The Nude Maja
by FRANCISCO JOSE DE GOYA Y LUCIENTES (Spanish School)
IMPULSIVE, short of patience, and always suffenng from some physical ail
ment, Goya was an uneven painter. When the sitter did not attract him, he
knocked off a likeness as swiftly as possible, and refused to worry about the
careless handling; when the subject appealed to him, the results were astound
If a woman were ugly, he made her a despicable horror; if alluring, he
dramatized her charms, givmg her a wanton glance and a figure that swelled
amorously to fill her flimsy clothing.
He preferred to finish his portraits at one
session and was a tyrant with his models-but his brush never lied. Charles IV
and his family were a beastly lot-and Goya did not spare them.
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What mean,cruel, hideous, tragical faces-all Spanish and all vibrant with life! “Vital
ity!” he cried. “Ideal proportions and classic beauty be damned!”
The Duchess of Alba figures more conspicuously in Goya’s art than any
other woman. He knew her when she was a girl and painted her in his tapestry
cartoons, his first important work; he made
innumerable drawings and etch
ings of her stunning arrogance; painted two famous, full-length portraits of
her, and included her among the comely strumpets of the court in those gay,
blasphemous decorations in the church of San Antonio de la Florida.
She was a godless woman of unsurpassed loveliness; she came to Goya, she said, to
be properly rouged and powdered-their relations were not platonic.
The name of the Duchess is indissolubly connected with two of his master
pieces, the Majas, nude and dressed-e-zecjc meaning a gay lady or harlot, or
both, who affected the costume of the toreros.
The legend breakers deny that
she was the model for the two pictures, the artist having left no supporting
affidavits; but the face is there, and the figure is there, and the pictures were
a part of the Duchess’s collection at her death-and none other could have
held Goya to so finished an enterprise. The Majas are
equally seductive and
identical in posture: in one of the pictures the Duchess wears thin, skin-tight
breeches; in the other she wears nothing-the most illustrious nude in modern
art. Goya painted her in defiance of the classical tradition-in cool flesh
tones and without generalizing the contours of her body into the mold of the
somnolent courtesan-goddesses of the Renaissance.
Nor did he label her Venus
or Diana-he was under no illusions when he painted her. She is a Spanish
beauty, unabashed in her exposure, beautifully posed and painted-a great
artist’s perfect tribute to the human body he most admired.