Francisco Goya was a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker who was one of the great portraitists of his time. He is often regarded as the last of Old Masters (a painter who worked in Europe before 1800), and the first of the moderns (artists who worked from the 1860s to 1970s).
Francisco Goya was born on Wednesday, March 30, 1746 (age 82 years; at the time of death), in Fuendetodos, Aragon, Spain, as ‘Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.’
His family shifted to Fuendetodos from Zaragoza in Aragon because of his father’s transfer. In 1749, his family returned to Zaragoza, and he was brought up there. Goya is said to have studied at Escuelas Pías de San Antón in Madrid, which provided free schooling. Francisco is believed to have a little knowledge of reading, writing, numeracy, and classics. According to Robert Hughes, an Australian-born art critic, writer, and producer of television documentaries,
Francisco Goya seems to have taken no more interest than a carpenter in philosophical or theological matters, and his views on painting … were very down to earth: Goya was no theoretician.”
When he turned fourteen, he started studying painting under José Luzán y Martinez; he copied stamps for José Luzán for four years and decided to work on his own later. He moved to Madrid, where he started to study with Anton Raphael Mengs, a German painter active in Dresden, Rome, and Madrid.
In Madrid, he had an altercation with his master, and his examinations were unsatisfactory. He registered for the entry to Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Calle de Alcalá in the heart of Madrid, in 1763 and 1766, but his entrance was not accepted. After he failed to get a scholarship, he traveled to Rome at his own expense; Rome was the cultural capital of Europe at that time. Later, he studied with Aragonese artist Francisco Bayeu y Subías with whom his painting began to show signs of the intricate tonalities, which became his specialty later.
Hair Color: White (semi-bald)
Eye Color: Brown
Family & Ethnicity
Parents & Siblings
Francisco’s father, José Benito de Goya y Franque, was a son of a notary (a person authorized to perform legal affairs) and earned by working as a gilder. José was specialized in religious and decorative craftwork and oversaw the gilding and ornamentation during the rebuilding of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Santa Maria del Pilar), the principal cathedral of Zaragoza. His mother’s name is Gracia de Lucientes y Salvador. He had two sisters, Rita (the elder; born in 1737), and Jacinta (younger; born in 1743); and three brothers, Tomás (the elder; born in 1739; guilder), Mariano (younger; born in 1750), and Camilo (younger; born in 1753).
Wife, Children, and Affairs
He got married to Josepha Bayeu, the sister of his friend and artist Francisco Bayeu, on July 25, 1773. Goya nicknamed her ‘Pepa.’ Josepha died in 1812.
They had seven children; however, only one of their children survived past infancy to adulthood; his name was Francisco Javier de Goya y Bayeu who was born on December 2, 1984.
Their first child, Antonio Juan Ramon Carlos was born on August 29, 1774 (died an infant). Other children who died an infant were: María Pilar Dionisia de Goya Bayeu (born in 1779), Eusebio Ramón de Goya Bayeu (born in 1775), Vicente Anastasio de Goya Bayeu (born in 1777), Francisco de Paula Antonio Benito de Goya Bayeu (born in 1780), and Hermenegilda de Goya Bayeu (born in 1782). He was believed to have an affair with the Duchess of Alba Maria Cayetana de Silva.
He is said to have been in a relationship with a distant relative and a housekeeper Leocadia Weiss who was 35 years younger than him and lived with him after his wife’s death.
The Spanish painter and the daughter of Leocadia, Rosario Weiss Zorrilla, was Francisco’s goddaughter. She is often speculated to be Francisco’s child due to the rumors of Leocadia being Goya’s mistress.
Goya’s Travel to Italy
Although the records of his travel to Italy are uncertain, early biographers have claimed that Francisco went with a gang of bullfighters and worked as a street acrobat or for a Russian diplomat. It is also speculated that he fell in love with a young nun and planned her abduction from her convent. In Italy, he created the paintings: Sacrifice to Vesta and Sacrifice to Pan, both dated 1771.
In the same year, he was the second prize winner of a painting competition organized by the City of Parma. He returned to Zaragoza later that year and painted elements of the cupolas of the Basilica of the Pillar (including Adoration of the Name of God), a cycle of frescoes for the monastic church Charterhouse of Aula Dei, and the frescoes for the Sobradiel Palace.
Goya’s Work in Madrid (1775-1789)
With the help of his marriage with Francisco Bayeu’s sister and Bayeu’s 1765 membership of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and directorship of the tapestry works from 1777, Goya was able to get the commission for a series of tapestry cartoons for the Royal Tapestry Factory. Though designing for the tapestries was neither prestigious nor well-paid, he took the job to bring attention to his work. He designed some 42 patterns for over five years; many of them were used to cover the walls of the residences of the Spanish monarchs: El Escorial and the Palacio Real del Pardo.
The largest works he had produced until the date was his 1779 etchings of ‘The Garroted Man’ (El agarrotado).
His other famous works from the period include a canvas for the altar of the Church of San Francisco El Grande in Madrid. The painting resulted in his appointment as a member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
Goya as a Court Painter
José Moñino, Count of Floridablanca, favorite of King Charles III, commissioned Goya to paint his portrait in 1783. As a result, he got acquainted with King’s half-brother Luis Antonio, which led him to spend two summers working on portraits of both the Luis and his family.
As his connections in the royal family grew, he painted for Duke and Duchess of Osuna, the King, and other notable people of the kingdom in the 1780s. Goya was given a salaried position as a painter to Charles III in 1786, and he was appointed as a court painter to Charles IV in 1789. In 1790, he was made the First Court Painter. Out of all the portraits he made for the royal family, the group portrait of ‘Charles IV of Spain and his Family,’ is regarded as a satirical by the modern interpreters as it is said to have revealed the corruption behind the rule of Charles IV.
He earned commission from the highest ranks of the Spanish nobility, including Pedro Téllez-Girón (the 9th Duke of Osuna) and his wife María Josefa Pimentel (12th Countess-Duchess of Benavente), José Álvarez de Toledo (Duke of Alba) and his wife María del Pilar de Silva, and María Ana de Pontejos y Sandoval (the Marchioness of Pontejos). In 1801, he was commissioned to draw the portrait of the Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy to commemorate the victory of Spain in the War of the Oranges (1801) against Portugal. Francisco and Godoy were good friends.
The paintings ‘La maja desnuda’ (1790-1800) and ‘La maja vestida’ (1800-1805) are believed to have been commissioned by Manuel de Godoy. La maja desnuda is described as,
the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art without pretense to allegorical or mythological meaning.”
The identity of the Majas is unknown, but it is said that they were Duchess of Alba or Pepita Tudó, a mistress of Manuel Godoy. The paintings were never exhibited publicly in Goya’s lifetime and were owned by Godoy. After Godoy was exiled, all his properties were taken by Ferdinand VII (King of Spain from 1808 to 1833), and in 1813, the paintings were confiscated by the Spanish Inquisition as ‘obscene.’ The paintings were given to the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in 1836.
Between late 1792 and early 1793, an undiagnosed illness impaired his hearing ability, and Goya was left withdrawn and introspective, and the direction and tone of his work changed. He started to work on a series of aquatinted etchings called Caprichos, published in 1799. The 80 Caprichos prints were depicted as what Francisco described as,
the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual.”
It is believed that these etchings were the mirror of Goya’s mental and physical trauma.
Goya During the Peninsular War
In 1808, the French Army invaded Spain, leading to the Peninsular War of 1808–1814. During this period, Goya was involved in the French court and Joseph I, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. The scale of his involvement with the French is not known, but he painted works for French patrons and sympathizers. He was neutral during the war. After Ferdinand VII was restored as Spanish King in 1814, Goya denied any involvement with the French. By the time of his wife’s death, he was working on the paintings ‘The Second of May 1808,’ and ‘The Third of May 1808.’ The paintings are set during the Dos de Mayo Uprising (1808), a rebellion by the people of Madrid against the French troopers, in the Calle de Alcalá near Puerta del Sol, Madrid. Both paintings were completed in a two-month time frame in 1814.
