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 shocking and striking even to contemporary audiences. Goya completed this famous nude painting between 1797 and 1800,
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 collection.
With the title “The Price of the Peace”, Manuel Godoy was the First Secretary of State for Spain, renowned for his diplomacy with Napoleon. He mainly collected famous nude paintings and erotic artworks stored in a unique cabinet to entertain 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.
His collection was described as a compendium of “questionable pictures” and led to a highly publicized legal trial. As a result of the proceedings, Godoy revealed the names of the artists behind his “indecent” artworks.
As a result, Goya faced allegations of moral depravity. He luckily escaped prosecution, however. The Director of Confiscations noted the painting followed an artistic precedent set by Titian and his Danaë series and Velázquez's Rokeby Venus.
Despite the moral uproar, The Nude Maja is a brilliant example of a famous romantic painting. It continues traditional themes of nude portraiture but significantly progresses the artistic canon with its unabashed realism.
There are many theories about the woman's identity in Goya’s paintings.
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 appears around 1800, describing it as hanging over a door in Godoy’s palace. The report was mentioned again in 1808 when the nude painting appeared alongside its companion, The Clothed Maja.
Further mystery surrounds the artwork as in 1813, both paintings refer to portraits of a gypsy woman. This identification appears in an inventory of confiscated property undertaken on behalf of King Fernando VII.
This latter theory is likely, with the title of the painting (La Maja Desnuda) reflecting her lower socio-economic status. In addition, “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 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. It was displayed by the Academy of Fine Arts from 1808 to 1813 by the Spanish Inquisition during Goya’s trial. In 1836 the painting returned to the Academy, staying there until 1901. Goya's oil painting is now part of the permanent collection of the Prado Museum in Madrid.
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