When the secret nude painting was discovered, Spanish society was scandalized: did Goya really have an affair with María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo, the 13th Duchess of Alba (and wife of the wealthiest man in Spain)?? And gee, is that what she really looks like under all those fancy clothes????
Today the two paintings hang side by side in the Prado where visitors continue to ponder those same eternal questions.
From the flickr account of lapernas 2.0
The Maja certainly bared her secrets in this painting but Goya had a few secrets of his own, and he stripped himself bare in artwork that was far more revealing than his painting of the Maja.
For 40 years, Goya was a royal court painter who painted flattering portraits of aristocrats and nobles. But underneath he was the opposite; he detested the idle and corrupt aristocracy and painted passionate images sympathetic to the oppressed peasants.
Goya also championed the philosophy of the Enlightenment. He treasured its ideals of rationality and logic. But underneath, he was a superstitious man, obsessed with dreams and mysticism. He made eerie paintings of devils and witches and bats.
As another example, the public Goya created art glorifying generals and military victories while the private Goya was creating devastating etchings condemning The Disasters of War.
Goya was considered a bon vivant who lived for a while on a lavish estate while he consorted with royalty. Yet, underneath it all, he was a deaf, embittered hermit who distanced himself from others and painted his private musings in dark paintings about a world gone mad.
One of his private black paintings, a "half-submerged dog," is a bleak and ghostly image that makes no sense at all (and for that reason, is all the more frightening):
Goya stripped off civilization, stripped off pretense and affect, even stripped off linear thought, to paint himself in a profoundly naked way.
Most people would rather focus on the bared Maja than on Goya's bared soul. Art experts and pedants have lots of fun obsessing over whether the nude Maja shows the first pubic hair in the history of western art. Even the Spanish Inquisition preferred to focus on the nude Maja; they never investigated Goya for his subversive political views, but they demanded that he appear before them to account for his nude painting (perhaps foreshadowing special prosecutor Kenneth Starr).
In one sense the nudity of the Maja seems frivolous and shallow compared to Goya's nakedness. But on the other hand, if you spend enough time pondering the bleakness of Goya's black paintings, you start to yearn for rescue from the onslaught of the night. And it's in such dire circumstances that you begin to appreciate that a naked thigh or a pubic curl have a profundity of their own.