Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, nakedCa. 1680. Oil on canvas, 165 x 108 cm.
After the death of Velázquez, Carreño showed himself to be the artist most worthy of continuing the depiction of monsters, jesters, and dwarves that inhabited the Spanish court. Inventories show that the Alcázar possessed a large number of portraits of this kind by Carreño, among which are the two of the Monster, as well as others that have unfortunately disappeared. The few that have come down to our own day show, at any rate, that Carreño approached these individuals as Velázquez had, seeking to dignify their image as much as possible.
The name of the girl depicted in this painting is Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, and she was born in Bárcenas. In 1680, she was brought to court to be admired as a monstrous manifestation of nature. She was six years old at the time, and already weighed almost 70 kilos, or 154 pounds. She probably only attended celebrations and gatherings in the palace in order to be seen by the royals and their guests, for according to José Moreno Villa (who found no financial accommodation for her in the palace records), she appears not to have been a part of the service-class at court. In that same year of her arrival, Juan Cabezas published his True Relation in Which Notice is Given of a Great Prodigy of Nature That Has Arrived at This Court, in the Person of a Giant Girl-Child Called Eugenia, Born in Barcena [sic], in the Archbishopric of Burgos. The publication was illustrated with a woodcut and republished in Seville and Valencia. Through Cabezas we know that Charles II commissioned the second Apelles of our own Spain, the famed Juan Carreño, his painter and aide-de-chambre, to paint a portrait in two manners, one nude and the other in fine dress.
The description of Eugenia written by Cabezas could not have been more sympathetic, showing how far Carreño must have gone to infuse some degree of dignity into her enormous figure: She is white and her face is not terribly unpleasant, although very large. Her head, face, neck, and other features are of the size of two men’s heads, or thereabout. Her stature is that of an ordinary woman, but her massiveness that of two women. Her belly is so vast that it equals that of the largest Woman in the World when she is within days of giving birth. Her Thighs are so very thick and fleshy that they ride one upon the other, and they conceal from sight her private parts. Her legs are little less than the Thigh of a man, and they and her Thighs have such rolls of flesh that they ride one upon the other with shocking monstrosity, and although the feet are in proportion to the Edifice of flesh they sustain, the result is that they are almost like those of a man. She moves and walks with some effort, due to the inordinate greatness of her body. Which weighs five arrobas [125 pounds] and twenty-one pounds, a thing unheardof at such a young age. In 1941, Gregorio Marañón pointed out that this young girl represented the first known case of hypercorticism, and also that from the girl’s decisive grasp on the fruit in the portrait of her clothed, she must be left-handed.
To show Eugenia naked, Carreño employed an approach extremely rare in Spanish painting: the mythological portrait. He placed the girl against a neutral background and had her lean on a pedestal laden with bunches of grapes; he crowned her with grape vines with the leaves and fruit and in her left hand had her hold another bunch of grapes, whose leaves covered her sex. Costumed, then, as Bacchus or Silenus, Eugenia lost much of the freakishness of her appearance and could almost have been confused with a depiction of Bacchus as a child.
It is possible that the two paintings of Eugenia were still unfinished upon the painter’s death, though he kept them in his workshop until the end, in 1685.
The nude, along with the other painting of the pair, The Monster Dressed in Finery, was in the royal collections until 1827. After being taken to the Alcázar (inventories of 1686 and 1694), it went to the Zarzuela Palace, where it appears in the inventory taken in 1701. In 1827, the Monster Dressed came to the Prado, while according to Pedro de Madrazo, the nude was given as a gift by Ferdinand VII to artist Juan Gálvez. Gálvez must have sold it very soon after to the Infante Sebastián Gabriel, in whose possession it was by 1843. Upon the Infante’s death, the painting went to his eldest son, the Duke of Marchena, and it was later (at an uncertain date) purchased by José González de la Peña, Baron de Forna, who in 1939 donated it to the Prado, making it possible for the two portraits to be reunited (Álvarez Lopera, J.: El Greco to Goya. Masterpieces from the Prado Museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce, 2012, pp. 126-127).