During his first winter in Bordeaux (1824–25), Goya tried a new medium —
a form of miniature painting on ivory executed in an improvisational technique
of his own invention. This emerging interest may have been piqued
by his plans for Leocadia’s young daughter, Rosario, to study miniature
painting. In a letter of 1825 to his Parisian contact Joaquín María de
Ferrer y Cafranga, the artist expresses pride in his idiosyncratic creations:
It is true that last winter I painted on ivory, and I have a collection
of nearly forty exercises, but they are original miniatures which
I never seen the like of before, because the whole is made up of
points and things which look more like Velázquez’ brushwork
than that of Mengs.
These tiny paintings are grand in conception and imagination. A variety
of subjects from Goya’s rich repertoire of images reappear in the miniatures.
Woman with Clothes Blowing in the Wind recalls the Capricho of a similar
subject, but without the satiric sting. Reclining Nude can claim several
ancestors, and a maja with celestina — a leitmotif of Goya’s art — makes a
final appearance. Goya also revisits the biblical stories of Susanna and the
Two Elders and Judith and Holofernes, reworking the scenes to suit the
Fantasy and recollection are at play in these late works. On a stage
no larger than a tiny ivory chip and using shards of memory for the
narrative, Goya produced an exhilarating drama of artistic invention.
Goya departed from the traditional miniature technique of stippling — applying tiny touches of color with a fine-pointed brush until they
coalesce into the desired images — for a broader means of execution. His
improvisational process is described by a young painter friend, Antonio
de Brugada, who witnessed Goya at work:
His miniatures bore no resemblance to fine Italian miniatures
nor even those of [Jean Baptiste] Isabey. . . . Goya had never
been able to imitate anyone, and he was too old to begin. He
blackened the ivory plaque and let fall on it a drop of water
which removed part of the black ground as it spread out, tracing
random light areas. Goya took advantage of these traces and
always turned them into something original and unexpected.
In transforming the stains of water into recognizable forms, Goya added
accents by scratching the surface with a sharp pointed instrument; touches
of watercolor were deftly applied; outlines were reinforced in black; and
small patches of the surface were wiped to produce a range of shadows
Ten examples of Goya’s ivories have been assembled for this exhibition.
In the following five plaques, attention is focused on the figures’ faces.
Within a minuscule framework, Goya achieves range and magnitude
For more information about the works of art included in the exhibition and to see the related images, click on the following links: