Francisco Goya was an Aragonese Spanish painter and printmaker. Francisco Goya was a court painter to the Spanish Crown and a chronicler of history. Francisco Goya has been regarded both as the last of the Old Masters and as the first of the moderns. The subversive and subjective element in his art, as well as his bold handling of paint, provided a model for the work of later generations of artists, notably Manet and Picasso.
Francisco Goya was born to José Benito de Goya y Franque and Gracia de Lucientes y Salvador. Francisco Goya spent his childhood in Fuendetodos, where his family lived in a house bearing the family crest of his mother. Francisco Goya’s father earned his living as a gilder. About 1749, the family bought a house in the city of Zaragoza and some years later moved into it. Francisco Goya attended school at Escuelas Pias, where he formed a close friendship with Martin Zapater, and their correspondence over the years became valuable material for biographies of Francisco Goya. At the age of 14, he entered apprenticeship with the painter José Luján.
Francisco Goya later moved to Madrid where he studied with Anton Raphael Mengs, a painter who was popular with Spanish royalty. Francisco Goya clashed with his master, and his examinations were unsatisfactory. Francisco Goya submitted entries for the Royal Academy of Fine Art in 1763 and 1766, but was denied entrance.
Francisco Goya then journeyed to Rome, where in 1771 he won 2nd prize in a painting competition organized by the City of Parma. Later that year, he returned to Zaragoza and painted a part of the cupola of the Basilica of the Pillar, frescoes of the oratory of the cloisters of Aula Dei, and the frescoes of the Sobradiel Palace. Francisco Goya studied with Francisco Bayeu y Subías and his painting began to show signs of the delicate tonalities for which he became famous.
Francisco Goya married Bayeu’s sister Josefa in 1774. Francisco Goya’s marriage to Josefa (he nicknamed her “Pepa”), and Francisco Bayeu’s membership of the Royal Academy of Fine Art (from the year 1765) helped him to procure work with the Royal Tapestry Workshop. There, over the course of 5 years, he designed some 42 patterns, many of which were used to decorate (and insulate) the bare stone walls of El Escorial and the Palacio Real de El Pardo, the newly built residences of the Spanish monarchs. This brought his artistic talents to the attention of the Spanish monarchs who later would give him access to the royal court. Francisco Goya also painted a canvas for the altar of the Church of San Francisco El Grande, which led to his appointment as a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Art.
In 1783, the Count of Floridablanca, a favorite of King Carlos III, commissioned him to paint his portrait. Francisco Goya also became friends with Crown Prince Don Luis, and lived in his house. Francisco Goya’s circle of patrons grew to include the Duke and Duchess of Osuna, whom he painted, the King and other notable people of the kingdom.
After the death of Charles III in 1788 and revolution in France in 1789, during the reign of Charles IV, Francisco Goya reached his peak of popularity with royalty.
After contracting a high fever in 1792 Francisco Goya was left deaf, and he became withdrawn and introspective. During the 5 years he spent recuperating, he read a great deal about the French Revolution and its philosophy. The bitter series of aquatinted etchings that resulted were published in 1799 under the title Caprichos. The dark visions depicted in these prints are partly explained by his caption, “The sleep of reason produces monsters”. Yet these are not solely bleak in nature and demonstrate the artist’s sharp satirical wit, particularly evident in etchings such as Hunting for Teeth. Additionally, one can discern a thread of the macabre running through Francisco Goya’s work, even in his earlier tapestry cartoons.
The Family of Charles IV, 1800. Théophile Gautier described the figures as looking like “the corner baker and his wife after they won the lottery”.
In 1786 Francisco Goya was appointed painter to Charles III, and in 1789 was made court painter to Charles IV. In 1799 he was appointed First Court Painter with a salary of 50,000 reales and 500 ducats for a coach. Francisco Goya worked on the cupola of the Hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida; he painted the King and the Queen, royal family pictures, portraits of the Prince of the Peace and many other nobles. Francisco Goya’s portraits are notable for their disinclination to flatter, and in the case of The Family of Charles IV, the lack of visual diplomacy is remarkable.
