In the works that Francisco de Goya executed during the second half of the 1790s—after having recovered from the illness he suffered in 1792 that left him deaf as a consequence—a profound stylistic change can be observed that involves a new freedom in how themes are presented and handled. Some of his most outstanding portraits date from these final years of the 18th Century, as do the Caprichos series of etchings and a series of religious paintings: the lunettes for the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva in Cádiz, the frescos for the Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid and three large altar paintings for the San Fernando de Monte Torrero church in Zaragoza. This last group was commissioned by the Council in charge of the Canal Imperial de Aragón, consecrated on April 30, 1802. Manuel García Guatas (1) and Juliet Wilson-Bareau (2) hypothetically link the commission to Martín Zapater, one of Goya’s confidents and correspondents in Zaragoza, but Arturo Ansón Navarro points to the possibility that other friends of the artist who held important positions with the Imperial Canal may have intervened: the general administrator, José de Yoldi and the treasurer, Pedro Miguel de Goicochea (3).
The paintings that Goya produced were dedicated to Saint Isidore, Saint Heremenegild and Saint Isabel of Portugal, using iconographic parameters that Enrique Pardo Canalis considered to be the three Christian virtues, allusive to hope, faith and charity (4), and that García Guatas interpreted in the sense of affirming the monarchy, given that these three saints had ties with kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula, objects of devotion on the part of Spain’s monarchy (5).
The MNBA’s painting is a preparatory sketch for the main altar painting for this church in Aragon, lost or destroyed during the War of Independence as were the two paintings destined for the lateral altars. All three sketches have been conserved; in 1887 the Count of Viñaza registered them somewhat imprecisely as in the possession of Francisco Zapater (6). José Luis Morales and Marín (7), García Guatas (8) and Juliet Wilson-Bareau (9) indicate that Martín Zapater was their initial proprietor. Ansón Navarro confirms this fact and specifies that Goya had given them to him as a gift and that they later passed into the hands of his grand-nephew (10). By 1900, the paintings had passed through different owners according to the information stated in the catalog for the exhibition held that year in Madrid in homage to the painter from Aragon, on the occasion of his remains being transferred to Spain. In Paris in 1910, Pedro Artal bought Aparición de San Isidoro (Apparition of Saint Isidore [to Saint Ferdinand]) and through his mediation it was passed on to José Artal, arriving in Buenos Aires in 1991, where it was acquired by the Comisión Nacional de Bellas Artes. Both of the sketches for the lateral paintings were bought by José Lázaro Galdiano in 1930, and they form part of the assets of the Museo Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid: Santa Isabel atendiendo a una enferma (Saint Isabel Attending the Sick, oil on canvas, 33 x 23 cm, inv. 2021) and San Hermenegildo en prisión (Saint Hermenegild in Prison, oil on canvas, 33 x 23 cm, inv. 2017). In 1991, all three works were brought together for the exhibition held in Zaragoza, and they were shown again as a group in the Goya. El capricho y la invención, exhibition in 1993 and 1994. The MNBA’s sketch is the largest of this group. The format is another differentiating feature: it finishes in a semicircular arch defined within the rectangular canvas by way of dark lines along the lower border and right side, traced with a brush over an ochre-toned base while the contour of the upper portion of the arch and the left side is established through an overlapping pictorial layer (11).
All three paintings were in place by August of 1800 (12) and Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos described them in his travel diary when he visited the church in Zaragoza in 1801. The sketch in our collection coincides with the description of the painting situated in the main altar, although Jovellanos was mistaken regarding his identification of the historical period and the figures portrayed: “[…] it represents Saint [blank] pendulum in the air, as if protecting King Don Jaime of Aragon for the conquest of Valencia” (13).
This scene represents a miraculous event to have taken place during the siege of Seville in 1247, which culminated in the city’s recapture. Isidore, Seville’s Holy Archbishop, dressed in papal robes and headdress and holding the miter in accordance with his investiture, appears to King Fernando III as he emerges from his campaign tent covered in cloak and armor, and urges him to recover the city—his ancient seat—from the Moors occupying it. Pardo Canalis indicates the Vida de San Fernando el III Rey de, Protector de la Real Brigada de Caravineros y ley viva de Príncipes perfectos (The Life of San Fernando the III King of Castile and León, Protector of the Royal Brigade of Guardsmen and the Living Law of Perfect Princes) by Álvar Nuñez de Castro, chronicler of Carlos II, as a possible literary source for the work. It had been reprinted in Madrid in 1787, and as such Goya and his consignors could well have been familiar with it (14).
