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Charles III in hunting Dress by Francisco de Goya. Connections and differences

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 12/19/2016 - 6/12/2017

While the Prado is participating in the exhibitions held in Madrid to mark the 3rd centenary of the birth of Charles III with the loan of a sizeable group of its most important works, the Museum has also decided to pay its own homage to this enlightened monarch - a key figure for the arts – inside the building that he himself had built.

The result is this succinct and relevant exhibition which centres on Charles III in hunting Dress by Francisco de Goya, recently restored with the sponsorship of Fundación Iberdrola España and now shown to the public in all its regained splendour. The painting has not enjoyed the same status and esteem as other works by the artist; when it entered the Prado in 1847 it was considered a minor copy although from 1900 onwards it was catalogued as an original work by Goya.

The recent removal of oxidised varnishes has, however, revealed a work in a perfect state of conservation and of truly remarkable quality. Its technique indicates a portrait painted in front of the model, evident in the precision, variety and complexity of the brushstrokes, the subtle nuances of colour and the exquisite effects of transparency, all of which powerfully convey the King’s personality. In addition, the fact that it came directly from the royal collection supports the idea that it was one of the earliest portraits of Charles painted by Goya. As this exhibition reveals, the work’s technique and provenance thus refute the long-standing idea that has continued to be repeated in the most recent literature that Goya did not paint it from life and that it follows the model devised by Anton Raphael Mengs in his exceptional portrait of around 1765.

Goya’s image is presented in the exhibition alongside various medals that show the construction of Charles’ dynastic image, spanning the period from his Italian years to his reign in Spain. Also on display is a group of paintings and prints with depictions of Charles from his childhood as a promising heir to the throne to the creation of his official portrait by Mengs and Goya’s final interpretation. By showing the King as a hunter the latter work associates him with his Habsburg predecessors, particularly the portraits by Velázquez of Philip IV, the Infante don Fernando and Prince Baltasar Carlos as hunters. Nonetheless, Goya’s transformation of the royal image is a powerful one due to its new and penetrating naturalism, the closeness to the viewer/subject, and the location of the monarch in a bare landscape which has little to do with the traditional setting of a pleasing, verdant forest filled with deer to be seen in previous portraits of Charles, including Mengs’. In Goya’s canvas the sweeping, steep and dry landscape, seen from above, traversed by a small stream with a cascade and completed in the background by high mountains, opens the way to a new interpretation of royalty in the period just prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.


Room 37. Villanueva Building



Protector of the restoration program:
Fundación Iberdrola España



Charles III

Charles III
Proclamación de Carlos III en Madrid
Tomás Francisco Prieto
Minting. 37,5 x 3,5 mm.
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Charles III assumed the throne of Spain in 1759 following the premature death without heirs of his older brothers Louis I and Ferdinand VI, sons of Maria Luisa Gabriela of Savoy, Philip V’s first wife. His mother’s political ambitions and Philip V’s alliances with France made Charles the Duke of Parma (1731-1735) then King of Naples and Sicily (1734-1759). The thirty years of his reign in Spain were fruitful ones due to the intelligence of a monarch who encouraged enlightened policies and surrounded himself with modern ministers in all fields. Charles promoted trade and industry and also the arts, resulting in the arrival in Spain of artists such as Giambattista Tiepolo and above all Anton Raphael Mengs, both key figures for the visual arts in Spain. Charles was also responsible for the presence of Spanish artists working on the decorative projects in his palaces, among whom Francisco de Goya was undoubtedly the preeminent genius.


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