duchess of alba: seven year fling

At about the time that Goya began work on the “Caprichos” , he also began his famous but always somewhat ambiguous affair with the Duchess of Alba, probably the most vivid figure that her society produced. In 1795 she visited his studio, as we know from a reference he made to the incident in a letter. The duke died the following year , and whether or not the affair had begun during her husband’s lifetime, it continued until the duchess’s death in 1802.

"The Duchess of Alba: 1797 The thirteenth Duchess of Alba was born in 1762, widowed in 1796 and died in 1802 in mysterious circumstances, which gave rise to the rumor that she was poisoned. She was a prominent figure in Madrid society. Goya's relations with the Duchess were such that they have led to the suggestion that she posed for La Maja Desnuda. He stayed with her at her Andalusian estate in Sanlúcar after her husband's death and made several drawings of scenes in the domestic life of the Duchess and her household. She is also recognizable in several plates of Los Caprichos and in one unpublished etching, which seems to record an estrangement from the artist. The present portrait was almost certainly painted during Goya's stay at Sanlúcar and remained in his possession. The name Alba on the ring on the Duchess's third finger and Goya on that on the downward-pointing index finger are in themselves evidence of Goya's intimacy with his sitter. The inscription on the ground at the Duchess's feet, to which her finger points (only uncovered in modern times), reads Solo Goya, the word solo ('only') strengthening the assumption that they were lovers. The stiff figure with its expressionless face is, however, more like the puppet-like figures of the tapestry cartoons than a portrait of a familiar sitter." read more: http://www.hoocher.com/Francisco_de_Goya/Francisco_de_Goya.htm

The Duchess of Alba was a spirited and capricious beauty, and her liaison with Goya opens the door to all manner of romantic speculation. A sophisticate who had every handsome young man in Madrid at her feet, she chose as her lover a stocky, coarse featured commoner, almost fifty years old and stone deaf. In spite of his association with aristocrats and intellectuals, Goya had never taken on much polish and refinement. His letters are awkwardly composed and its coarse earthy tone is in part intentional as part of an exaggeration of identity.

Goys’s manner of expression, while cogent, remained solidly in the argot and delivery of a countryman; though not necessarily a peasant, but almost as a Mark Twain creation. He seems to have had no elegance. But he had force and strength of character. Whatever the details and satisfactions of the relationship, Goya and the duchess were lovers, and when they could they left Madrid for her estate in Andalusia.

---"She was without question one of the most beautiful women in Spain– a fact noted by nearly every man who met and wrote about her. She was tall, slender, with flashing dark eyes and a fine-boned face– perhaps a little too long for modern tastes– surmounted by a mop of thick, dark curls... If the word existed in the eighteenth century, she would have been formidably hip– what else could an aristocratic maja wish to be?" (Page 157 from Robert Hughes book Goya, Knopf, 2003)--- read more: http://eeweems.com/goya/duchess_white.html

Goya left an ambiguous comment on the affair in the form of a portrait of the duchess wearing two large rings, one of them bearing Goya’s name and the other her husband’s. While looking the observer straight in the eyes, she points at an inscription scratched in the earth at her feet: “Solo Goya”, which mean Goya only, presumably referring ot the death of the duke. The inscription was revealed only much later through a cleaning and restoration of the work, and there are questions as to whether it was part of the original scheme and when and why it was painted out. In odd ways Goya and his duchess have maintained for posterity a remarkable privacy concerning their liaison. Wh know hardly anything more about it than that, in one form or another it existed.

"They are Flying The Duchess of Alba appears also in Goya's Caprichos: standing proudly on the back of three witch-like figures, she flies through the air. The heads of the figures resemble those of famous bullfighters. The white, doll-like face of the Duchess appears haughtily reserved, and in her hair she wears butterfly wings as a symbol of unpredictable flightiness." read more: http://www.hoocher.com/Francisco_de_Goya/Francisco_de_Goya.htm

“The ‘White Duchess’ was the one [painted] for semipublic consumption. It is a marvelous study in doubling and repetition built around two themes, red and white. The only other color in the portrait is Alba’s mane of black hair, which is painted with an extraordinary and sensuous softness: it cascades down her back, and two thick tendrils caressing her shoulders. Her dress is very much in the French manner, not a bit like the maja style of the later [black] portrait; made of gauzy white muslin hemmed with gold embroidery, it is gathered high under her breasts and cinched with a broad crimson sash. The same red is repeated in the bow on her cleavage, in the double row of red coral beads around her throat, in the five-petaled silk bow in her hair, and– not least– in the sweetly parodical red bow her living accessory, a little long-haired creature of the breed known as a bichon frise , bears on its right hind leg. Read More: http://eeweems.com/goya/duchess_white.html a

The Duchess of Alba and her Duenna. 1795. read more:http://www.terminartors.com/artworkprofile/Goya_y_Lucientes_Francisco_de-The_Duchess_of_Alba_and_Her_Duenna

Clearly, Goya had been inspired– though not to the point of servile copying– by English modes of portraiture that he would have seen in reproduction, in the print cabinet of Sebastian Martinez: the lady of quality seen in a landscape with her attendant dog had often been painted by Romney, Gainsborough, and Reynolds. And the fact that the duchess is attired in flowing white Neoclassical-style rode, probably of Bengal muslin, also attests to Goya’s interest in English Neoclassicism: he is known to have made, during the 1790s, copies after engravings by John Flaxman.” (Page 162 from Robert Hughes Goya, Knopf, 2003) Read More: http://eeweems.com/goya/duchess_white.html





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One Response to duchess of alba: seven year fling

  1. Fionnuala Brennan says:

    How would Goya have addressed the duchess and she him?

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