Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The world has gossiped for 200 years about Goya's twin paintings of the Maja-- one with clothes and one without.

When the secret nude painting was discovered, Spanish society was scandalized: did Goya really have an affair with MarĂ­a 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.


Anonymous said...

It's truly a gift having you on my myspace as a friend! I very much appreciate your blog on Goya and your insight into his art. I will be checking back here with anticipation for future blogs ... bruce

vanderleun said...

"the "half-submerged dog" is a bleak image that makes no sense at all (and for that reason, is all the more frightening):"

This is one of my favorite Goya paintings. When I first saw it in the Prado in 1968, the title card next to it said, "Premonition of Civil War." I don't know it that was Goya's title or something that came after, but that is indeed what it said.

vanderleun said...

You know, thinking about that more I believe I've conflated Dali with Goya. Sorry about that.

vanderleun said...

"The inscrutable dog's head, the lonely pooch gazing over the rim of the world, looking (one presumes) for its vanished master, as mankind might look for its vanished God."- Robert Hughes on Goya's unflinching eye

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Bruce. Glad to have you here.

Gerard, I am a big fan of Robert Hughes, and he seems to have special insight into Goya. It sounds like you share my opinion. Thanks for the quote!

Anonymous said...

the goya's etchings are called "capricios"and whitout rembrandt's works ( and his inspiration ) they never be realized for sure!

Anonymous said...

ahh absolute remarks, To say his etchings wouldnt have realized for sure is unnecessary absolute declaration just beacuase the techniques and exectution looks the same. Its like saying , my name wouldnt be bhanu if I wasnt born. But I am born so here I am.

Goya I think was one the first fine artists. Painting as a complete act of self expression and for ones own pleasure and pain.
I have only seen the works as reproductions. I wish to see them in person.
Thank you for the post Mr. Apatoff.

Anonymous said...

Goya! I love love love Goya - my single most burning reason as to why I want to go to Spain! Thank you so much for this piece on him - I can never get enough of this fantastic artist!

Kyler Dannels said...

I just visited the Prado a couple weeks back, having gone there almost entirely to see the Goya work.

I've always felt that it would be a mistake to judge Goya's art based on either his traditionally academic ability, or the large body of commissioned work/portrait paintings that make up his life's work.

For me Goya has always been about content. And his "personal" work is completely loaded with it, emotional, social and political.
Seeing the work in person, the almost feverish brush work, driven and simple statements of design with no real bravado; just drove this home. If I wanted to find beautiful brushwork and color, I only needed to go upstairs and look at the Velasquez paintings. The Goya's were for feeling with the heart and mind, not for analyzing technique.

His etchings and paintings like "3rd of May" have had a profound influence on my work for years. Seeing the "black paintings" in person, and really being able to sense the mania and honesty with which he was painting was a truly rewarding experience.

Thanks a lot for your insightful post, you've done a great job of summarizing my feelings on the subject of Goya and the critical response to his work by many in the art community.