Exhibition: Retrato de la marquesa de Santa Cruz, 1805 - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2008-10-28 • 2009-01-18

Retrato de la marquesa de Santa Cruz, 1805

On loan from The Prado National Museum

Room 15

Joaquina Téllez-Girón y Alfonso-Pimentel (1784-1851), was the daughter of the 9th Duke and Duchess of Osuna and, by her marriage to José Gabriel de Silva Bazán y Waldstein, on 11 June 1801, 10th Marquise of Santa Cruz de Mudela and 9th of Villasor. Much admired by her contemporaries, including Lady Holland, she was considered by many to be the most beautiful woman at court. In her memoirs for 1803, the English traveller says of the Marquise:"she is very beautiful and has an insinuating and captivating smile when she talks." Goya shows her looking out dreamily at the viewer, as if about to address him. The artist also uses the suggestive transparencies of the dress to point up the shape of the body beneath, thereby conveying the lady's charms. Goya produced no other portrait in which the sitter is shown reclining on a couch, and the only possible precedents for this picture in his previous works are the Nude Maja, from just before 1800, and, from around 1790, Young woman asleep, on an armful of hay, who, in a white dress similar to the Marquise's, prefigured the sensual abandon of Santa Cruz.

A friend, like her mother before her, to poets and other men of letters, the donna Joaquina represented the ideal of the cultured aristocrat rooted in the Enlightenment and in contemporary recommendations for a more modern education for young girls. Goya met her when she was a child and portrayed her with her parents and the other three children they had at the time in the large family portrait of 1786, now in the Prado Museum. 

In this 1805 portrait, which shows her in the full bloom of youth, at twenty-one, she is lying on a splendid purple velvet-lined couch, with a low-cut white gauze dress in the French style, and a crown of oak leaves and accompanying fruits, much in the current fashion for flower and fruit headwear. In this case, it symbolizes virtue, constancy and strength. Presented in accord with an iconography that goes back to classical times and which was revived by the neo-Classicists, the female figure is shown reclining on a couch, in the manner of Roman funerary portraits. However, unlike the rigid models of strict formal orthodoxy used by other contemporary artists, including French painter David in his Madame de Récamier (Louvre), from 1800, or the Italian Antonio Canova in his sculpture portrait of Paulina Borghese, 1805-1808 (Rome, Galleria Borghese), Goya seems to break voluntarily with the dominant neo-Classicist tenets, seeking inspiration in the formal, colourful richness of Spanish and Italian painting. He combined the fashion of the times and his own ideas to produce an image of a more flexible—though still formal—beauty, inspired in previous works that portrayed feminine allure quite exceptionally: Titian's Venus and Music (in the Prado), then in the Royal collections, and The Toilet of Venus by Velázquez, which Goya may well have seen in the Duchess of Alba's collection or, later, in the palace of royal favourite Godoy. Such allure is also to be found in the paintings of Guercino and Guido Reni, the unusual technique and colouring of which are echoed in the present painting. In his Italian Notebook, Goya mentions, among other things, a number of works seen in Genoa that struck him to the extent of noting them down, a "... cuadro di Guydo e duy di Rubens, Carlo Maratti e di Guarchino". In the 18th century, the only work of interest by Guercino in Genoa was the Death of Cleopatra, in the Palazzo Rosso or Palazzo Brignole since 1756, mentioned particularly by the guide books of the time, as was one by Carlo Giuseppe Ratti from 1766, shortly before Goya's: "Istruzione di quanto può vedersi di più bello in Genova". Guercino shows the Queen of Egypt dressed in white, cast on the bed against a background of dark violet-toned curtains and carmine velvets, similar to the space Goya uses to highlight the Marquise of Santa Cruz's sensual reclining figure.

