GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco de
(b. 1746, Fuendetodos, d. 1828, Bordeaux)
Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos1798
Oil on canvas, 205 x 133 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Goya painted this grand portrait of his friend and patron Jovellanos (1744-1811), the learned writer and liberal statesman, at the time of his appointment as Minister of Grace and Justice. The liberal patriot and nobleman fought - with increasing success - for reforms and against ignorance, superstition and the Inquisition. The portrait was painted while the court was at Aranjuez.
Not long afterwards Goya painted a portrait of Francisco de Saavedra, Minister of Finance, after he succeeded Godoy as Secretary of State (March 1798), in similar pose. Heroes of a brief liberal interlude, both ministers were soon to be relieved of their posts, victims of Godoy: Jovellanos to become a political prisoner in Mallorca for seven years. Jovellanos, who was 54 years old when he came to power and was painted by Goya, is known to have taken much trouble with his hair, here seen carefully dressed, as he refused to wear a wig. Goya has placed his sitter in a rich setting, with muted lighting, seated in melancholy pose, beside an ornate table covered with papers and with an inkwell. A statue of Minerva in bronze is a tribute to the sitter's great learning and distinguished position at the time of the painting. Jovellanos bequeathed Goya's portrait to his friend and protector, Arias de Saavedra.
Jovellanos as well as Goya used the language of satire to attack social and political abuse. The second of Goya's Caprichos in which a blind-folded young woman is led to the altar by an ugly old man, takes its caption from a verse by his patron: 'They say yes and offer their hand to the first comer.' The Minister's concern for prison reform also found a response in the artist in his many illustrations of the torture of prisoners.