GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco de
(b. 1746, Fuendetodos, d. 1828, Bordeaux)

Charles IV and his Family

c. 1800
Oil on canvas, 280 x 336 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Goya clearly had in mind for this royal group the composition of Velázquez's Meninas, which he had copied in an engraving many years before. Like Velázquez, he has placed himself at an easel in the background, to one side of the canvas. But his is a more formal royal portrait than Velázquez's: the figures are grouped almost crowded together in front of the wall and there is no attempt to create an illusion of space. The eyes of Goya are directed towards the spectator as if he were looking at the whole scene in a mirror. The somewhat awkward arrangement of the figures suggests, however, that he composed the group in his studio from sketches made from life. Goya is known to have made four journeys to Aranjuez in 1800 to paint ten portraits of the royal family. Since there are 12 figures in the group it is likely that the woman seen in profile and the woman whose head is turned away — the only two whose identity is uncertain were not present at the time.

Goya's magnificent royal assembly is dominated not by Charles IV but by the central figure of the Queen, María Luisa, whose ugly features are accentuated by her ornate costume and rich jewels. For some unknown reason this was the last occasion that Goya is known to have painted any member of this royal family, except for the future Ferdinand VII, who stands in the foreground on the left. The unusual figure composition on the wall behind the group has been identified as Lot and his Daughters, but no such painting has been identified.