The truth about Spanish art's most famous love story
Friday 26 January 2007
It was thought to be one of the most romantic love affairs in the history of Spanish art, but the liaison between the rough and ready genius Francisco de Goya and the beautiful, capricious Duchess of Alba, the grandest grandee in Spain, has now been described as an "urban legend".
According to a new book by Manuela Mena, a Goya specialist at the Prado museum, in Madrid, the social gulf between the two was never bridged. "It was an inequality he tried to overcome, but as an artist, not a lover," she said.
Goya painted the duchess, Cayetana de Silva, several times, and she is said to have modelled for his twin "Majas" (beauties), one naked and one clothed, which are considered among the most erotic portraits in modern art.
The naked Maja offers the first example of female pubic hair in painting, but many consider the clothed version even more erotic. Her face is not that of the duchess, but the body bears close comparison to the delicate curves in the other painting.
Goya also painted two important formal portraits of the duchess, one clad in white, the other in black, that were reunited for the first time in years at a Prado exhibition celebrating Spanish portraiture in 2004. In one of them, the duchess wears two rings, bearing the names Alba and Goya, and points to the artist's signature at her feet.
While researching an essay on the works, Ms Mena came upon a letter written by the duchess to her cousin, Carlos Pignatelli, "that showed her sadness and grief following the death of [her husband] the duke," she said.
Far from turning to Goya in her grief, the duchess treated him like other members of her court, "like the librarian, the doctor or the butler," Ms Mena said this week, presenting her book, The Duchess of Alba, Goya's Muse: Myth and History. Ms Mena concedes that Goya's portraits "bring out the best in her: attractive, spectacular, full of power," but concludes: "I don't think he was in love with her."
The couple's supposed romance has inspired novels, films and academic studies, including works produced by the Prado itself. Ms Mena's bucket of cold water seems unlikely to douse the speculation.
The couple met when the duchess was a teenager, and they came to know each other well. Goya made many visits to her palaces to paint. In 1739, her husband, the duke, died aged 39. His widow, then 34, radiantly beautiful and at the peak of her social success, retired to the family estate in Sanlucar de Barrameda, near Cadiz, and invited Goya.
He stayed from July 1797 until the following March, and produced his most intimate portraits of his patron - taking siestas cuddling her adopted black daughter and teasing her maid. Two years later, the "Majas" appeared. Few will want to discard their "mythical" romance.
- 1 Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
- 2 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 4 Dad attempts revenge on teenage daughter, plan backfires spectacularly
- 5 Ball pool for adults opens in London
Isis 'throw man off a building for homosexual affair' and beat him to death when he survives
Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
Boris Johnson claims porn-obsessed Islamic jihadists are 'literally w*****s'
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Ball pool for adults opens in London
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...
£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...