Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes Portrait of Maria Luisa di Parma


Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte


late 18th century


1240 x 2020 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The painting portrays Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, born in Parma in 1751 and died in Rome in 1819, the queen of Spain for twenty years, from 1788 to 1808. The sovereign is portrayed standing with her figure emerging from a black background in an almost ghostly manner, with her body slightly turned while her head is straight, looking directly at the viewer. Maria Luisa is resting her hands, covered with jewels, on her belly and holds a closed fan. She is wearing an elegant yellow and white dress, embellished with veils, which contrasts with her vulgar appearance and her grim and certainly not beautiful face. Goya depicts an image that is not only realistic, far from any idealization or celebration, but even pitiless, enhancing his defects and physical imperfections, reflecting her character which was described by her contemporaries as awful, dissolute and tyrannical. Even the queen’s expression seems to reflect her temper. She has a false smile and a harsh expression that reveals the lack of goodness and mercy towards her people, who hated her and her scandalous attitudes, as well as the arrogance she showed towards her husband, king Charles IV. The vulgarity of the queen is also emphasized by the inelegance of her figure, which, despite the refined dress, appears excessively covered by showy jewels. The work has a pendant work, the portrait of her husband Charles IV, 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. Charles IV was the second son of Charles III of Bourbon of Spain, and therefore he was the older brother of Ferdinand IV. He became king of Spain in 1788 due to illness of his older brother Philip. In 1765 he married Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma and from their marriage was born Maria Isabella, who married Francesco I, the son of Ferdinando IV. In the paintings of Capodimonte this pressure for the truth takes on merciless tones in the portrait of the king, who is depicted with the band of the order of Charles III and St. Januarius wearing hunter’s clothing. He is depicted fat and apathetic and with his expressionless eyes he seems to be more interested in his hunting rifle than his kingdom, which he surrendered to Napoleon in 1808, abdicating the throne almost without batting an eyelid. Both portraits seem to be haunted by a sinister smile, almost like a mask of a dynasty destined to an inexorable decline. After the conquer of Spain by the Napoleonic troops, the royal couple went into exile and they were not resettled on the throne after the Congress of Vienna. Both died in January 1819, Maria Luisa in Rome and Charles in Naples, where he was staying at his brother’s house.

Artist Details

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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.

Collection Details

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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.