Around the same period, he started creating the famous series of etchings known as ‘The Disasters of War’ (Los desastres de la guerra). He labeled the 82 print series as ‘caprichos enfáticos.’ The series is viewed as a visual protest against the violence of the Dos de Mayo Uprising, by the art historian; although, the intention of Goya for the series is not clear. They were not published until 1863 most likely due to being politically unsafe for being a sequence of artworks, which criticized both the French and restored Bourbons.
The Black Paintings
The records of his later life are quite little. In his later life, Goya concealed a majority of his work and began painting privately. He was a royally appointed painter, but he withdrew himself from social life. From the late 1810s, he brought a farmhouse converted into a studio outside Madrid and lived there in near-solitude outside. Art historians suppose that after the 1814 restoration of Bourbon monarchy, he felt alienated due to the changes in social and political trends that followed the event. Being in solitude with mental and physical trauma, at the age of 75, he completed the work of his 14 Black Paintings; the Black Paintings were made oil directly onto the plaster walls of his house. There is no written account or information about the paintings as he never wished to exhibit them. Around 1874, almost after 50 years of his death, the paintings were taken down and were transferred to canvas support. Many of his works were altered during the restoration work. As said by Arthur Lubow (a journalist and author) what remains are,
at best a crude facsimile of what Goya painted.”
At present, they are on permanent exhibition at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Goya’s Other Famous Works
- Yard with Lunatics (1793-94) is a small oil-on-tinplate painting. The painting portrays Goya’s insight of loneliness, fear, and social detachment. The painting is one of the first mid-1970s cabinet paintings made by Goya. It is believed that at the time of the making of the painting, Goya was going through a nervous breakdown and entering prolonged physical illness.
- The Burial of the Sardine (usually dated to 1810s) is an oil-on-panel painting. The painting portrays the Spanish ceremony called ‘Burial of the Sardine,’ which is celebrated as the end of the carnival and other festivities in Madrid.
- The Madhouse (1812-19) is an oil-on-panel painting. The Madhouse is in the same league with the ‘Yard with Lunatics’ but shows greater variety. It is described to be less mad, less picturesque, more individualized, and having more characterized figures, which depicts more humanity and characteristics of poor victims who have faced marginalization and rejection.
- La Tauromaquia (1816) is a series of 33 prints portraying bullfighting scenes.
- Santas Justa and Rufina (1817) is an oil-on-canvas painting. The Sevillian Cathedral Council commissioned Goya to make a painting of Justa and Rufina, the holy martyrs of the city, and potters who refused to worship the pagan gods and received martyrdom.
- Los disparates (1815-23) is a series of twenty-two prints in etching and aquatint, with retouching in drypoint and engraving. The series was first published by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in 1864 entitled ‘Proverbios’ (Proverbs). The series was not published in Goya’s lifetime due to the oppressive political climate and the Inquisition.
- The Milkmaid of Bordeaux (1825-27) is an oil-on-canvas painting. The painting is believed to be of either Rosario Weiss or her mother, Leocadia Weiss. After Goya’s death, the painting was willed to his son, Javier. Javier sold the painting to a distant relative named Juan Bautista de Muguiro, due to financial problems. Later in 1946, the descendants of Juan Bautista de Muguiro donated it to Museo Del Prado.
Francisco used to leave micro-signatures on his paintings, which could be a sign, symbol, markings, or stokes that identified his work. The micro signatures can be observed through detailed analysis with a magnifying lens, going over his paintings centimeter by centimeter.
