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La Celestina and the lovers
Paret y Alcázar, Luis
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Paret y Alcázar, Luis

Madrid (Spain), 1746 - Madrid (Spain), 1799

Paret y Alcázar, Luis See author's file

La Celestina and the lovers

1784. Coloured wash, Brush, Pencil on laid paper.
Not on display

This title by which this drawing is known, La Celestina and the lovers, only reveals part of the scene that Paret depicts with extraordinary precision and thoroughness, as is typical of his work. Gaya Nuño has already pointed out that the old woman resembles a witch, as is evidenced by some of the objects arranged around her. But rather than a witch, she is a sorceress, a popular type of character in Spanish society from the 16th to the 18th centuries. These women combined their skills as a procuress with their alleged divination powers and their ability to influence amatory relationships. Fernando de Rojas accurately described the versatility of the old matchmaker’s trade in his Tragicomedy of Calixto and Melibea (1514). Paret indubitably drew inspiration from this novel to execute his picture, since proceedings in the court of the Spanish Inquisition in Logroño were opened in 1791 for his reading and possession of it.

In the foreground, the presence of what appears to be a wooden wash basin – over which a piece of cloth and a three-coloured or calico cat are placed – provides a glimpse of the old woman’s activity. In the midground is a table, covered by a carpet or tablecloth with 18th-century embroidered decoration and topped by a frayed trimming. On the table, an array of objects can be seen: a white glazed jug reflecting the colours of the cat, an 18th-century Bohemian (or La Granja imitation) glass cup without its corresponding lid, a box probably containing perfume essences and two apothecary jars whose sinuous shape suggests they be of Italian origin and whose contents are specified with label in Latin. Beside them, leaning on her left arm, is Celestina (the Matchmaker). She holds a pair of spectacles without side pieces (typical of a bygone era) in one hand, and in the other, an antique rosary with a medal, which probably depicts the Virgin or Saint Anthony, rather than the usual crucifix. She seems to be using the rosary to control the time spent that the young couple spends in the room, which is depicted in the background on the right. The woman is seated on an armchair that is missing its left arm, that has a worn leather backrest and that signals another era even though it was still used during Paret’s time. Her attire is also remarkable in this regard: she wears a peaked headdress fashionable in the late-16th and early 17th centuries as well as the wide-sleeved doublet with frilled creases around the upper arm, worn in the same period. She covers her legs with an overskirt and an apron, which would become a decorative garb in the 18th century. Her feet are unevenly shodden, the right foot possibly with a pointed wooden espadrille and the left foot probably with a straight leather one.

If the attire and items are shabby, the room is no less so, with its chipped terracotta floor and peeling walls. The ceiling reveals the cobwebbed wooden beams as well as the rudimentary partitioning and closing off of an interior room, which includes a second thatched roof that has been interpreted as an allusion to the couple’s secretive love affair. The young woman is about to close the door of a small room with a bed at the far end, whilst the young man rests his hand anxiously on her shoulder and brings his head close to the back of her neck. In the window that illuminates the scene, above the wooden door, there is a sheet of paper with an orison which bears the stains of the woodcuts often used to illustrate them. It could probably be a prayer to Saint Anthony of Padua, who was very popular at the time and frequently repeated in prayers for a finding a husband. Paret has included a series of clues closely connected to the profession of the sorceress: under her left foot, in place of the wooden grid on which embers were placed to warm the feet, we see the skull of a donkey whose brains were used to enhance the carnal strength of lovers. Behind the cranium, various elements are arranged on a vertical axis from top to bottom. From the upper edge hang some dried plants, one of the many that were plentiful in the abode of any procuress, as Fernando de Rojas has observed. Next is a string of garlic, used in spells for its binding power, and at its side is a sieve, an instrument used to foreshadow the future. Below there is a kind of altar formed by a spool over which a lit candle (a token of occult knowledge) is located and underneath a stuffed bat, whose powders were used for lovers’ spells. A very common species in Spain and used for its soporific attributes, a poppy branch appears with its clearly visible flowers and blooms. Under the altar are the instruments of sacrifice: a dead cockerel (from whose heart potions were made) and balls of thread (a symbol of Clotho, one of the Fates who ruled the lives of men with her distaff or spool).

Formally, this work is related to the small oil paintings on copper of Prayer of the rosary and The blind and his guide boy eating eggs from Infante Don Luis de Borbón’s collection. Consequently, it can be inferred that the drawing (finely silhouetted with a gilt-paper fillet) was produced for a similar recipient, although there are no records on its provenance prior to the 20th century.

