Nude Maja

Francisco Goya
Keywords: NudeMaja

Work Overview

Nude Maja
Francisco Goya
Original Title: Maja Desnuda
Alternative name: La maja desnuda
Date: 1800
Style: Romanticism
Genre: nude painting (nu)
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 191 x 98 cm
Location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

The Nude Maja (Spanish: La Maja Desnuda [la ˈmaxa ðezˈnuða]) 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. It has also been cited as among the earliest Western artwork to depict a nude woman's pubic hair without obvious negative connotations (such as in images of prostitutes).[2] 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 slightly 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.[3]

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 pendant 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.[3] More obviously, while Velázquez painted his Venus revealing only her back, Goya's portrait is a full frontal view.[4] Goya's figuration 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 unpopular and unsuccessful art by Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, Duke of Alcúdia in 1800, when they were hung in a private room reserved for nude paintings, alongside such works as Velázquez's Rokeby Venus.[5] 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".[4] Godoy and the curator of his collection, Don Francisco de Garivay, were brought before a tribunal and forced to reveal the artists behind the confiscated art works which were "so indecent and prejudicial 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.[6] 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."[7] 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, and their works, very much admired by the court and church, including their nudes, and the Inquisition has up to that time not found anything objectionable in the latter's Rokeby Venus.[citation needed]

Goya escaped prosecution when the tribunal accepted that he was following in a tradition, and emulating a Velázquez painting which had been favoured by Philip IV of Spain.[8] 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."[9] 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.[10]

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 cord 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.

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."[11]

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.[12]

The novel The Naked Maja (by Samuel Edwards, 1959)[13] is based on Goya's affairs with the Duchess. Later that same year, an Italian-French-American co-production film based on this novel (sharing the same name) was made by S.G.C., Titanus Films, and United Artists.

An image of Venus in the nude, lying on a green velvet divan with pillows and a spread. Legend would have it that this was the Duchess of Alba, but the sitter has also been identified as Pepita Tudó, who became Godoy´s mistress in 1797. It is listed for the first time in 1800 as hanging over a door in Manuel Godoy´s palace, but without its companion, The Clothed Maja (P00741). In 1808 it is mentioned again, along with The Clothed Maja (P00741), in the inventory which Frédéric Quillet, José Bonaparte´s agent, made of the property of Manuel Godoy, who may have commissioned it. Then, in 1813, the two ladies are described as Gypsies in the inventory of Godoy´s property confiscated by King Fernando VII. This work entered the Prado Museum in 1901 by way of the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, where it had been from 1808 to 1813, and again from 1836 to 1901. In the hiatus between those two periods, it was sequestered by the Inquisition.

Goya's Majas (fashionable young women) are two of his most famous and most discussed masterpieces. Their date, for whom they were painted and the identity of the model are problems that are still not satisfactorily solved. The first mention of The Nude Maja is in the diary of the medallist Pedro Gonzalez de Sepulveda describing a visit in November 1800 to the house of the Minister, Manuel Godoy, Goya's patron and the target of his satire: 'In an apartment or inner cabinet are pictures of various Venuses... [among them] a naked one by Goya, without design or delicacy of colouring' and Velázquez's 'famous Venus'. There is no mention of The Clothed Maja and presumably it was not there, probably not yet painted.

Godoy's position at court and his known taste for paintings of female nudes (there were many others in his collection) makes it likely that both Majas were painted for him. An alternative suggestion is that they were in the Duchess of Alba's collection and acquired by Godoy after her death, together with Velázquez's The Toilet of Venus and other pictures. Goya's relations with the Duchess of Alba have made her the most popular candidate as a model for the Majas, at least as a source of inspiration, supported by the many drawings of herself and members of her household he made during his visit to the Duchess's country estate. The lack of resemblance to the heads of Goya's earlier portraits of her is usually explained by the need to conceal her identity. Whoever the model may have been and for whomever the pictures were made, Goya's nude Maja is unique and unprecedented in his oeuvre and in Spain, even in Europe, in his time. Velázquez's Venus, which Goya must have seen in the Duchess of Alba's collection, is its only comparable predecessor in the life-like portrayal of the female nude. But where the Velázquez is also a mythological painting, Goya's The Nude Maja makes no pretence of being anything but the rendering of a naked woman lying on a couch.

La Maja Desnuda is an oils on canvas painting by the Spanish painter, Francisco Goya. It is quite large, measuring 38 by 75 inches. The painting was acquired by the Museo del Prado in Madrid in 1910, and remains there to this day. It is not known when exactly Goya did the painting, but most estimates date it between 1797 and 1800, although some date it as early as 1792.

La Maja Desnuda translates into English as “the naked mistress” or “the nude mistress.” As the name suggests, the subject of the painting is a naked female. She is depicted lying seductively on a couch.

Her two arms are raised, with her hands behind her head, she has a slight smile, and her two cheeks are noticeably rosy. Her body is tilted towards the viewer. The painting is somewhat unusual in that her pubic hair is depicted. In most western classical paintings up to that time, pubic hair was not to be shown.

All the lighting focus of the painting is on the nude herself and the surface of the couch. The background to the painting is mainly dark and shows no other objects other than a plain wall.

History of the painting
The first recorded owner of the painting was the then Spanish prime minister, Manuel de Godoy, giving rise to unfounded speculation that the subject may have been his mistress.

Goya was brought before the Spanish Inquisition in 1815. The Inquisition felt the painting was immoral and they tried to determine who had commissioned the artist to do the nude painting from Goya. The result of their inquiry is unknown.

Second Version
Goya painted a nearly identical work called La Maja Vestida, which translates as “the clothed maja.” It is almost an exact copy of La Maja Desnuda, the principal difference being that in La Maja Vestida, the barefoot subject is fully clothed. The second version is also in the Museo del Prado, and the two paintings are usually displayed side by side.

The Nude Maja (La Maja Desnuda) was one of the first paintings Goya made for Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, one of his primary patrons. The painting features an unknown model, believed to be either Godoy's mistress Pepita Tudo, or the Duchess of Alba, who was Goya's supposed lover. The nude woman is shown reclining on a green velvet chaise with her arms crossed behind her head. Her voluptuous body is angled toward the viewer, and she gazes seductively at the viewer with rosy cheeks that suggest post-coital flush. Goya broke with conventions of the nude in depicting a real woman (not a goddess or allegorical figure) with pubic hair, and having her look directly at the viewer; these daring details would influence later modern artists like Manet, whose Olympia certainly owes a debt to the nude Maja.

Goya also created a companion piece - La Maja Vestida, or The Clothed Maja - which offers a more chaste version of the same female portrait. Both works were confiscated by the Spanish Inquisition, but now proudly hang next to each other in Spain's most important museum - The Prado.