Here the young Marquise rests her left arm on a lyre-shaped guitar. Fashionable at the time, the instrument, once again, harked back to the classical world. Examples of these lyre-guitars survive in several collections of 18th century luthiers, like the instruments of J. G. Thielemann (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, or the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung, Berlin), where the decoration on the aperture of the soundboard is clearly appreciable, being a rounded x-shaped cross similar to the one on the instrument in the Marquise's portrait. Sculptor Antonio Canova portrayed Alexandrine de Bleschamp in 1811 with a similar "lyre" (Fondazione Magnani-Rocca, Mamiano de Traversetolo, Italy), as Terpsichore, the muse of dance, light verse and choral song. Goya may also have portrayed the Marquise as Terpsichore, as the lyre was also the symbolic object that accompanied this Muse in the series of classical sculptures from Queen Christina of Sweden's collection, kept in the Spanish Royal collection in the 18th century at the La Granja country palace (the sculptures are now in the Prado). However, a certain lack of definition in the representation of the Muses makes it difficult to identify the Marquise as any particular one of their number: for example, in the Muse sculptures in the Spanish collection, Erato, muse of lyric poetry, also bears the lyre of Apollo, the god on which all of them depended, in turn providing a further link with the Marquise's love of poetry. Goya may of course have been trying to unite the artistic enthusiasms of the young Marquise in a single figure, to present her as a genuine muse of her time. This type of classical-style allegorical representation was frequently to be found in 18th-century and even early 19th-century portraits of women, of the sort that Goya adapted to perfection to his own style and idiosyncratic manner of presenting his models.   

Magnificently preserved, the painting retains the perfection of the original technique, revealing the stunning relations between the varying tones. In some areas, paint is applied in thick impasto, for instance, the white gauze of the sitter's dress, where the lighting is stronger, and in the crown of fruit and leaves on her forehead. In other zones, however, Goya employs short, delicate and subtle brushstrokes containing a remarkable variety of tones, as in the face and the right hand, both painted in great detail. The long, light brushstrokes for which the artist dissolved pigments in oil, almost as he would in a watercolour, are reserved for the carmines, purples and mauves of the couch and the background curtains, which, by their function and character, are skilfully rendered in the most concise way, without loss of precision or draughtsmanship. The sheer beauty of this work by Goya was acknowledged during his lifetime; it is also the only portrait by the artist mentioned by Javier Goya in his biography of his father, written on the painter's death for the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. Much of the painting's mysterious charm lies in the attractiveness of the sitter, so much so that Mayer, one of the 20th century's leading historians of Spanish art, thought it was simply the representation of a muse, the evident individuality of the young woman escaping him entirely.

Originally part of the Marquis and Marquise of Santa Cruz's collection, the painting, according to information compiled by F.J. Sánchez Cantón, was deposited at the Bank of Spain between 1910 and 1915. Although it was at the time the joint property of the infanta Maria Luisa, the Marquis of Zahara and Maria Josefa de Silva, in 1916, in his book on Goya's portraits, Aureliano de Beruete places it in the collection of the Count of Pie de Concha. However, in 1928, when the painting was included in a Goya exhibition at the Prado, the owners were once again the trio mentioned previously. There is a legend, which may actually have a few grains of truth, that in 1941, during World War 2, General Franco wanted to give the painting to Hitler as a present, after relating the decorative motif on the lyre-guitar's soundboard with the Nazi swastika. The gift was never made and, according to José López Rey, the painting was acquired in 1947 by a collector from Bilbao, Félix Fernández Valdés for 1,600,000 pesetas. In 1983, when Fernández Valdés died, the painting was handed on to his heirs. They sold it to some foreign collectors, who smuggled the painting out of Spain. It was first offered to a prestigious museum in the United States, which refused to buy it, largely because of the painting's uncertain legal status. In 1986 it came up for sale at Christie's auction house in London. In 1984, Spain's Ministry of Culture had begun work on formally reclaiming the painting, which it did when the British courts stopped the auction, awarding the owners a payment of 800,000,000 pesetas in compensation. The painting became part of the state collections in 1986 and is now in the Prado Museum collection in Madrid. Since 1986, it has appeared in a number of exhibitions of Goya's work in Madrid, Boston, New York and Vienna. 

Texto: Manuela B. Mena Marqués
Goya eta XVIII. mendeko Pinturako Kontserbazio Burua. Pradoko Museo Nazionala, Madril


Francisco de Goya (Fuendetodos, Zaragoza, 1746-Burdeos, Frantzia, 1828)
Portrait of the Marquise of Santa Cruz, 1805
Oil on canvas. 124,7 x 207,9 cm.
Madrid, Prado National Museum (cat. 7070)