Earnings and Possessions
As a first court painter, he earned 50,000 reales (unit of currency after mid 14th century in Spain) a year and got an allowance of 500 ducats for a coach. In 1812, his house, furniture, possessions, and cash in hand, in aggregate, amounted to 350,000 reales. The Guardian In February 1819, aged 73, Goya bought a farmhouse outside Madrid known as La Quinta del Sordo. Eventually, the house was named “La Quinta del Sordo” (The House of the Deaf Man), after the nearest farmhouse that coincidentally had belonged to a deaf man.
Illness and Death
Between late 1792 and 1793, he lost his sense of hearing because of an undiagnosed illness. Regarding his conditions, a contemporary reported,
The noises in his head and deafness aren’t improving, yet his vision is much better and he is back in control of his balance. These symptoms may indicate prolonged viral encephalitis, or possibly a series of miniature strokes resulting from high blood pressure and which affected the hearing and balance centers of the brain. Symptoms of tinnitus, episodes of imbalance, and progressive deafness are typical of Ménière’s disease.”
Many believe that he suffered from cumulative lead poisoning; Goya used massive amounts of lead white in his paintings, both as a canvas primer and as a primary color. Other postmortem diagnostic assessments gesture towards paranoid dementia, which was caused perhaps because of brain trauma, as proved by changes in his work after his recovery, which can be seen in the Black Paintings. Goya died on Wednesday, April 16, 1828, in Bordeaux, France. Francisco Goya was buried in Bordeaux. In his will, he left nothing for Leocadia Weiss. After Goya’s death, Leocadia wrote to the number of her friends, who were also Goya’s friends, of her exclusion from the will. However, all of the friends by then had either become old or died. Thus, she did not get a reply. At the turn of century, his remains were excavated and taken to Madrid as part of a huge celebration commemorated with a statue of Goya placed at the north entrance of the Prado Museum. He was then buried at the Pantheon of Illustrious Men of the Cemetery of San Isidro, and finally, his remains were entombed in the church of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid in 1929.
- During his school days, he formed a close friendship with Aragonese merchant Martín Zapater. In his 131 letters to Martin Zapater, Francisco talked about his hobbies mainly hunting and listening to music. He also mentioned songs such as tiranas or seguiridillas. In his letters, he also talked about having an interest in opera and playing a game of lottery with Martín Zapater.
- In some other letters to his friend Zapater, he wrote about how much he doted on his hunting dogs and wished to do hunting for his life. He also expressed his desire to become rich so that he would not have to paint again.
- There are many films that feature Goya and his life. A few of them are – The Naked Maja (1958; Italian-French American), Goya or the Hard Way to Enlightenment (1971; German), Goya in Bordeaux (1999; Spanish), Volavérunt (1999; Spanish), Goya’s Ghosts (2006; Spanish- American), and Goya: Crazy Like a Genius (2012).
- The segment ‘Tiempo de ilustrados’ (Time of the Enlightened) of the Spanish TV series ‘The Ministry of Time’ (2015) features Francisco Goya (played by Pedro Casablanc), who must repaint ‘La maja desnuda’ after a cult called the Exterminating Angels destroy the Majas.
- In the early 20th century, ‘Los caprichos’ and ‘Black Paintings’ of Goya inspired the works of many Spanish masters including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
- In the 21st century, Goya’s ‘The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters’ (1796–98) and Black Paintings became the inspiration behind the works of the American postmodern painters such as Michael Zansky and Bradley Rubenstein; Michael Zanksy’s ‘Giants and Dwarf Series’ (1990-2002) of large-scale paintings and wood carvings are inspired by Goya’s work.
- His painting ‘The Burial of Sardine’ was a source of inspiration for literati. Giannina Braschi (a Puerto Rican writer) presented the painting in his novel ‘United States of Banana’ (2011); Joakim Lindengren (Swedish cartoonist and illustrator) illustrated a parody of the painting in his comic book version of the ‘United States of Banana’ (2017); Fernando Arrabal’s (Spanish author) novel ‘The Burial of the Sardine’ drew inspiration from the painting.
- ‘I am Goya’ by the Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky was inspired by Francisco Goya’s anti-war painting.