La maja desnuda
The Nude Maja (Spanish: La Maja Desnuda) is a name given to a c. 1797-1800 oil on canvas painting by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. It portrays a nude woman reclining on a bed of pillows, and was probably commissioned by Manuel de Godoy, to hang in his private collection in a separate cabinet reserved for nude paintings. Goya created a pendant of the same woman identically posed, but clothed, known today as La maja vestida (The Clothed Maja); also in the Prado, it is usually hung next to La maja desnuda. The subject is identified as a maja based on her costume in La maja vestida.
The painting is renowned for the straightforward and unashamed gaze of the model towards the viewer; before this point nude paintings tended to show shy, modest models with averted eyes. With this work Goya not only upset the ecclesiastical authorities, but also titillated the public and extended the artistic horizon of the day. It has been in the Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1901.
Although the two versions of the Maja are the same size, the sitter in the clothed version occupies a much larger proportion of the pictorial space; according to art historian Janis Tomlinson she seems almost to "press boldly against the confines of her frame", making her ironically more brazen in comparison to the comparatively "timid" nude portrait.
The painting carries many of the traditions of depictions of the nude in Spanish art, but marks a clear break in significant ways, especially in her bold gaze. Further, the accompanying pedant showing a woman in contemporary dress makes it clear that the focus of the work is not of a mythological subject, as in Velázquez's Rokeby Venus, but in fact of a nude Spanish woman. More obviously, while Velázquez painted his Venus revealing only her back, Goya's portrait is a full frontal view. Goya's figuraration is short and angular, while Velázquez's is elongated and curved, and his figure placed on richly coloured satin, which starkly contrasts to the bare white cloths Goya's maja rests on.
The identity of the model and why the paintings were created are unknown. Both paintings are first recorded in an inventory of Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, Duke of Alcudia in 1800, when hung in a private room reserved for nude paintings, alongside such works as Velázquez's Rokeby Venus. Godoy retained the picture for six years before it was discovered by investigators for the Spanish Inquisition in 1808, along with his other "questionable pictures". Godoy and the curator of his collection, Don Francisco de Garivay, were hauled before a tribunal and forced to reveal the artists behind the confiscated art works which were "so indecent and prejudical to the public good."
The controversy was populist and driven by a political motive, following a mob gathering demanding Godoy's removal as Prime Minister. In the fallout, Goya was named and summonsed on a charge of moral depravity. As Godoy had only been found in possession of the painting, Goya was asked to identify why "he did them", and also "at whose request, and what attention guided him." His answers do not survive, but we know that the Director of Confiscations noted that Goya had only followed and emulated Titian's Danaë series and Velázquez's Venus; two painters, if not works, very much admired by the court and church, although there was disapproval of their nudes, and the inquisition later focused on the latters' Rokeby Venus.
Goya escaped prosecution when the tribunal accepted that he was following in a tradition, and emulating a Velázquez's painting which had been favoured by Philip IV of Spain. Ironically, the earlier picture of Venus had been similarly kept out of view by that art loving King in a private room, "the room where His Majesty retires after eating." In fact, the Inquisition by 1808 was nearing the end of its influence, and while it could draw attention to "dangerous" forms of expression, be they books, plays or paintings, it was usually unable to fully suppress them.
La maja desnuda has always hung alongside, above or before its companion. They were twice in the collection of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, also in Madrid, being "sequestered" by the Inquisition between 1814 and 1836 before being returned. They have been in the Prado since 1901.
It is not known if the two works were intended to be hung together. One early account gives the Clothed Maja placed in front of the current work; the pull of a chord revealed the nude version. Today they are hung side by side, although others have suggested that they were intended to be spaced apart, and seen in succession.
Identity of the model
It has been conjectured that the woman depicted was Godoy's young mistress Pepita Tudó. It has also been suggested that the woman was María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Álvarez de Toledo, 13th Duchess of Alba, with whom Goya is rumored to have been romantically involved and whose portrait he painted twice (in 1795 and 1797). However, many scholars have rejected this possibility, including Australian art critic Robert Hughes in his 2003 biography, Goya. Many agree that Pepita Tudó is a more likely candidate. Others believe the woman is a composite of several different models.
The work has inspired other artists. Jeffrey Meyers, in his book Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt, opines that Manet's Olympia "boldly alluded to another masterpiece, Goya's Naked Maja."
Two sets of stamps depicting La maja desnuda in commemoration of Goya's work were privately produced in 1930, and later approved by the Spanish Postal Authority. That same year, the United States government barred and returned any mail bearing the stamps. This was the first time that a stamp represented a naked woman.
References and sources
- This name was given later; Goya did not usually title his works
- Tomlinson, 149
- Connell, 196
- Tomlinson, 148
- He was brought on a separate charge of collaborating with the French, that is of treason. See Connell 196
- Hughes, 333
- Connell, 197
- Portús, 62–63
- Prado page
- Jeffrey Meyers, Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt. New York: Harcourt, 2005. p. 35.
- "The Clothed and the Naked Maja by Goya"
- Connell, Evan S. Francisco Goya: A Life. New York: Counterpoint, 2004. ISBN 1-58243-307-0
- Hughes, Robert. Goya. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. ISBN 0-394-58028-1
- Portús, Javier. Nudes and Knights: A Context for Venus, in Carr, Dawson W. Velázquez. Ed. Dawson W. Carr; also Xavier Bray, Javier Portús and others. National Gallery London, 2006. ISBN 1-85709-303-8
- Tomlinson, Janis A. Goya in the Twilight of Enlightenment. Yale University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-300-05462-9
- Updike, John (3 November 2003). "An Obstinate Survivor". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
- Prado page (in Spanish, then English below)