Goya's Portraits


FRANCISCO DE GOYA (1746-1828) is one of the most multifaceted artists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His oeuvre, replete with such opposing ideas as comfort and turmoil, friend and toe, anguish and celebration, and health and sickness can be viewed as a metaphor for the tumultuous age in which it was produced.

By the late 18th century, Spain was teetering on the edge of political and financial collapse, desperately and vainly clinging to its one-time grandeur as the most powerful nation in Europe, with influence and colonies around the globe. This national power finally ruptured during Goya's lifetime with the destruction of Spain's monarchy during Napoleonic times, as well as the loss of the American colonies, which began with Mexico's independence in 1821.

Goya's biography also swells with contrasts. His success as the greatest portrait painter in Spain secured his position as court painter under King Carlos IV in 1789 and his appointment as first painter to the king 10 years later. He was toppled from that position during the five-year reign of Joseph Napoleon, from the abdication of Carlos IV and Queen Maria Luisa in 1808 to the reinstatement of their son Fernando VII in 1814. Goya's distress with the political situation, through which he--like all of Spain--struggled, was exacerbated by his deafness, suffered from the early 1790s after an acute illness (often suggested to have been lead poisoning that resulted from a lead-based paint he used).

Goya's works are extraordinary documents of person, place, and time and exemplify the tradition of portraiture. …

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