Goya defined the scenario and figures in quick, agile strokes loaded with very little paint. He clearly established the scene’s narrative and expressive content along with the hierarchy of the figures represented, indicating their attributes and attire. He creates a contrast between the bright sky along with the light-colored garments of the Archbishop, who swings in the air, pointing to the besieged city, and the dark area where the figure of the King is situated, described with firm ochre, red and white brushstrokes and succinct black lines. In front of the monarch, a group of figures are laid out, defined in concise dark strokes with two kneeling figures that present him with a crown and a sword. A distant vision of a blurred outline of a city is also suggested, whose tall tower and Giralda allow it to be identified as Seville.
The sketch makes it perfectly clear what fundamental roles brushstroke and color played in the development of Goya’s creative process, in addition to evidencing the freedom and vigor with which the painter would work in the instances prior to the completion of the final painting.María Cristina Serventi
1— Manuel García Guatas, “Tres bocetos para los cuadros de la iglesia de San Fernando de Torrero”, Goya, exhib. cat. Zaragoza, Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza, 1992, p. 92.
2— Juliet Wilson-Bareau and Manuela Mena Marqués, Goya. El capricho y la invención. Cuadros de gabinete, bocetos y miniaturas, exhib. cat. Madrid, Museo del Prado, 1993, p. 367.
3— Ansón Navarro, 1995, p. 186.
4— Pardo Canalís, 1968, p. 362.
5— M. García Guatas, op. cit., p. 92.
6— Conde de la Viñaza, 1887, p. 299. The Count of Viñaza was unfamiliar with the theme of this group of works and recorded the painting in Francisco Zapater’s possession with the title Asunto desconocido (Topic Unknown).
7— Morales and Marín, 1990, p. 259.
8— M. García Guatas, op. cit., p. 92.
9— J. Wilson-Bareau and M. Mena Marqués, op. cit., p. 367.
10— Ansón Navarro, 1995, p. 186. The documentary source is not listed.
11— A similar base preparation can be observed in all three cases in photographs of the sketches without frames. Published in: J. Wilson-Bareau and M. Mena Marqués, op. cit., p. 243, 244 y 245.
12— Ansón Navarro, 1995, p. 186.
13— Cited in: M. García Guatas, op. cit., p. 92.
14— Pardo Canalís, 1968, p. 362.
1887. MUÑOZ Y MANZANO, Cipriano, conde de la Viñaza, Goya. Su tiempo, su vida, sus obras. Madrid, nº CXXXVII, p. 208-209 y 299 (Asunto desconocido).
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1913. GÁLVEZ, Manuel, “El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires”, Museum, Barcelona, a. 3, nº 8, p. 268-284.
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1939. PÉREZ VALIENTE DE MOCTEZUMA, A., “Arte español retrospectivo”, Nosotros, Buenos Aires, a. 4, nº 42-43, septiembreoctubre, p. 101-104.
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1970. GASSIER, Pierre y Juliet Wilson-Bareau, Vie et oeuvre de Francisco Goya. Fribourg/Paris, Office du Livre, nº 739, p. 194, reprod. — GUDIOL, José, Goya 1746-1828. Biography, Analitical Study and Catalogue of his Paintings. Barcelona, Polígrafa, t. 1, nº 459, p. 297; t. 2, il. 733.
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1980. CAMÓN AZNAR, José, Francisco de Goya. Zaragoza, Caja de Ahorros de Zaragoza, t. 4, p. 77.
1990. MORALES Y MARÍN, José Luis, Goya pintor religioso. Zaragoza, Departamento de Cultura y Educación, nº 108, p. 264 y 266, reprod. p. 265 (Aparición de San Isidoro a San Fernando).
1992. GÁLLEGO, Julián, “Goya vuelve a Zaragoza” en: Goya, cat. exp. Zaragoza, Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza, 1992, p. 19.
1995. ANSÓN NAVARRO, Arturo, Goya y Aragón. Familia, amistades y encargos artísticos. Zaragoza, Caja de Ahorros de la Inmaculada de Aragón, 1995, p. 184-190.
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2002. Goya 1900. Catálogo ilustrado y estudio de la exposición en el Ministerio de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes. Madrid, Instituto del Patrimonio Histórico Español, t. 2, p. 194 y 196, reprod. p. 195.
2003. Goya y lo goyesco en la Fundación Lázaro Galdiano, cat. exp. Segovia, Caja de Segovia, p. 72, il. 14.