Francisco de Goya was born on the 30th March 1746, in Aragón, Spain. He had a comfortable childhood and became an apprentice to a Spanish baroque painter named José Luzán. Four years into his studies under Luzán the family moved to Madrid, and Goya took up another apprenticeship, this time with Anton Raphael Mengs.
Mengs was Bohemian born and was popular with the Spanish Royalty of the time. Goya and Mengs personalities’ clashed, and Goya failed all his examinations with Mengs. Leaving Mengs, he submitted work to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, in 1763, and again in 1766. His work was rejected both times due to his relative inexperience.
Italy remains a beacon for artists even today, and in keeping with scores of famous artists, Goya headed to Rome. He found more success in Rome. In 1771 he won second prize in a painting competition organized by the Italian city, Parma. The same year he returned to Aragón, where he was commissioned to paint frescoes for the church of the Charterhouse of Aula Dei, and the Sobradiel Palace.
For much of the 1770s Goya worked alongside a fellow Aragónese artist and former student of José Luzán, by the name of Francisco Bayeu y Subías. During this time his style and sophistication developed. Goya eventually married Subías’ sister Josefa.
In 1774, a year after his marriage to Josefa, Goya was asked by his former mentor Anton Raphael Mengs to create a series of works known as tapestry “cartoons”. The word cartoon here derives from the process of the work, the style he used is known as Rococo. Although low paid and fairly modest work, the job got him access to the Spanish monarchy. After completing commissions for much of the Spanish elite, Charles IV appointed him Court Painter in 1789, and a year later First Court Painter.
Francisco de Goya became well known for the honest nature of his portraits, which made no effort to flatter the subjects. La Familia de Carlos IV is seen as an example of this. It’s a brave portrait of the royal family, completed in 1801. No one in the Royal family has the stern, confident look that is typical of Royal portrait, they look unsure or vacant. Some of the members of the family seem almost grotesque. The composition, along with the art on the wall could also give an insight into the artist’s feelings towards the reign of Charles IV. Placing the Queen at the centre of things and the King off to the side could suggest that the Queen was the one who really held power in the palace. The painting on the left is said to be from the biblical story of Lot, supposedly hinting at incestuous relationships within the family.
Goya placed himself in the painting, on the left at the back. This apes the painting Las Meninas by the previous First Court Painter, Velazquez. It could be a gibe at the man who’s position he took, or it could be a tribute. He is pictured working on the painting, this gives the effect of him looking at a mirror, painting what he sees reflecting back at him. Looking into the eyes of the Royals, a lot of the eyes are placed slightly to the right, suggesting that they’re looking at their own reflection and not the artist.
Goya painted this portrait at a time when Spain was still dealing with the implications and aftermath of the French Revolution. The storm in the painting on the right suggests disturbance still to come, as the family stand doing nothing, focused only on themselves.
Seven years later Napoleon invaded Spain and Charles IV was deposed.
Goya’s later work is also fascinating and I’ll definitely do another post on him. I hope you enjoyed this post. Here’s a link to view more of my Featured Artwork. The Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando is in Madrid and now features a whole room dedicated to Goya, as well as work by old masters such as Van Dyck and Rubens and a host of Spanish artists, like Velazquez, Murillo, El Greco and Ribera.
La Familia de Carlos IV and Velazquez’ Las Meninas can both be seen at the Museo del Prado in Mardrid, Spain