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8.10.08

Goya ,and the Sad eyed Countess..


(please click to enlarge..)

I visited the Prado Museum im Madrid.There I was very much impressed by this painting of Goya..The Countess of Chinchon.
The countess was Charles IV's cousin, and Goya painted her first when she was a happy little child without a care. At 18, she was forced to marry Don Manuel Godoy, a shrewd provincial nobody whose seductive charms eventually made him lover to the Queen, favorite to the King, Duke of Alcudia and later Sueca, Prince of the Peace, Prime Minister—and the most hated man in Spain. The King was so fond of Godoy that he wanted him to be part of the family, and Godoy himself languidly wrote of his marriage: "I obeyed in this, as in all the acts of my life, with loyalty and submission." But what was merely a bore to the favorite was torture to his wife.

She knew of his affair with the bad-tempered Queen, for it was the talk of Europe. And there was also the rumor that Godoy had already been secretly married to another of his mistresses, Dona Josefa Tudo, known in the streets as Pepita, the flirtatious daughter of a penniless artillery officer. At public dinners Godoy scandalized even Madrid's jaded courtiers by forcing his wife to sit next to his mistress.

When the countess posed for Goya the second time, she was only 21, and the artist never treated a subject with more tenderness. As usual, he did not care about background—the person was his concern—and he painted her sitting in darkness, yet glowing with light, her pale hands gracefully folded in a shy attempt to conceal her first pregnancy. But what makes the picture unforgettable is the expression on the face—the exquisitely sad look of one whose life has been stolen and who knows that no one will give it back.

It was Napoleon who inadvertently ended her ordeal. Toppled from power after a series of disastrous defeats, nearly lynched by a mob, Godoy fled into exile, never to return. The countess lived on in Spain with at least one consoling memory.

It was of the night that the mobs came to loot her husband's house. When they saw her, they paused long enough to lead her gently out of harm's way, remembering that she at least was innocent as well as royal, though married to the man they called El Charicero—the Sausage-Maker.


Historical note: in the 17th century A Countess of Chinchón(living in Peru) fell ill with malaria. Natives cured her using an extract derived from the bark of a local tree. Sold on the benefits of the medicine she brought the tree back to Europe, where Linnaeus, the famous Swedish botanist, named it chinchona in her honour. We now know this medicine as quinine

5 comments:

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I was unfamiliar with this painting! Loved learning the back story. And, what a sad one! Poor girl.

Marja said...

Just came to say hello. Interesting story and painting. It is almost like a soap. Hoop alles is goed. Veel liefs uit NZ

Rosie said...

Thank you for this wonderful story around the Goya painting. What a sad lady she was but how heart warming that she was saved and helped by the people who recognized and respected her.

Pam said...

She holds her dear head high. How sweet.And recognized as such. You too Duchess have added to the tribute and recognition of this lady's forebearance and history.I don't suppose she was the first or last to have to deal with these indignities.A sad yet heartwarming tale, through the medium of this Goya painting.

jeannette stgermain said...

No wonder her eyes and expression was sad! Thanks for sharing this story.