The Young Genius
Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish: Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, March 30, 1746, Fuendetodes, near Zaragoza - April 16, 1828, Bordeaux) was a great Spanish artist and engraver. He is considered one of the brightest masters of romantic direction and art.
Goya's work is complex and deeply contradictory. His expressive manner and depictions of various manifestations of evil and violence, as well as images of injustice and suffering—despite the obvious grotesqueness of the presentation—reflected the real experiences of the best part of the Spanish national elite. This was an elite that was unable at first to carry out the democratic transformations that Spain needed so much and then to defend the country during the period of French occupation.
The images in the master's paintings are often allegorical and archetypal: they are based on the deepest layers of folk consciousness, using folk tales and legends. The works of Francisco Goya are often characterized by despair, disappointment, and perhaps even disbelief at times, but sometimes a keen sense of the joy of life. In creativity, as in life, the artist was guided by high humanistic principles.
When we utter the name "Goya," the "Nude Maja" immediately appears before our eyes. He created about 500 paintings, 300 engravings, and a thousand drawings, but at the first moment, we certainly remember her reclining with an inviting look and slightly distorted proportions. It's like Leonardo and La Gioconda—it is impossible to mentally separate them, and the most insightful see the Gioconda as a self-portrait. Or like Flaubert, who said: “Madame Bovary is me!”
The connection between Goya and his Maja is of the same order. Nude Maja is by no means a name. Majas were a conception of girls from certain Spanish social classes—cheerful, frivolous, and vital. They were hungry for music and love. The male version—majo—is now known to us as "macho." The pronunciation was slightly modified, but the essence remained the same: inner strength, temperament, and passion.
Francisco Goya, with his common folk roots, lust for life, and violent character, was a majo. He thought like a majo, acted like a majo, and even wrote like a majo. In Feuchtwanger's biographical novel, Goya says: "I am majo, although sometimes I read the Encyclopedia."
Born March 30, 1746, Goya was one of the three sons of the owner of a small gilding workshop in the village of Fuendetodos. His mother came from a family of seedy nobles—the hidalgos so successfully ridiculed by Cervantes in Don Quixote. His father, though, was a pure baturro—a commoner who passed on to his son the ability to stand firmly on the ground and not harbor unnecessary illusions.
When Goya was 13, the family moved to Zaragoza, where he was sent to study in the studio of the artist Jose Luzan. Goya spent about seven years there, having succeeded not in the field of painting but in performing fandango, singing serenades, and even street fighting. The conservative painter Lusan advised Goya to try his luck in Madrid by enrolling in the Academy of San Fernando, although there was no shortage of work in Zaragoza.
It was rumored that the teacher simply wanted to melt the explosive, temperamental troublemaker out of sight, as Goya did not participate in one of Luzan's key workshops that employed a Navajo folding knife, the insidious weapon of the Spanish Mahos. “Francho, you were born with an onion, not a rose,” Goya’s mother Eugracia Lucientes said restlessly, “you will die with an onion.”
In 1763, he did not receive a single vote in his favor for The San Fernando Academy; he despaired in the heat of the moment but gradually cooled down and, in 1766, made a second attempt. This also failed: Francisco Goya was not strong in drawing, and in general, his work did not look like anyone else's—academicians simply did not understand this strange, unprecedented, "deformed" style.
Many others would've given up at this point. But the master, born under the fire sign of the ram, was stubborn and so confident in his abilities that he decided he would still outsmart—if not fate—the Royal Academy. Not receiving a pension from his mother, the 23-year-old Goya rushed to Rome at his own expense. To do this, he joined a group of matadors heading to Italy.
Courage, the excited rumble of the crowd—this was generally his element. Goya loved noisy gatherings, and more than once vowed to dance the Aragonese jota on the backs of those who dared to look askance in his direction. He participated in bullfights and street acrobats. He was agile, muscular, and desperately bold, and his amorous adventures, complicated by numerous duels, were legendary. They told, for example, how Goya, having fallen in love with a novice of one of the Roman monasteries, stole a girl from the monastery. Those who knew him briefly did not doubt that that was exactly the case.
The Spanish artist began his conquest of Rome by climbing onto the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. While viewing the "eternal city" from atop the cathedral, Goya scratched out his initials. The matador and fighter from Zaragoza longed to declare himself at the top of his voice "Urbi et orbi"—"to the city and the world"—and did not doubt for a second that Providence and the Blessed Virgin of Atocha had prepared for him a great future.
Plafonds in Zaragoza — Tapestries in Madrid
In 1771, having traveled around Italy and even received the Parma Academy Prize, Goya returned to Zaragoza. In the city of his youth, he successfully painted palaces and churches. Its bright palette, infused with the Italian sun, and the angels for whom the street dancers posed, decorated the plafonds of cathedrals and enveloped the hearts of the Spaniards with a bittersweet languor. A couple of years later, Francisco was already earning three times more than his former teacher.
And yet, Goya rushed to Madrid. Ambition drove him to the capital, and he was also called there by an old friend—the court painter Francisco Bayeu—whom Francisco met when he unsuccessfully tried to enter the Academy. Bayeu reported to Goya that King Carlos III patronized the arts, and interesting prospects began emerging for the master.
In Madrid, the artist began to create designs for the royal carpet manufactory of St. Barbarians. His tapestries—lint-free carpets with idyllic images from Spanish folk life were very popular among the royal family. Sociable Goya quickly acquired influential acquaintances. He was patronized by Grand Osuna, the critic Sean-Bermudez, the court reformers of Floridablanca and Jovellanos, the Infantes, and the king.
