María Antonia Gonzaga, Dowager Marchioness of VillafrancaCa. 1795. Oil on unlined canvas, 87 x 72 cm.
This portrait of María Antonia Gonzaga y Caracciolo (1735-1801), the dowager Marchioness of Villafranca, corresponds to the period in which Goya executed his two portraits of her eldest son, José Álvarez de Toledo (one now in the Museo del Prado and the other in the Art Institute of Chicago). Her son was the eleventh Marquis of Villafranca and Duke of Alba through his marriage to María Teresa de Silva -the Duchess of Alba and the only heir to the title, hence her husband´s claim to it- whom Goya also painted that year (Liria Palace, Madrid). María Antonia, who belonged to the highest nobility as the daughter of Francisco Gonzaga, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and Duke of Solferino, married Antonio Álvarez de Toledo, the tenth Marquis of Villafranca, the head of that important aristocratic house from Aragon and a grandee of Spain. The mother of five children, the marchioness was widowed in 1773, when she was still young. Yet, rather than remarrying, as would have been typical in that era, she devoted herself to the care of her children and to the efficient administration of the marquisate and the immense properties of the House of Alba that now belonged to her eldest son. Some years before, Goya had painted a portrait of the marchioness´s daughter, the Countess of Altamira with her own little daughter (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), another of her husband, the Count of Altamira (Banco de España, Madrid), as well as one of their youngest child, Manuel Osorio (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). There is some indication that Goya also painted an early portrait of the marchioness, but no trustworthy documentation survives to back up such a claim. The family supported Goya during the difficult years after his illness in 1793, which left him deaf; their support was perhaps owing to Goya´s Aragonese origins, as they were also from Aragon and defended the Aragonese party in the court. It is not known where the painting was first intended to be hung. It may have been commissioned by the marchioness herself for her palace or by her son for the decorations in the new, imposing palace that the Duke and Duchess of Alba had built in Madrid. Following her son´s early death in 1796, the marchioness inherited his possessions which were then passed on to the new Marquis of Villafranca, one of whose descendents, the Count of Niebla, bequeathed the painting to the Museo del Prado in 1898 along with the portrait of the Duke of Alba mentioned above. The decade of the 1790s represented an important stage in Goya´s career, beginning with the portraits of the new king and queen in 1789-90 and continuing with images of prominent members of the aristocracy and the political class. He also produced portraits of friends, including important men of letters, poets and even actresses. For this image of the marchioness, Goya has avoided the conventional model of a stately and formal full-length portrait of a lady standing in the midst of her properties. Rather, this threequarter length portrait presents the sitter in an intimate light, seated on an austere, though elegant, chair with a gilt frame in the style of the reign of Charles IV. The refined elegance of her dress is reflective of the French-influenced styles then in fashion and includes elements that were typical feminine adornments at the time, such as the blue silk cockade she wears in her large powdered wig, her rose brooch, and the blue ribbon tied around her white shawl. The play of light on the shawl´s slightly transparent chiffon allows Goya -utilising the devices of Venetian painters like Titian- to highlight the marchioness´s delicate intelligent features and sensitive, reflexive facial expression. The palette of cool colours, greys and blues together with different shades of white, is accentuated only by the touch of pink in the flower on her breast, executed with a light impasto of red lacquer paint, one of the most subtle and transparent pigments used by the old masters (Mena, M.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 194).