La famiglia dell’infante don Luis (1783/1784) by Francisco de Goya y LucientesFondazione Magnani-Rocca
Generally considered as the last great old master and the first of the moderns, Goya was active between the end of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX. He became court painter of the Spanish crown, realizing many portraits for the Iberic aristocracy and for the royal family.
The present great canvas belongs to a slightly earlier period (1783-1784), however it shows how the Spanish artist was already very appreciated in the noble environment. Starting from the 1799, he became the First Court Painter, realizing masterpieces such as La maja desnuda e La famiglia di Carlos IV. Having reached his full maturity, his paintings got more dark and tragic, meditating on themes such as madness, the war, and human corruption.
The preparatory work for this painting was initiated by Goya in the palace de La Mosquera in Arenas de San Pedro, to the south-west of Madrid, on behalf of Luis de Borbón, the youngest sibling of Carlos III king of Spain. The canvas, through different hereditary passages, arrived in Florence, in the Ruspoli palace, before being purchased by Magnani in 1974.
This is an extraordinary example of the first Goya’s maturity, as well as a revolutionary artwork, able to render masterfully the complexity of the modern man, with all his ambiguities and indecipherable fragilities.
The infant, in profile and intent on casually playing with cards, is portraited older than he actually was (at the time he was 56 years old), as almost the painter could have foreseen Luis’ near death, happened the year after.
Don Luis, giving up the ecclesiastic career traditionally reserved to noble cadets, lead a an adventurous life, made of hunting, arts and loves.
In 1776, he married the beautiful and young Maria Teresa de Vallabriga, who can be observed in the center of the artwork: lines, sights and lights seem to converge towards her candid vest,
while she is getting her hair combed,
before wearing the elaborated bedroom cap.
The characters, motionless like members of a theatre company before the final curtain fall, can be identified as members of the family: the already cited couple, with the youngest daughter María Luisa.
their firstborn, Luis María and the younger sister María Teresa.
The court servants to the left: waitresses and governesses, the hairdresser,
and Goya himself.
The other court servants to the right: the musician Luigi Boccherini, a happy and grotesque secretary.
The artwork is full of different symbols: the candle, probable allusion to the brevity of life, the small table which seems to stand on just two legs and the playing cards, heralding metaphorically some future transformations, all gathered in a mute narrative tension.
The pictorial technique
A red ochre preparation is the background of some rapid touches by Goya’s brush, employing some few dark colors. Probably, the painter made use of some individual preparatory studies so to render the exactness of the characters’ faces, working on the composition of the artwork in his atelier at a later time.
This expedient may be at the base of the absence of shadows within the painting and therefore explaining the presence of other hidden light. There are also clear references to Velasquez’s Las Meninas.