Despite Goya’s paintings of resistance against French troops in 1808, he was among the many who were purged from court for ‘purification’ in May 1814 following the restoration, and didn’t return to favour until April of the following year, by which time he was fast approaching the age of seventy. His financial difficulties had eased in October 1814, though, when he was paid what equated to a third of his annual salary for his work on the paintings of the Madrid uprising of May 1808.
This self-portrait is one of two that he painted in 1815, and makes interesting comparison with some of Rembrandt’s later self-portraits.
Although his portraiture work was steadily tailing off, he painted some by royal command, including this full-length portrait of King Ferdinand VII at an Encampment in 1815. The mass of gold braid on the sleeves of the jacket exaggerates the breadth of his forearms and wrists, almost like a caricature.
The Forge from 1817 is probably the last of a group of four works which anticipated the social realism to come forty years later, as a superb depiction of the physically demanding work of the blacksmith. Its extensive use of black is also a herald of the Black Period to come in Goya’s own paintings at the end of the decade.
Once he had turned seventy, Goya painted some final commissioned religious works, as if taking the opportunity to repay the debts of his childhood and youth.
In 1817, Goya was commissioned by the council of the cathedral in Seville to paint its patrons, Saints Justa and Rufina for the altar of the Sacristy of the Calices in the cathedral. Although he painted this in his studio in Madrid, he took the opportunity to visit Seville for the last time.
These two saints were potters who were martyred for refusing to worship an image of Venus. They are shown here holding their work and looking up to the heavenly light. At their feet is a broken statue of Venus, and a lion licking the injured foot of Saint Rufina, who had been forced to walk from the mountains to the city of Seville. Behind them is the distinctive Torre de la Giralda of the cathedral, which miraculously survived the earthquake which devastated the city in 1504.
Goya’s last commissioned religious painting is believed to be The Last Communion of St Joseph Calasanz, which was commissioned as the altarpiece in the chapel of the Escuelas Pias de San Antón, Madrid, in May 1819 and completed later that year. This was the religious teaching order which had been responsible for Goya’s own education when he was a child in Zaragoza.
Also known as Joseph Calasanctius, this priest founded the Pious Schools, which provided free education for generations of ‘sons of the poor’ across Europe, through the religious order known as the Piarists. Goya’s profoundly peaceful scene is again dominated by black.
In 1819, the Royal Museum of the Prado opened in Madrid, and rapidly became one of the leading public museums of art in the world. It also has the most extensive collection of Goya’s paintings.
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.