Fionnuala Brennan’s novel about Francisco de Goya takes the fresh approach of telling the artist’s story through those of the important women in his life. Who were these women, and what was their relationship to the great painter?
Rosario, Goya’s loyal but conflicted daughter
On the eve of her father’s burial, Rosario keeps vigil by his bedside, spending the hours talking to him before she loses him forever. Affectionately known as “his little ladybird”, Rosario and de Goya had been very close and so, on this night, she is desperate to leave nothing unsaid.
Yet, already distraught by his death, young Rosario also has to cope with being de Goya’s illegitimate daughter, ostracised by the rest of his family. As night turns to day, Rosario’s fear for the future grows more intense. Without her father’s protection, how will she and her mother, Leocadia, survive? Can she trust de Goya’s promises to provide for them despite the antagonism of his legitimate family members?
Feeling guilty for doubting her father’s word, Rosario determines to keep the promise she made to him before his passing. But can she succeed in doing so, in the midst of the chaos that follows de Goya’s death?
“Swear to me that nobody will dictate the art you will make. And when the day comes when you know you are good enough, then use my name. But not until then.”
Gumersinda, the spiteful daughter-in-law
“Opportunist, adulterer, collaborator! I know that one should not speak ill of the dead, but I do not care.”
Money, respectability and status; for Gumersinda, these are sacrosanct. Her father-in-law, however, appears to defy these values at every opportunity.
Rumours of infidelities with models and rich patrons, of his relationships with servants and his spawning of illegitimate heirs do not appear to ruffle him. Nor does he see the hypocrisy between his political paintings and his political actions. But Gumersinda cares. And she will not stand for de Goya jeopardising her, or her son’s, reputation anymore.
When she is called away from her comfortable life in Spain to attend to her dying father-in-law, Gumersinda is annoyed with Javier, her husband. He is blind to his father’s faults and has never caught on to Gumersinda’s dislike of the man.
However, seizing the opportunity she has unwittingly been given, Gumersinda resolves to save the dignity of her family before de Goya’s mistress, Leocadia, can cause any more harm.
Leocadia, Goya’s frustrated companion and mother of Rosario
Fleeing an unhappy marriage and with a son to support, Leocadia first met the widowed de Goya when she applied to be his housekeeper. Over time, they became lovers and their daughter, Rosario, was born. Due to the scandalous nature of their relationship, neither Leocadia nor Rosario could ever receive recognition as de Goya’s family which left Leocadia feeling like an object of shame, hidden away in de Goya’s house.
“Everybody here knows that I was his wife – in all but name.”
For Leocadia, de Goya has never appreciated the sacrifices she made to be with him nor has he always been kind to her. He directed his passion and energy towards his art and his tenderness to his children and grandchildren, yet for Leocadia, all her efforts led to were loud arguments and stormy exits. Even the memory of his deceased wife, Josefa, loomed like a spectre in their relationship.
But now that de Goya has died, will Leocadia finally receive some token of appreciation from him? Can Leocadia now emerge from the shadows of Goya’s life and earn the respect she deserves?
Josefa, the long-suffering wife
Confined to her deathbed, Josefa spends her remaining days looking back on her marriage to the fiercely proud and temperamental Goya. Marrying into a respected and well-connected family was of great advantage to Goya, yet for Josefa it produced a string of tragic pregnancies which left her feeling voiceless and alone.
“I was stricken with a sickness of mind and body worse than the plague. There was no hope, no reason for me to go on breathing”
A sympathetic response was all Josefa desired but proved difficult to achieve when having to compete with Goya’s art – and his female models – for his attention.
As she approaches the end of her life, Josefa wishes to make de Goya hear the truth about their marriage, about the ways she suffered.
Can she at last cease vying for Goya’s attention and get the respect she deserves? Yet if there was any love in their marriage, will it fully reveal itself now before it’s too late?
Duchess of Alba, Goya’s fiery patron
Beautiful and intelligent, the Duchess of Alba does not lack confidence in her abilities. When she sets her sights on something – or someone – she normally gets her way. If this makes her endearing to men, it bristles the women she takes them from.
In an effort to rile another woman, the Duchess summons Goya to her home to paint a number of portraits for her. Goya’s arrogant nature vexes the Duchess at first but, to her surprise, she finds herself wanting him nonetheless.
“In truth I am fascinated by this uncouth artist. I ask myself why this is so and have to admit that it is simply because he appears so impenetrable, contradictory and, most exasperating of all, unattainable. He has become my challenge.”
Widely revered for her beauty and skilled at the art of seduction, the Duchess feels a certain power over the artist she has employed. But Goya is headstrong too. Will her flirtation with the artist succeed or has she met her match in Goya?
Dolores, a naïve artist’s model who gets a hard lesson in life
Working as a maid in the Duchess of Alba’s home, Dolores thought she knew exactly how her life would turn out; she would follow the rules, marry a man of her rank and have a family of her own. However, the normal and secure life Dolores foresaw is utterly changed after a strange artist is summoned to paint the Duchess. Intrigued by the young servant, de Goya asks for her to model for him and introduces her to a life Dolores would never have expected.
“I could hardly wait to find out what being a model for an artist meant. I also wondered why there had to be so much secrecy about it. I was soon to find out.”
Duchess of Osuna, another aristocratic patron
“María Josefa has a great many talents and gifts. So elegant, so learned, so accomplished.”
As an artist, de Goya relied on the regular and loyal patronage of a number of Spain’s wealthy elite. His status as the Court Painter and his reputation for being one of Spain’s leading painters of the day helped him receive more commissions. Of these many aristocratic patrons, one of the most fervent was the Duchess of Osuna.
As with many of de Goya’s models – and to the detriment of Josefa and Leocadia – rumours swirled as to whether the two enjoyed a strictly business relationship.
Queen María Luisa
The queen of Spain was another of Goya’s patrons and was fond of horse-riding, as seen in her portrait here. According to the Duchess of Alba, Queen María Luisa was suspected of having a relationship with the prime minister, Don Manuel Godoy.
“Despite the torture she endured while Goya painted her, the lump of lard was apparently very pleased with the finished work, and especially with the portrayal of Marcial, a present from Godoy and thus her favourite horse. Her Majesty was also delighted with the progress of another big painting on which Goya was engaged – a group portrait of the entire Royal Family.”