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

Doña Isabel de Porcel

before 1805
Oil on canvas, 82 x 55 cm
National Gallery, London

Goya's fame is as ambiguous as his career. A fashionable court painter and society portraitist, once renowned for his designs of light-hearted decorations, he is now celebrated as a passionate denouncer of injustice and the horrors of war. Supreme recorder of his countrymen's diversions, superstitions and travails, he is also the greatest master of private nightmare, expressed above all in the horrific 'Black Paintings' made for his own house. Perhaps the last great artist working in a style associated with 'anciens régimes' throughout Europe, he has been called 'the first of the moderns'.

A painter rivalling Velázquez in the freedom of his brush and his understanding of light and shade, Goya came to be known outside Spain for his engravings, etchings and aquatints, some of the finest ever produced. In a career spanning over sixty years he left some five hundred paintings, most of them still in Spain (where he also executed frescoes), and many more prints and drawings.

Doña Isabel and her husband Don Antonio were close friends of Goya; according to tradition he painted both their portraits during a visit to their home in gratitude for their hospitality. Don Antonio's likeness, formerly in the Jockey Club, Buenos Aires, was subsequently destroyed in a fire.

Doña Isabel wears the dress of a maja - a style originally associated with the demimonde of Madrid, but in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries adopted by ladies of fashion as a token of Spanish patriotism, and also, no doubt, because its black lace mantilla and high waist were madly flattering, as we can see here. The dress justifies the pose, which we know from Flamenco dance: left arm akimbo, torso and head sharply turned in different directions. Perfectly adapted to the half-length format, the protruding right arm and hand providing a stable base for the torso, this pose without the maja connotation would have been unacceptably vulgar in the portrait of a lady. We experience it as wonderfully emancipated.

Goya emphasizes Doña Isabel best features, her eyes and her fresh colouring, without hiding the fleshy nose and slightly underslung jaw; the incipient double chin adds to her youthful charm. Freely painted, the mantilla serves as a dark aureole to her bright face, and tones down the shimmering pink and white bodice in order not to distract from the flesh tones.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.