In the production of this composition, Paret used a print by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince (1734–1781) who, like his own master, Charles de La Traverse (1726–1787), was a pupil of François Boucher (1703–1770) in Paris. Le Prince was a noteworthy painter and engraver, well-known for his etchings and aquatints. His last work before he stopped producing etchings to devote himself exclusively to painting was Five Senses, a series of prints (1775). The composition of one of them, Le Toucher (The Touch), bears an unmistakable resemblance to Paret’s work. In that painting, an old woman seated in an armchair – one-armed as well – with her foot resting on a grating, is attended to by a doctor who takes her pulse. In the background, a young couple in an affectionate position can be perceived in front of the door to a room. Paret’s admiration for Le Prince is evident not only in the formal resemblance to his engraving, but also in the arrangement and characters of his signature, with the same type of ‘L’ and ‘P’ beside the date of execution.

Matilla, José Manuel, 'Luis Paret y Alcázar. La Celestina y los enamorados' En:. Paret, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2022, p.190-192 nº 48


Technical data

Inventory number
Paret y Alcázar, Luis
La Celestina and the lovers
Coloured wash; Brush; Pencil
Laid paper
Second support: Laid paper
Height: 410 mm; Width: 300 mm; Alto segundo soporte: 410 mm; Ancho segundo soporte: 300 mm
Arenaza Collection, Madrid; José Milicua Collection, Barcelona, until 2013; Gregoria Ana Milicua Ilarramendi, Bilbao, until 2016; acquired by the State from Artur Ramón, Barcelona, 2016

Bibliography +

Gaya Nuño, J. A., Actualidad de Luis Paret, Goya: Revista de arte, 22, Madrid, 1958, pp. 211, n. 22, il. p. 209.

Salas, Xavier de, Aportaciones a la obra de Luis Paret y Alcázar, Archivo español de Arte, 35, Madrid, 1962, pp. 124.

Pardo Canalís, Enrique, Luis Paret, pintor de Madrid, Instituto de Estudios Madrileños (CSIC), Madrid, 1978.

Goya joven (1746-1776) y su entorno, Museo e Instituto ''Camón Aznar'', Zaragoza, 1986, pp. 122 n. 79.

Symmons, Sarah, 'El galgo y la liebre Francisco de Goya y Luis Paret'. En: Goya nuevas visiones. Homenaje a Enrique Lafuente Ferrari, Amigos del Museo del Prado,, Madrid, 1987, pp. 411.

Arnáiz, José Manuel, Los pintores de la Ilustración, Ayuntamiento, Concejalía de Cultura, Madrid, 1988, pp. 246-247 nº 49.

Luis Paret y Alcazar, 1746-1799, Servicio Central de Publicaciones del Gobierno Vasco, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1991, pp. 366-369, n. 54.

Morales y Marín, José Luis, Luis Paret, vida y obra, Aneto Publicaciones, Zaragoza, 1997, pp. 158 n.7.

Morales y Marín, Antonio, Luis Paret y la Celestina (noticia de un proceso del Santo Oficio) En:, I Congreso Internacional de Pintura Española del Siglo XVIII., Marbella, 1998, pp. 319 f.1.

De Luca Giordano a Goya : pintura del siglo XVIII en España..., Fundación Francisco Godia, 2010, pp. 110-113 nº 21.

Obón, M., 'Gabinete. Cámara de maravillas'. En:, Goya y el Infante Don Luis: el exilio y el reino : arte y ciencia en la época de la Ilustración española, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 2012, pp. 152-153 nº 27.

Matilla, José Manuel, "La Celestina y los enamorados" en Memoria de actividades 2016, Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Madrid, 2017, pp. 62-66.

Martínez Pérez, Alejandro, Dibujos de Luis Paret y Alcázar (1746-1799). Catálogo razonado., Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica,, Madrid, 2018, pp. 152-153 n.57.

Matilla, José Manuel, 'Luis Paret y Alcázar. La Celestina y los enamorados' En:, Paret, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2022, pp. 190-192 nº 48.

Maurer, Gudrun, 'Paret, pintor de singular ingenio' En:, Paret, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2022, pp. 15-45 [35].

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2930.

Inscriptions +

L. Paret inv. & fec. a. 1784.
Inscribed with pen and ink. Front, lower left area

Exhibitions +

COPIA DE - Paret
24.05.2022 - 21.08.2022

24.05.2022 - 21.08.2022

Update date: 23-11-2022 | Registry created on 24-01-2018

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