventional methods. The resulting masterpieces testify of his artistic prowess as several of them have remained highly valued; today, they can be viewed at Madrid’s prestigious Prado art museum.
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