In the early years of the nineteenth century, Francisco Goya (1746–1828) was fully occupied painting portraits, mainly of the royal family, members of court, and the nobility.
There were some additional commissions, including four allegories which he painted on tondos, and at least two other works for Godoy’s palace in Madrid. One of the latter is Poetry and Poets, probably painted between 1797-1800, as with the tondos. This has the appearance and style of a mythological work, with unusual emphasis given to the muse-like figure in the centre.
Goya’s production of portraits in the years prior to 1808 was prolific. During this period of growing political instability and turmoil at court, he seems to have painted as many sitters as he could, regardless of their rank or ability to pay.
This wonderful portrait of a Young Lady Wearing a Mantilla and Basquiña, also known as The Bookseller’s Wife, was completed in the period 1800-05. It shows someone who undoubtedly must have paid a great deal less than the nobility, but Goya was still prepared to paint her with the same art and care as the rich and famous.
The mantilla is of course the long lace veil, here worn on the head rather than with the uplift afforded by a high comb or peineta. The basquiña is her traditional black dress skirt, which is heavily folded at the waist to exaggerate the bottom, and remained popular until the nineteenth century. She’s dressed in her Sunday best, complete with long white gloves and a folded fan.
However, Goya’s most remarkable paintings of the years before the war were a series of six in which he told the story of the capture of a bandit known as El Maragato. This happened on 10 June 1806 near Oropesa to the south-west of Madrid, and it’s thought that Goya based his account on a series of contemporary prints. These six paintings on panels, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, were apparently painted for his own interest. Although not the first time in his career that he had tried reportage, his development of this narrative is of significance.
In the first panel, El Maragato (left) Threatens Friar Pedro de Zaldivia with His Gun. This is backlit from the open door behind them for dramatic effect. The friar was a lay brother of a Franciscan barefoot order.
Following that, Friar Pedro Offers Shoes to El Maragato and Prepares to Push Aside His Gun. Being in a barefoot order, offering his shoes was an ironic gesture.
The tables are turned when Friar Pedro Wrests the Gun from El Maragato. The pair are seen wrestling in front of a different doorway, through which the bandit’s getaway horse can be seen grazing. The friar’s shoes have now been cast on the ground.
Next, Friar Pedro Clubs El Maragato with the Butt of the Gun. Having been overpowered, the bandit reclines on the ground, being beaten with his own gun. They appear to have left the building.
Taking control of the situation, Friar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off. Orange and yellow flames are shown at the flintlock, and emerging from the gun barrel. El Maragato really has had a bad day: his horse has run off, he’s lost his gun, been overpowered by a friar, and been shot in the buttocks.
Finally, Friar Pedro Binds El Maragato with a Rope, as reinforcements arrive to arrest the bandit, who is now bleeding from the wound in his buttocks.
Goya’s narrative painting skills were ready for what was about to happen to Spain over the next few years.
Janis A Tomlinson (2020) Goya, A Portrait of the Artist, Princeton UP. ISBN 978 0 691 19204 8.
Pierre Gassier and Juliet Wilson (1981) The Life and Complete Work of Francisco Goya, 2nd English edition, Harrison House. ISBN 0 517 353903.