GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco de
(b. 1746, Fuendetodos, d. 1828, Bordeaux)
The Nude Maja (La Maja Desnuda)1799-1800
Oil on canvas, 97 x 190 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Goya's Majas (fashionable young women) are two of his most famous and most discussed masterpieces. Their date, for whom they were painted and the identity of the model are problems that are still not satisfactorily solved. The first mention of The Nude Maja is in the diary of the medallist Pedro Gonzalez de Sepulveda describing a visit in November 1800 to the house of the Minister, Manuel Godoy, Goya's patron and the target of his satire: 'In an apartment or inner cabinet are pictures of various Venuses... [among them] a naked one by Goya, without design or delicacy of colouring' and Velázquez's 'famous Venus'. There is no mention of The Clothed Maja and presumably it was not there, probably not yet painted.
Godoy's position at court and his known taste for paintings of female nudes (there were many others in his collection) makes it likely that both Majas were painted for him. An alternative suggestion is that they were in the Duchess of Alba's collection and acquired by Godoy after her death, together with Velázquez's The Toilet of Venus and other pictures. Goya's relations with the Duchess of Alba have made her the most popular candidate as a model for the Majas, at least as a source of inspiration, supported by the many drawings of herself and members of her household he made during his visit to the Duchess's country estate. The lack of resemblance to the heads of Goya's earlier portraits of her is usually explained by the need to conceal her identity. Whoever the model may have been and for whomever the pictures were made, Goya's nude Maja is unique and unprecedented in his oeuvre and in Spain, even in Europe, in his time. Velázquez's Venus, which Goya must have seen in the Duchess of Alba's collection, is its only comparable predecessor in the life-like portrayal of the female nude. But where the Velázquez is also a mythological painting, Goya's The Nude Maja makes no pretence of being anything but the rendering of a naked woman lying on a couch.