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SPAIN

GOYA and Madrid

BY GEORGE STOLZ

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) first came to Madrid in 1763. A city rich in cultural diversity and historical significance, Spain’s capital is known for its vibrant nightlife and the easygoing nature of its residents. It’s also a place celebrated for its ability to constantly reinvent itself—a characteristic closely associated with the artist. In 1763, Goya was a teenager from the provinces, aspiring to be an artist, and hoping—but failing—to earn a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (although nearly 30 years later, he would become director of painting at the same institution). After a sojourn in Italy and a brief return to his hometown of Zaragoza, Goya was summoned back to the capital in 1775 to work at the newly established Royal Tapestry Factory.

At the factory the artist composed the images that were to be woven into the tapestries that decorated the palaces and hunting lodges favored by the 18th-century Spanish Bourbon monarchs. Always an ambitious artist, Goya chafed at the limitations of the onerous and often formulaic tapestry commissions. Most of the images he created depict folkloric scenes documenting the local customs and costumes of the era. Many are festive, others bucolic—children playing, young people courting, the privileged classes at the hunt. More than a few, however, sound a different note: a brawl at a country inn, an injured workman, even cats squabbling. Taken together, they showcase what were then the sights and sounds of Madrid. They also point to the direction that Goya’s art would maintain over the decades, even as his style underwent radical and far-reaching change: a sustained interest in society and social mores, a shrewd observation of his surroundings, the freedom and even need to imbue both with darker and more sinister undercurrents.

In 1781, when a more promising opportunity presented itself in the form of his first important public commission, Goya seized it, producing a large canvas titled Sermon of San Bernardino of Siena (1784), which immediately established the determined young artist’s position in Madrid. Today, this rare early work—found at The Basílica de San Francisco El Grande—is a popular sight for travelers.