María Cayetana de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba

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The Most Excellent
The Duchess of Alba
Goya Alba1.jpg
The White Duchess by Francisco de Goya, 1795
Spouse(s) José Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba
María de la Luz (adopted)
Full name
María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Álvarez de Toledo y Silva Bazán
Noble family House of Alba
Born (1762-06-10)June 10, 1762
Madrid, Spain
Died July 23, 1802(1802-07-23) (aged 40)
Sanlúcar la Mayor, Andalusia, Spain

Doña María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva-Álvarez de Toledo y Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba de Tormes, Grandee of Spain (full name, see infobox; 10 June 1762 – 23 July 1802), was a Spanish aristocrat and a popular subject of the painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.


María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo became the 13th Duchess of Alba in 1776. Her marriage to José Álvarez de Toledo, 11th Marquis of Villafranca, made her and her husband the wealthiest couple in the Kingdom of Spain; their only rivals to this title were the House of Osuna.

The Duchess' relationship with famed Spanish painter Francisco Goya and her somewhat eccentric personality have contributed greatly to a continuing interest in her life during the two centuries since her death. Goya executed several well-known portraits of the duchess, most of them during his stay at Sanlúcar de Barrameda (one of the Andalusian country seats of the House of Medina-Sidonia), shortly after the death of her husband, the Duke of Alba, who was also Duke of Medina Sidonia, in 1796.

Goya's accompaniment of the recently widowed Duchess combined with certain innuendo expressed in his portraits of her have exacerbated rumors that the two were lovers.[1] Although this has never been confirmed, the sheer number of portraits the artist painted of the duchess certainly suggests, at the very least, a close platonic relationship between the two.

The painting La maja desnuda, executed between 1797 and 1800 by Goya, has also been rumored to portray her. The painting, considered scandalous by Spanish society of the time, depicts a fully nude reclining woman. It, together with a companion piece depicting the same model clothed, La maja vestida, was commissioned by Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy (the known lover of Spain's queen, María Luisa).

The true identity of the Majas is uncertain. Many art historians over the years have rejected the possibility that the painting depicts the duchess, including Australian art critic Robert Hughes in his 2003 biography, Goya. Those scholars believe that the painting depicts either Godoy's young mistress or an idealized composite of several different models.[2]

Death and succession[edit]

The Duchess died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in July 1802 at the age of 40. Although her death was ostensibly due to tuberculosis and a fever, more colorful scenarios have been suggested over the years, among them a theory that she was poisoned (this theory was dramatized in the film The Naked Maja). She had no biological issue although she did have an adoptive daughter, known as María de la Luz.

After her death, the title Duke of Alba passed to a relative, Carlos Miguel Fitz-James Stuart (1794–1835), who became the 14th Duke of Alba.


Images by Francisco Goya[edit]

Doubted to represent the Duchess[edit]



  • Hobbs, Nicolas (2007). "Grandes de España" (in Spanish). Retrieved 15 October 2008. 
  • Instituto de Salazar y Castro. Elenco de Grandezas y Titulos Nobiliarios Españoles (in Spanish). periodic publication. 
Spanish nobility
Preceded by
Fernando de Silva
Duchess of Alba
Succeeded by
Carlos Fitz-James Stuart
Preceded by
Francisco de Silva
Duchess of Huéscar
Italian nobility
Preceded by
Fernando de Silva
Countess of Modica
Succeeded by
Carlos Fitz-James Stuart