Painted between 1797 and 1800, The Nude Maja is one of the most enigmatic and widely discussed Francisco de Goya paintings. Particularly renowned for the unabashed, direct gaze of the woman, this female nude painting remains both shocking and striking even to contemporary audiences.
Depicting a naked woman lounging provocatively on a bed covered in pillows and white sheets, Goya painted The Nude Maja as romantic wall art for Manuel de Godoy’s personal collection.
With the title “The Price of the Peace”, Manuel Godoy was First Secretary of State for Spain, renowned for his diplomacy with Napoleon. He particularly collected famous nude paintings and erotic artworks, stored in a special cabinet for the entertainment of male guests. Another work in this collection was the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez.
Amongst famous Spanish artists, Goya’s sensual artwork particularly drew the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities. Manuel de Godoy kept the Nude Maja in his private collection for six years before its unearthing by the Spanish Inquisition.
Described as a compendium of “questionable pictures” his collection led to a highly publicized legal trial. As a result of proceedings, Godoy revealed the names of the artists behind his “indecent” artworks.
This resulted in Goya’s summoning on charges of moral depravity. He luckily escaped prosecution, however. The Director of Confiscations noted the painting followed artistic precedent set by Titian and his Danaë series as well as Velázquez's Rokeby Venus.
Despite the moral uproar, The Nude Maja is a brilliant example of famous romantic paintings. It continues traditional themes of nude portraiture, but significantly progresses the artistic canon with its unabashed realism.
There are many theories about the identity of the woman in Goya’s painting.
Legend has it she could be the Duchess of Alba herself. Others tentatively identify the woman as Pepita Tudó. Lending credibility to this theory, Pepita became Manuel Godoy´s lover in 1797 (around the time of the work’s creation).
The first written description of the painting dates to 1800, listed as hanging over a door in Godoy’s palace. Mentioned again in 1808, the nude painting appeared alongside its companion The Clothed Maja.
Adding yet more mystery to the artwork, in 1813 both paintings were described as portraits of a gypsy woman. This identification appeared in an inventory of confiscated property, undertaken on behalf of King Fernando VII.
This latter theory is most likely, with the title of the painting (La Maja Desnuda) reflecting her lower socio-economic status. “Majas” often wore elaborate dresses made from satin fabrics, also known for their cheeky irreverent behavior. The costume of the clothed Maja supports this interpretation. This is due to her typical white dress with a pink sash, topped with a gold and black open jacket.
After its initial commissioning, the painting has a fascinating history. Displayed by the Academy of Fine Arts from 1808 to 1813, it was impounded by the Spanish Inquisition during Goya’s trial. The painting was only returned to the Academy in 1836, where it remained until 1901. From this point on, the painting has remained in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Goya was born into a lower middle class family and at aged 14 began to study painting, firstly in Aragon, and later in Madrid. Failing to win a Scholarship to the Royal Academy in Madrid, Goya funded a visit to Rome, where two of his earliest paintings Sacrifice to Vesta and a Sacrifice of Pan were completed.
In 1777 Goya returned to Madrid and won a commission to design a series of tapestries for the Royal Tapestry Factory. Over a five year period Goya designed some 42 patterns that were used to cover the stone walls of Spanish Royal palaces, such as El Escorial. Goya was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Count of Floridablanca in 1783. From that time on Goya became a Royal favorite and in 1790 he was appointed First Court Painter. Goya portraits were commissioned by many members of the Spanish Aristocracy. Goya portraits also include scenes of the Spanish Royal Family.
Goya’s best known portraits of Spanish nobility are The Count of Floridablanca, 1783, owned by the Bank of Spain in Madrid, The Family of Infante Don Luis 1784 owned by the Magnani-Rocca Foundation in Italy and The Marquesa de Pontejos 1786, owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
Goya portraits, The Duchess of Alba 1795 (The White Duchess) is owned by the Alba Family in Madrid, whilst The Duchess of Alba 1797 (The Black Duchess) is held by the Hispanic Society of America, in New York City.
Goya’s most famous painting, and the first life sized female nude portrait painting in Western art, is La Maja Desnuda. The painting was a commissioned by the Prime Minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy, for his private collection and a second painting, this time with the same model fully clothed, La Maja Vestida – The Clothed Maja, 1805, was also commissioned. The two paintings sit happily together in The Prado Museum in Madrid. Both Goya Maja oil paintings are available as reproduction paintings on canvas from our online catalogue of replica oil paintings for sale.
Goya’s career changed when the French army invaded Spain in 1808, in the Peninsular War from 1808 – 1814. During this period Goya is known to have worked for the new French King Joseph, the brother of Napoleon, but Goya’s two best known paintings of the period were painted after the war: The Third of May, 1808 and The Second of May 1808 both reside in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Goya painted a series of 14 paintings known as the Black Paintings, which were in fact murals painted in oils directly on to the walls of his farmhouse. Francisco Goya black paintings were completed from 1819 onwards after he suffered from an unknown illness that left him very weak and deaf. The most famous of these works are Saturn Devouring His Son The Dog, The Fates, Monk Talking to a Blind Woman c1824, and Witches Sabbath
After Goya’s death in Bordeaux in 1828, the murals were carefully cut from the walls and restored, and later donated to the Spanish Government. All fourteen murals, now transferred to canvas and wooden frames, are on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Goya painted The Colossus in 1808-1812 also known as The Giant. Although this oil painting pre-dates Goya’s black paintings, it is clear that the technique references his art from that time.
Art reproductions on canvas are created entirely by hand by our resident professional artists and all of Goya’s Romanticism paintings are offered in a large choice of sizes.
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