Goya: La imagen de la mujer, and : Goya: Images of Women (review)
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Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.1 (2002) 81-85



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Exhibition Review

Goya:
La imagen de la mujer

Goya:
Images of Women


Goya: La imagen de la mujer, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (30 October 2001-10 February 2002). Catalogue ed. by Francisco Calvo Serraller (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado and Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, 2001). Pp. 362, 154 color, 23 black-and-white illustr.
Goya: Images of Women, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (10 March-2 June 2002). Catalogue ed. by Janis A. Tomlinson and Francisco Calvo Serraller (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art and New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002). Pp. 324, 130 color, 50 black-and-white illustr. $65.00 cloth.

In its mingling of beauty and atrocity, reason and madness, the art of Francisco Goya (1746-1828) finds particular resonance in our own age. It is not surprising, then, that during the past decade and a half Goya's art has been put before the museum-going public as never before. These years have witnessed a steady stream of exhibitions on topics such as Goya's relationship to the Enlightenment; his dialogue with previous and subsequent artists; his portraits, tapestry cartoons, and small-scale works; and his prints and drawings. A recent addition to this list is an exhibition (or exhibitions, as I shall explain shortly) devoted to Goya's representations of women, mounted at the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado.

The theme of women in Goya's oeuvre brings to mind some of the artist's best-known works: the full-length portraits of the Duchess of Alba; the Maja desnuda (Naked Maja) and her counterpart, the Maja vestida (Clothed Maja); and Queen Maria Luisa at the center of The Family of Charles IV, to name just a few of the most famous examples. As the curators amply demonstrated, images of women occur in all aspects of Goya's production, from the early tapestry cartoons [End Page 81] for royal patrons to the small-scale ivory miniatures executed for his own pleasure during his final years in Bordeaux. Typical of an artist who resists generalization, there is a startling diversity in Goya's images of women, a fact that reflects the changes and contradictions as Spain passed into and out of the Enlightenment, as well as the multiplicity of his artistic vision. As Janis Tomlinson remarks in her introductory catalogue essay for the Washington exhibition: "From the lighthearted, popular themes of the early paintings, to decorous portrayals of aristocratic femininity, to images of women enduring the atrocities of war, Goya's representations of women both chronicle and evolve in concert with the changing society of Spain during this fascinating period" (23). It is difficult to think of another artist of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century whose oeuvre contains a comparable range of images of women.

Those fortunate enough to have viewed the exhibition in both venues likely were struck by the differences in conception and saw, in effect, two distinct exhibitions. The show in Madrid, which I shall consider only briefly, was substantially larger. It drew on the Prado's own unmatched holdings of Goya's work and on many works that were on loan from private collectors and religious institutions and could not travel to Washington. The main floor galleries normally devoted to Goya were rehung in an installation structured around five major themes: "Intimacies," "Events, Mores, and Customs," "Sacred and Profane Allegories," "Portraits," and "Witchcraft and Spells." In the absence of any explanatory wall texts, visitors were left to fend for themselves, and I often was puzzled by the logic of the chosen themes and the inclusion of particular works within them.

In Washington, the exhibition was more limited in scope, with royal portraits, allegorical works, and religious paintings notably absent. Moreover, it was heavily weighted toward portraiture, a genre well represented in the National Gallery's own collection of...