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

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba

Oil on canvas, 210 x 149 cm
Hispanic Society of America, New York

The thirteenth Duchess of Alba was born in 1762, widowed in 1796 and died in 1802 in mysterious circumstances, which gave rise to the rumour that she was poisoned. She was a prominent figure in Madrid society. Goya's relations with the Duchess were such that they have led to the suggestion that she posed for La Maja Desnuda. He stayed with her at her Andalusian estate in Sanlúcar after her husband's death and made several drawings of scenes in the domestic life of the Duchess and her household. She is also recognizable in several plates of Los Caprichos and in one unpublished etching, which seems to record an estrangement from the artist. The present portrait was almost certainly painted during Goya's stay at Sanlúcar and remained in his possession.

The name Alba on the ring on the Duchess's third finger and Goya on that on the downward-pointing index finger are in themselves evidence of Goya's intimacy with his sitter. The inscription on the ground at the Duchess's feet, to which her finger points (only uncovered in modern times), reads Solo Goya, the word solo ('only') strengthening the assumption that they were lovers. The stiff figure with its expressionless face is, however, more like the puppet-like figures of the tapestry cartoons than a portrait of a familiar sitter.