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La maja desnuda

The Naked Maja or The Nude Maja (Spanish: La maja desnuda [la ˈmaxa ðesˈnuða]) is an oil-on-canvas painting made around 1797-1800 by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, and is now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. 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, and usually hung next to La maja desnuda. The subject is identified as a maja or fashionable lower-class Madrid woman, 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.

Description 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 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.

Inquisition The identity of the model and why the paintings were created are today 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 it is known that the Director of Confiscations accepted that Goya had followed and emulated Titian's Danaë series and Velázquez's Rokeby Venus; two painters whose works, including their nudes, were admired by the court and church, and the Inquisition had previously found nothing objectionable in the Rokeby Venus.

Goya escaped prosecution when the tribunal accepted that he was following in a tradition, and emulating a Velázquez painting which had been favoured by Philip IV of Spain. The earlier picture of Venus had been similarly kept out of view by that art-loving king in a private room, "the room where His Majesty retires after eating." In fact, the Inquisition by 1808 was nearing the end of its influence, and while it could draw attention to "dangerous" forms of expression, be they books, plays, or paintings, it was usually unable to fully suppress them.

Influence The work has inspired other artists. Jeffrey Meyers, in his book Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt, opines that Manet's Olympia "boldly alluded to another masterpiece, Goya's Naked Maja."Two sets of stamps depicting La maja desnuda in commemoration of Goya's work were privately produced in 1930 and later approved by the Spanish Postal Authority.

The novel The Naked Maja (by Samuel Edwards, 1959) is based on Goya's affairs with the Duchess. Later that same year, an Italian-French-American co-production film based on this novel (sharing the same name) was made by S.G.C., Titanus Films, and United Artists.

The painting figures into the plot of film Toto in Madrid, an Italian comedy film from 1959, directed by Steno, written by Vittorio Metz, starring Totò and Louis de Funès.

In the comedy film The Toy (1982 film), U.S. Bates has a portrait of his young wife posed in imitation of La maja vestida. A hidden switch on Bates' desk causes the figure's clothes to slide away, making it now resemble La maja desnuda.

1800 / between 1795 and 1800
Oil on canvas
98.0 x 191.0cm
Image and text courtesy of Wikipedia, 2023

Where you'll find this

Museo Nacional del Prado
Museo Nacional del Prado
Permanent collection