Soon the next monarch ascended the throne—the weak-willed but sensitive Carlos IV. The position of the artist was only strengthened by this. Goya managed to charm both the new king and his smart and powerful wife, Maria Luisa of Parma, and even her all-powerful favorite and future Prime Minister, Manuel Godoy.
Now Goya could indulge in his weaknesses—eating chocolate and hunting partridges. And he was finally avenged before the Academy of San Fernando: first, he was elected a member and then became the director. In this post, he replaced the deceased Bayeu.
It must be said that the relationship between Goya and Bayeu had never been simple. Francisco felt that Bayeu was putting pressure on him, and they often quarreled. The classicist-minded Bayeu taught Goya that he should have been more restrained in colors and more careful in lines, and for this, he should take the Frenchman Jacques Louis David as a model. We can imagine how these appeals affected the proud Francisco.
But there was another reason that generated tension: Goya seduced Bayeu's sister Josefa. At the time of the hasty wedding, Josefa was pregnant. Bayeu was outraged but suppressed his emotions: Francisco had already managed to get a strong position at court and was rich.
The Spanish artist and Josefa lived together for almost 40 years. She suffered from her husband's numerous betrayals and was afraid when Goya, who became more frank and critical in his works, was pursued by the Inquisition. Josefa lost (alive and unborn), according to some reports, almost 20 children: only one of their sons, Javier, lived to adulthood. He was also an artist and later became a usurer and a swindler.
During all four decades as a family, Francisco painted only one portrait of Josefa.
Goya was 46 when something happened to him that left an imprint on his whole future life. A mysterious disease had haunted Goya for many years and, in his 46th year, made him ask for an official vacation in Madrid for a couple of months and go to Andalusia to improve his health.
Of course, in two months, the disease did not go away. When Goya was visiting his financier friend Sebastian Martinez in Cadiz, he was suddenly seized by a "bad mood," followed by a mental blow. The artist felt an agonizing noise in his head, lost his orientation, and soon fell into a coma. Perhaps it was a stroke? At the end of the 18th century, they did not know effective ways to treat it; they primarily bloodlet. Francisco Goya was on the verge of life and death for some time but survived.
Many biographers agree that the mysterious disease could be a complication of syphilis suffered in 1777, a consequence of a turbulent youth. Other manifestations of the disease were periodic—deafness stayed with him forever. Until the end of his life, the artist remained deaf. He communicated with people by reading lips and using notes.
Once Goya flaunted excellent health. In his youth, for the sake of laughter, he signed his correspondence "Francisco de los Taurus"—Francisco the Bull. Now he confessed in a letter to his closest friend Martin Sapater: “I have become old, there are many wrinkles on my face, you might not even recognize me if it were not for my flat nose and my sunken eyes.”
Such changes affected the work of Goya: the colorful cheerfulness was replaced by the grotesque and nightmares. Then a disturbing series of etchings was born—the famous Caprichos. Ghosts and villains, witches and demons instead of beautiful majas, Spanish saints and royalty—that was how the Spanish artist saw and perceived the world, deprived of the opportunity to hear it.
But one thing in the life of the artist remained unchanged: he was still loved by women.
The brightest star in the firmament of Madrid court life, Duchess Cayetana Alba, was in her early 20s when Goya depicted her in a tapestry drawing and her early 30s when he painted her first portrait. She was distinguished by beauty, refinement, ardor, and her ancestry would give odds even to the Bourbons. When their relationship began, he was under fifty. He was half commoner and completely deaf. But how could that stop love?
Already in the 20th century, the heirs of the Duchess of Alba demanded the exhumation of her mortal remains and measurements of the bones in order to prove that the shamelessly naked Maja was not her at all, not Alba! It wasn't her, they said, the seductive body with a strange head attached to it.
But, no matter what their purely Spanish class arrogance said, the artist's legacy preserved traces of the fact that, after the death of Jose de Toledo, Alba's husband, Goya became her cortejo (lover). Dozens of drawings depict the duchess naked. In the picturesque portrait of Alba in black, her hand is decorated with a ring and a signet ring: on one of them is the inscription "Goya," and on the other, "Alba." And from that period, a note by Francisco to a friend had been preserved: “Now, at last, I know what it means to live!”
Alba teased him, left the artist for someone younger and nobler, then returned again and remained the biggest and most painful passion in Goya's life. Their relationship lasted about seven years.
It seemed that in old age, Francisco Goya will be left all alone. Some of his friends were killed by the Inquisition; some were forced to leave the country for political reasons. In 1802, Alba died and, according to rumors, was poisoned by colorful pigments, and in 1812, the grouchy and faithful Josefa passed away too. Goya retired and lived in the suburbs of Madrid, building the Quinta del Sordo (“House of the Deaf”) estate there and covering its walls with images of frightening visions.
Spain survived the "horrors of war" and the French occupation, but Francisco was able to maintain his position as a court painter under the rule of the French—which the Spaniards were not able to forgive him for for a long time.
And when Goya turned 68, his life again sparkled like a rainbow and smelled of scandal. He married the beauty Leocadia Weiss, 40 years younger than him, who fell in love with Goya and left her wealthy and middle-aged husband for him. Together they fled from political persecution to France, had two more children—a son and a daughter—and his eldest indignant son Javier, the same age as Leocadia, sued his father for a long time for a considerable inheritance.
The great Spanish artist died in French Bordeaux at the age of 82.
- Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de – The Collection | Museo Nacional del Prado
- Los Caprichos: Franciscio Goya. (1969). Dover Publications.
- Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) and the Spanish Enlightenment | The MET
- Art in Context
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.