The Nude Maja was the first in a two painting series, the second of which was The Clothed Maja, respectively. It is said to be the first painting in which female pubic hair is visible, making it totally profane at the time. The identity of the model in the image is under debate, with some art historians thinking the model was the mistress of Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who commissioned the paintings, or that it was Goya’s mistress. Many art historians agree that the model was a compilation of many female figures. In 1813, the Spanish Inquisition confiscated both of the paintings as obscene, returning them to the Academy of Fine Arts in 1936, after Goya’s death. In the 1930’s Spain issued postage stamps with the image of the Maja, and subsequently all mail bearing the stamps were denied entrance into the United States.More ...
The Nude Maja (Spanish: La Maja Desnuda [la ˈmaxa ðezˈnuða]) is a name given to a c. 1797–1800 oil on canvas painting by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. It portrays a nude woman reclining on a bed of pillows, and was probably commissioned by Manuel de Godoy, to hang in his private collection in a separate cabinet reserved for nude paintings. Goya created a pendant of the same woman identically posed, but clothed, known today as La maja vestida (The Clothed Maja); also in the Prado, it is usually hung next to La maja desnuda. The subject is identified as a maja based on her costume in La maja vestida.
The painting is renowned for the straightforward and unashamed gaze of the model towards the viewer. It has also been cited as among the earliest Western artwork to depict a nude woman's pubic hair without obvious negative connotations (such as in images of prostitutes). With this work Goya not only upset the ecclesiastical authorities, but also titillated the public and extended the artistic horizon of the day. It has been in the Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1901.
Although the two versions of the Maja are the same size, the sitter in the clothed version occupies a slightly larger proportion of the pictorial space; according to art historian Janis Tomlinson she seems almost to "press boldly against the confines of her frame", making her ironically more brazen in comparison to the comparatively "timid" nude portrait.
The painting carries many of the traditions of depictions of the nude in Spanish art, but marks a clear break in significant ways, especially in her bold gaze. Further, the accompanying pendant showing a woman in contemporary dress makes it clear that the focus of the work is not of a mythological subject, as in Velázquez's Rokeby Venus, but in fact of a nude Spanish woman. More obviously, while Velázquez painted his Venus revealing only her back, Goya's portrait is a full frontal view. Goya's figuration is short and angular, while Velázquez's is elongated and curved, and his figure placed on richly coloured satin, which starkly contrasts to the bare white cloths Goya's maja rests on.
The identity of the model and why the paintings were created are unknown. Both paintings are first recorded in an inventory of unpopular and unsuccessful art by Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, Duke of Alcúdia in 1800, when they were hung in a private room reserved for nude paintings, alongside such works as Velázquez's Rokeby Venus. Godoy retained the picture for six years before it was discovered by investigators for the Spanish Inquisition in 1808, along with his other "questionable pictures". Godoy and the curator of his collection, Don Francisco de Garivay, were brought before a tribunal and forced to reveal the artists behind the confiscated art works which were "so indecent and prejudicial to the public good."
The controversy was populist and driven by a political motive, following a mob gathering demanding Godoy's removal as Prime Minister. In the fallout, Goya was named and summoned on a charge of moral depravity. As Godoy had only been found in possession of the painting, Goya was asked to identify why "he did them", and also "at whose request, and what attention guided him." His answers do not survive, but we know that the Director of Confiscations noted that Goya had only followed and emulated Titian's Danaë series and Velázquez's Venus; two painters, and their works, very much admired by the court and church, including their nudes, and the Inquisition has up to that time not found anything objectionable in the latter's Rokeby Venus.
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