The Black Duchess or Mourning Portrait of the Duchess of Alba

Francisco Goya
Keywords: BlackDuchessMourningPortraitDuchessAlba

Work Overview

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba (The Black Duchess; Mourning Portrait of the Duchess of Alba; Portrait of the Duchess of Alba)
Artist Francisco Goya
Year 1797
Type oil-on-canvas
Dimensions 194 cm × 130 cm (76.5 in × 51.25 in)
Style   Romanticism
Genre   portrait
Location New York Hispanic Society, New York

The Black Duchess (also Mourning Portrait of the Duchess of Alba or simply Portrait of the Duchess of Alba) is a 1797 oil-on-canvas painting by Spanish painter Francisco Goya. In the painting, María Cayetana de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba (the Duchess) is thirty-five years old. It is a companion piece to the more chaste The White Duchess, completed two years earlier. In this work, de Silva is dressed in low cut Maja clothing, probably she agreed to this depiction as it might show her as a "woman of the people".[1] As of 2012 the painting is kept at the New York Hispanic Society, operated by the Hispanic Society of America.

The Portrait of the Duchess of Alba was painted in 1797 by Spanish painter Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. The work is kept at the New York Hispanic Society, owned and operated by the Hispanic Society of America.[3][4] In the painting, the duchess (María Cayetana de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba[a]) is thirty-five years old, and her husband had died the year before, so she is dressed in mourning clothes (attire). In the painting, she is pointing to the ground, where the words "solo Goya" are lightly engraved. She is wearing two rings, one engraved with the word "Alba", the other engraved with "Goya". The inscription of the word "solo" was initially hidden, but after the painting was restored the word was revealed.[5]

This work is among a number Goya painted of the duchess.[6] When she retreated to a residence after her husband died a year earlier[7] for a period of mourning, Goya followed and created numerous paintings and sketches of the duchess during her stay.[8] One day, the duchess walked into Goya's studio and requested that he put on the duchess' makeup, then create a painting for her, which he did. This painting is the Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, painted at her request.

Few women in eighteenth-century Spain captured the imagination of contemporaries as thoroughly as Doña María de Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Álvarez de Toledo (1761-1802), XIII duchess of Alba in her own right. When Goya visited her estate at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, near Cádiz for eight months from 1796 to 1797, she was thirty-five years old, just widowed, and in the flower of her beauty—a French visitor to Madrid avowed that "every hair on her head elicits desire." In contrast, Goya was fifty, deaf, married, and still not fully recovered from his debilitating illness of 1792.

The duchess, fashionably attired in the popular black dress of a maja, appears before a landscape doubtless representing her estate in Sanlúcar. We may never know the details of their relationship, but Goya clearly succumbed to her charisma: written in the sand are the words, solo Goya ("only Goya"), while she wears rings inscribed "Alba" and "Goya." The painting had great personal significance for the artist since he kept it in his studio long after the duchess's death. Goya evokes the duchess's personality in her pose and costume which he renders in an impressive display of brushwork and color, particularly in her sleeves and mantilla. Moreover, he enhances the impact of her figure in his handling of the landscape, where the soft, almost transparent glazes evoke a romantic spirit. Although the work originated in unique circumstances, Goya's image resembles that of his royal portraits and, more broadly, recalls those by Velázquez.

A highlight of our autumn show Goya: The Portraits is undoubtedly the iconic image of the Duchess of Alba painted by Goya in 1797. A jewel in the Hispanic Society of America’s collection, the portrait shows the duchess, Goya’s close friend and patron, dressed as a ‘maja’ in a sleek black dress and ‘mantilla’.

Goya captures the Duchess’s charismatic nature as she points emphatically to the ground where the words ‘Solo Goya’ (‘Only Goya’) are inscribed. More than just a beautiful likeness, the work typifies Goya’s skill at revealing something deeper about his sitters.

So significant is the place it occupies within Goya’s oeuvre, that it would be hard to imagine an exhibition of the stature of 'Goya: The Portraits' without it. The Gallery is extremely grateful to the Hispanic Society of America for granting this exceptional loan, made all the more momentous by the fact that the work has only once before left its home in the States.’

The Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library, located on Broadway between 155th and 156th Streets in New York City, was founded in 1904 by Archer M. Huntington with the purpose of advancing the study and appreciation of the art, literature, and culture of Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and the Philippines. 

Today both the museum and library collections through the early 20th century are widely recognized as the most comprehensive in scope and quality outside of Spain. Museum highlights include numerous masterworks by El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, and Sorolla; sculpture by Pedro de Mena and Luisa Roldán; Latin American paintings by Vázquez, López de Arteaga, Rodríguez Juárez, and Campeche; as well as masterpieces in all areas of the decorative arts.