A retrospective of Francisco Goya (1746-1828) – encompassing 170 Goya paintings, prints and drawing – is currently on view at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Goya: Order and Disorder, which will only be exhibited in Boston, offers a comprehensive review of Goya’s work, the first American retrospective in over 25 years.
More on that later.
Francisco Goya initially established his reputation as a portrait painter, painting leading social figures, aristocrats, intellectuals and members of the Spanish royalty, like the Family of Charles IV. He was court painter for four successive kings, largely due to his unprecedented ability to capture his sitters’ psychological and mental states.
Nowhere is that seen more persuasively than in Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta (below).
After sickness in 1792 left him stone deaf, Goya again became quite ill in 1819. He was convinced that attentive care by his physician, Eugenio Garc’a Arrieta, brought him back to health. In gratitude, Goya painted this double portrait and presented it to Arrieta.
This Goya painting nearly steals the show, Goya: Order and Disorder – and the competition is fierce.
Goya’s fevered, sweating brow is palpably clammy; his bed clothes are damp and limp from hours of heavy perspiration. A calm, persistent Doctor Arrieta insists that Goya drink the proffered liquid. There is no doubt that both patient and doctor wonder if one of Spain’s most famous painters will perish. The shadowy, anonymous faces behind them are murmuring their angst and worry; over Goya’s left shoulder, an apparition like the angel of death is lurking.
The words at the bottom of the frame read:
Goya gives thanks for his friend, Arrieta, for the expert care with which he saved his life from an acute and dangerous infection which he suffered at the close of the year 1819 when he was 73 years old.
With this inscription, Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta looks like an ex-voto painting. From the Latin “ex voto suscepto”, or “from the vow made”, this type of religious work had origins in Mesopotamia and Egypt – it was an expression of gratitude for divine intercession and avoidance of calamity.
For the record, Goya lived for eight years after finishing Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta.