The painting portrays Charles IV of Bourbon, born in Portici in 1748 and died in Naples in 1819, who remained king of Spain for twenty years, from 1788 to 1808.
Charles IV was the second-born song of King Charles III of Bourbon who succeeded his father because his older brother, Philip, was unable to govern for serious illness. In 1765 he married Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, an unattractive woman with unpleasant character, who didn’t show any respect or dedication towards her husband. In the painting of Capodimonte, the sovereign is portrayed standing in a countryside landscape, with his body slightly turned, together with his dog. He is wearing a hunting suit embellished with the band of the order of Charles III and St. Januarius and a long rifle in his right hand
Goya depicts an image that is not only faithful to the king, far from any idealization or celebration, but even pitiless, enhancing his defects and physical imperfections, such as the prominent belly and false smile, in addition to his static pose. These elements reflect the man’s real character, described by his contemporaries as indolent and apathetic, dominated by a terrible wife.
Even the king’s expression reflects his inept character and the fact that he was not particularly bright man, as shown by his empty and unintelligent eyes. In fact, Charles IV ruled the kingdom with little acumen, so much that his people did not have respect or love for him, especially when he surrendered to the Napoleonic troops in 1808, without any attempt to defend his territory. In fact, he abdicated the throne and never returned to power again, even after the Restoration. He died in Naples, where he was a guest of Ferdinand VII, who ascended the throne after the Congress of Vienna, and he was never mourned by his people.
The work has a pendant work, the portrait of his wife Anna Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, also preserved in Capodimonte Museum with the same sinister atmosphere and the pitiless realism, which seem to foresee the imminent end of the kingdom and Bourbon dynasty at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The work was painted by Goya between the 1880s’ and 1890s’, during his stay in Madrid at the Bourbon court, where he was employed as the royal portrait painter. In fact, the artist represented the sovereigns with the family and various members of the court in other paintings, now preserved in Museo del Prado in Madrid, in which you can find the same crude, almost grotesque realism, as in the two portraits of Capodimonte.
The two paintings were long believed to be copies of the master, then works of his student, Augustin Estève, and only in the 1970sù they were rightly attributed to the Spanish master. The paintings arrived in Naples probably thanks to Maria Isabella, daughter of Charles and Maria Luisa, who kept them in her private collection and who wanted to place them to the private picture gallery of Capodimonte palace. Maria Isabella had married her cousin Francesco I, son of Ferdinando IV, who was the younger brother of the king of Naples, Charles IV, and in 1825 she became queen consort of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Goya trained in the workshop of José Luzàn y Martinez in Zaragoza, from where he moved to Madrid in 1763, looking for clients that could help him to establish himself as a painter.
He began to study the examples of Giovanbattista Tiepolo, who was employed by king Charles III with important decoration in those years, and the works of the late Baroque painter Corrado Giaquinto and the neoclassical works of Anton Raphael Mengs, who all influenced his early paintings.
Around 1770 the Spanish artist wanted to travel to Rome to learn new skills, where he joined his fellow countrymen who were staying in the city, as well as other artists such as Giovanbattista Piraesi, Johann Heinrich Füssli and Hubert Robert. Their sublime, imaginative art brought Goya closer to the restless Romanticism, which he showed in his famous engravings, better known as Capricci.
However, at the same time Goya also admired classicist works, such as Raphael Rooms in the Vatican and the vault of Annibale Carracci at the Farnese Gallery.
The expensive lifestyle of the artist during his Italian stay forced him to return to his homeland, in Zaragoza, where he painted the decoration of the basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, while in 1774 he had the task of supervising the royal manufacture of the tapestries, thanks to the interest of Mengs.
This assignment made him famous in his country and brought him closer to the Spanish court and nobility, whose portraits he began to paint, and in 1786 he was appointed court painter for the king. The portraits of the royal family and members of the court date back to these years, representing the raw realism of the painter, who did not save even the queen Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma from his rough honesty.
Goya’s talent in portrait painting and psychological interpretation of the figures can be seen in the painting depicting the members of the Spanish court or nobility, such as the portraits of Duchess de Alba from the late 18th century.
In May 1808 he supported the Spanish revolt against Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, who he had imposed on the throne of Spain, against people’s will. The revolt that caused the death of many Spaniards opposed to the regime, was testified by his famous painting the Third of May 1808 preserved now in Museo del Prado in Madrid.
He suffered from a nerve disease which had always latent, but the disease broke out in full force in the 1810s’ when the absolutist king Ferdinand VII had risen to the throne, who showed that he did not appreciate the painter’s work. Goya then retired to a disturbing isolation, decorating his country house with frightening images, the famous “black paintings” and concentrated on dream-like themes, often understood as nightmares and characters of the night, such as the famous Saturn Devouring His Son (Madrid, Museo del Prado) and "the Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters".
Afflicted by deafness and other illnesses, Goya died in Bordeaux where he had escaped the persecutions of Ferdinand VII in 1828.
The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.
In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.
The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.
The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.
During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.
In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.
Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.
For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.
The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.