Famous Painters and Paintings: Goya's Nude Maja

About the famous painting Nude Maja by Goya, history of the artwork.


THE PAINTING: Nude Maja. The identity of the Nude Maja has been the topic of many discussions. Theories range from Pilar Teresa Cayetana, the Duchess of Alba, to Teresita, sister of a priest. Some critics believe Goya had no model at all, but painted his "ideal" woman.

The duchess was a highly unconventional aristocrat who had posed for more than 20 pictures for her artist-lover. According to legend, she was intrigued by the Maja image--a gay lady or harlot, or both--and begged Goya to paint her in this manner. The fact that the paintings were a part of the duchess' collection at the time of her death makes this theory quite plausible.

Depicting a nude woman was unique in Spanish painting during this century and was a risk even for the well-liked and admired court painter. But Goya, a rebel by nature, concealed his deed by painting a 2nd portrait, the Clothed Maja which was skillfully hung in front of the nude and could be interchanged by using a mechanical device.

The Inquisition eventually learned of the painting and in 1814 ordered Goya to give his motives for creating such a portrait. The reasons he gave are not known, but presumably they were acceptable for neither the Nude Maja nor the Clothed Maja was destroyed.

After Cayetana's death, Goya sold the paintings to Manuel de Godoy, the powerful minister of Charles IV, and both paintings now hang at the Prado in Madrid.

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