Francisco Goya received orders from many friends within the Spanish nobility. Among those from whom he procured portrait commissions were Pedro de Álcantara Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna and his wife María Josefa de la Soledad, 9th Duchess of Osuna, María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duchess of Alba (universally known simply as the “Duchess of Alba”), and her husband José Alvarez de Toledo y Gonzaga, 13th Duke of Alba, and María Ana de Pontejos y Sandoval, Marchioness of Pontejos.
Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819. The title, like all those given to the Black Paintings, was assigned by others after Francisco Goya’s death. As French forces invaded Spain during the Peninsular War (1808–1814), the new Spanish court received him as had its predecessors.
When Josefa died in 1812, Francisco Goya was painting The Charge of the Mamelukes and The Third of May 1808, and preparing the series of prints known as The Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra).
King Ferdinand VII came back to Spain but relations with Francisco Goya were not cordial. In 1814 Francisco Goya was living with his housekeeper Doña Leocadia and her illegitimate daughter, Rosario Weiss; the young woman studied painting with Francisco Goya, who may have been her father. Francisco Goya continued to work incessantly on portraits, pictures of Santa Justa and Santa Rufina, lithographs, pictures of tauromachy, and more. With the idea of isolating himself, he bought a house near Manzanares, which was known as the Quinta del Sordo (roughly, “House of the Deaf Man”, titled after its previous owner and not Francisco Goya himself). There he made the Black Paintings.
Francisco Goya left Spain in May 1824 for Bordeaux, where he settled, in Paris.
Francisco Goya painted the Spanish royal family, including Charles IV of Spain and Ferdinand VII. Francisco Goya’s themes range from merry festivals for tapestry, draft cartoons, to scenes of war and corpses. This evolution reflects the darkening of his temper. Modern physicians suspect that the lead in his pigments poisoned him and caused his deafness since 1792. Near the end of his life, he became reclusive and produced frightening and obscure paintings of insanity, madness, and fantasy. The style of these Black Paintings prefigure the expressionist movement. Francisco Goya often painted himself into the foreground.
2 of Francisco Goya’s best known paintings are The Nude Maja (La maja desnuda) and The Clothed Maja (La maja vestida). They depict the same woman in the same pose, naked and clothed, respectively. Francisco Goya painted La maja vestida after outrage in Spanish society over the previous Desnuda. Without a pretense to allegorical or mythological meaning, the painting was “the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art”. Francisco Goya refused to paint clothes on her, and instead created a new painting.
The identity of the Majas is uncertain. The most popularly cited subjects are the Duchess of Alba, with whom Francisco Goya is thought to have had an affair, and the mistress of Manuel de Godoy, who subsequently owned the paintings. Neither theory has been verified, and it remains as likely that the paintings represent an idealised composite. In 1808 all Godoy’s property was seized by Ferdinand VI after his fall from power and exile, and in 1813 the Inquisition confiscated both works as ‘obscene’, returning them in 1836.
In a period of convalescence during 1793–1794, Francisco Goya completed a set of 11 small pictures painted on tin; the pictures known as Fantasy and Invention mark a significant change in his art. These paintings no longer represent the world of popular carnival, but rather a dark, dramatic realm of fantasy and nightmare. Courtyard with Lunatics is a horrifying and imaginary vision of loneliness, fear and social alienation, a departure from the rather more superficial treatment of mental illness in the works of earlier artists such as Hogarth. In this painting, the ground, sealed by masonry blocks and iron gate, is occupied by patients and a single warden. The patients are variously staring, sitting, posturing, wrestling, grimacing or disciplining themselves. The top of the picture vanishes with sunlight, emphasizing the nightmarish scene below.
