Great Works: Ferdinand VII in Royal Robes, 1815 (208 x 142.5 cm), Francisco José de Goya y de Lucientes

Prado, Madrid

There were so many Goyas inhabiting that rather nondescript body. There was the Goya who in his early tapestries could exercise the most exquisite neo-classical restraint. Then, much later on, there was the Goya whose visions were so grotesque and so dark that he seems to prefigure the horror comics of our own day.

The Goya of this particular painting of 1815, a deaf man of almost 70 years of age, had already enjoyed an extraordinarily long and lucrative career as court painter to the Spanish Bourbons. This in itself is quite surprising. Was this man so easily tameable then? No. He never flattered his masters. In fact, he was starkly truth-telling. But what he also did was to behave with the utmost discretion. So practised at it, in fact, that he was never caught out. We can only conclude that his employers were such self-preening, vainglorious fools that they did not even notice.

Yes, of all the great paintings in the Western tradition, this is surely one of the slyest. It does not stoop to flatter in predictable ways. It is not Van Dyke painting up the doomed Stuarts. It does not physically enhance the presence of this tot-like, doll-like monarch. It leaves him looking exactly the height that he must have been when he was painted. It is far from serious in tone. In fact, it is a marvellous visual feast of pantomimic excess, a portrait of a little man who is so ludicrously burdened by the visual trappings of kingship that he might as well be carrying a pregnant donkey across his back.

And yet there is also – and herein lies the exquisite subtlety of it all – enough remaining here to please the man. There is an extraordinary, almost spot-lit glitter about his presence, as if, in his own well-rooted estimation, he is almost god-like. We can see that wherever he goes, he will be surrounded by those who will serve him and flatter him and feed him sweeties in his lukewarm bath, one by one. He has that dead, fish-like sheen to the eyes which suggests that he evidently takes much self-satisfied pleasure in such airy nothings. His mouth is small, and pursed; his chin hangs over his winged collar, heavily, lumpishly. That mouth is aggressively anti-erotic, utterly unkissable. His right arm gestures outward, rather woodenly, as if it vaguely exercising for the sake of the exercise. He grips the staff of office (and, incidentally, he makes that staff look as unalluring and as symbolically insignificant as a baton in a relay race) in his fat-fingered fist, with the utmost gracelessness, as if, in his own opinion (though not ours, and certainly not Goya's), he is not only offering himself as an exquisite painted gift to all those who will have the pleasure to behold his deathless image (and there it hangs still, in the Prado, to be admired by all), but also encompassing the entire world in his gesture. Such is his breadth of view, his breadth of vision, his breadth of influence.

And yet while we can readily acknowledge all this, we know within our heart of hearts that it is all a painted masquerade, and that it is precisely this utter falseness of his sad, trumped-up human presence that Goya is also recording. In fact, you could say – and this is so unusual for a painting of a monarch – that there is in this painting a complete division between the man who lives and breathes and the trappings that adorn his wretched person. Goya has gone hell for leather to make these accoutrements look as wonderful as possible. We see them as any human would see them who is impressed by royalty and its fripperies – slightly blurrily, as if our eyes are dazzled by the sumptuousness of it all, as if our spectacles are a little fogged by overmuch emotion. But when it comes to the man himself, the situation is entirely otherwise. The human element here is slow, oafish, and utterly ridiculous in its green breeches. What is this turnip-top doing in such clothes? Do they really belong to him at all? Why doesn't he step down – before he falls down – and make way for a real king?


Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), the son of a tradesman and of a mother who believed herself to belong to the minor nobility, was born in a small house in the nondescript Aragonese village of Fuendetodos. His output was vast and various. About seven hundred paintings survive by him, together with countless works on paper. The range of his work was quite astonishing. He could paint exquisite portraits of the nobility, and scenes of madness and irrationality – barbaric dreams out of some folkloric nightmare. He often castigated the follies of women. A celebrated cycle of etchings, 'Disasters of War', exposes the horrors of the Peninsular War. In spite of his unruly imagination, he managed to remain the well-paid court painter to the Bourbons for decades, and painted their not so august presences with a brilliant, pitiless, near-farcical rigour that they scarcely seem to have noticed. To see these paintings in the Prado today justifies any visit to Madrid.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?