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These 5 Goya Paintings Range from Horrifying to Regal

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"The Family of Carlos IV" oil on canvas by Francisco Goya, 1800; in the collection of the Prado, Madrid, Spain.
Archivart/Alamy

Saturn illustrates the myth of the Roman god Saturn, who, fearing that his children would overthrow him, ate them. Taking the myth as a starting point, the painting may be about God’s wrath, the conflict between old age and youth, or Saturn as Time devouring all things. Goya, by then in his 70s and having survived two life-threatening illnesses, is likely to have been anxious about his own mortality. The artist may have been inspired by Naked Maja would have seemed daring and pornographic displayed alongside works such as The final result has been described as Goya’s greatest portrait. In this painting, the family members wear sparkling, sumptuous garments, and sashes of various royal orders. Yet despite the pomp and splendor, the artist has employed a naturalistic style, capturing the individual characters so that each, as one critic put it, “is strong enough to disrupt the unity expected of a group portrait.” Nevertheless, the most dominant figure is Queen The Clothed Maja may seem less pornographic or more “real,” as her dress gives the subject more of an identity. The Clothed Maja is also more colorful and warmer in tone than The Naked Maja. The clothed maja wears rouge, and her face is much softer, further emphasizing the stark power of her naked counterpart. This unusual work may have acted as a smart “cover” for the nude picture which had caused such outrage in Spanish society, or perhaps it was intended to enhance the erotic nature of The Naked Maja by encouraging the viewer to imagine the figure undressing. Goya’s thought-provoking painting influenced many artists, notably Manet and Picasso, and his work continues to fascinate today. (Karen Morden)

  • The Third of May 1808 (1814)

    On March 17, 1808, the Mutiny of Aranjuez ended the reign of Carlos IV and María Luisa, Goya’s royal patrons. Carlos’s son Ferdinand was made king. Taking advantage of the factionism of the Spanish royal family and government, Napoleon moved in and eventually gained power. The Third of May 1808 portrays the execution of the Spanish insurgents by French troops near Príncipe Pío Hill. Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, took the crown, and the French occupation of Spain lasted until 1813.

    It is unclear what Goya’s political leanings were, but he spent most of the occupation recording the atrocities of war. His print series The Disasters of War included perhaps the most poignant and unadulterated images of war that Europe had ever seen. The prints were etched from red chalk drawings, and the artist’s innovative use of captioning recorded a blunt commentary of the brutality of war.

    The Third of May 1808 is Goya’s most unapologetic piece of propaganda. Painted once Ferdinand had been restored to the throne, it champions the patriotism of the Spaniards. The central figure is a martyr: he assumes a Christlike pose, revealing stigmata on his palms. The Spaniards are shown as human, colorful, and individual; the French inhuman, faceless, and uniform. The image remains one of the most iconic visions of militaristic violence in art, together with Édouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (1867–68) and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937). (Karen Morden and Steven Pulimood)

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