This picture can be read as an indictment of the widespread punitive treatment of the insane, who were confined with criminals, put in iron manacles, and subjected to physical punishment. And this intention is to be taken into consideration since one of the essential goals of the enlightenment was to reform the prisons and asylums, a subject common in the writings of Voltaire and others. The condemnation of brutality towards prisoners (whether they were criminals or insane) was the subject of many of Goya’s later paintings.
As he completed this painting, Francisco Goya was himself undergoing a physical and mental breakdown. It was a few weeks after the French declaration of war on Spain, and Francisco Goya’s illness was developing. A contemporary reported, “the noises in his head and deafness aren’t improving, yet his vision is much better and he is back in control of his balance.” Francisco Goya’s symptoms may indicate a prolonged viral encephalitis or possibly a series of miniature strokes resulting from high blood pressure and affecting hearing and balance centers in the brain. Other postmortem diagnostic assessment points toward paranoid dementia due to unknown brain trauma (perhaps due to the unknown illness which he reported). If this is the case, from here on – we see an insidious assault of his faculties, manifesting as paranoid features in his paintings, culminating in his black paintings and especially Saturn Devouring His Sons.
In 1799 Francisco Goya published a series of 80 prints titled Caprichos depicting what he called
“ …the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual. ”
In The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid, Francisco Goya attempted to “perpetuate by the means of his brush the most notable and heroic actions of our glorious insurrection against the Tyrant of Europe” The painting does not show an incident that Francisco Goya witnessed; rather it was meant as more abstract commentary.
In later life Francisco Goya bought a house, called Quinta del Sordo (“Deaf Man’s House”), and painted many unusual paintings on canvas and on the walls, including references to witchcraft and war. One of these is the famous work Saturn Devouring His Sons (known informally in some circles as Devoration or Saturn Eats His Child), which displays a Greco-Roman mythological scene of the god Saturn consuming a child, a reference to Spain’s ongoing civil conflicts. Moreover, the painting has been seen as “the most essential to our understanding of the human condition in modern times, just as Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling is essential to understanding the tenor of the 16th century”.
What more can one do?, from The Disasters of War, 1812-15. This painting is 1 of 14 in a series known as the Black Paintings. After his death the wall paintings were transferred to canvas and remain some of the best examples of the later period of Francisco Goya’s life when, deafened and driven half-mad by what was probably an encephalitis of some kind, he decided to free himself from painterly strictures of the time and paint whatever nightmarish visions came to him. Many of these works are in the Prado museum in Madrid.
In the 1810s, Francisco Goya created a set of aquatint prints titled The Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra) which depict scenes from the Peninsular War. The scenes are singularly disturbing, sometimes macabre in their depiction of battlefield horror, and represent an outraged conscience in the face of death and destruction. The prints were not published until 1863, 35 years after Francisco Goya’s death.
The findings of research published since 2003 have raised questions regarding the authenticity of some of Francisco Goya’s late works. One study claims that the Black Paintings were applied to walls that did not exist in Francisco Goya’s home before he left for France. In 2008 the Prado Museum reverted the traditional attribution of The Colossus, and expressed doubts over the authenticity of 3 other paintings attributed to Francisco Goya as well.
Remembrance plaque for Francisco Goya in Bordeaux Enrique Granados composed a piano suite (1911) and later an opera (1916), both called Goyescas, inspired by the artist’s paintings. Gian Carlo Menotti wrote a biographical opera about him titled Goya (1986), commissioned by Plácido Domingo, who originated the role; this production has been presented on television. Francisco Goya also inspired Michael Nyman’s opera Facing Goya (2000), and Francisco Goya is the central character in Clive Barker’s play Colossus (1995).
Several films portray Francisco Goya’s life. These include a short film, Goya (1948), Goya, Historia de una Soledad (1971), Goya in Bordeaux (1999), Volavérunt (1999) and Goya’s Ghosts (2006).
In 1988 American musical theatre composer Maury Yeston released a studio cast album of his own musical, Goya: A Life In Song, in which Plácido Domingo again starred as Goya.
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