Article by Carley McCready, the University of Mary Washington, April 2011
The Duchess of Alba and Mariluz, 1796, was completed when Goya was staying with the duchess at Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cádiz, Spain in a time when she was mourning the death of her husband. Goya, a painter for the Spanish Crown, painted many portraits and images of the royal court and aristocracy. The duchess of Alba was an aristocrat and frequent subject of many of Goya’s portraits; it is often rumored that the two had a love affair. This portrait is of particular significance because it is a testament to the maternal virtuosity of women, which is closely tied to motherhood (Tomlinson 61). In this portrait, done in india ink wash, the duchess of Alba is lovingly holding her adopted African daughter, Mariluz. The duchess’ arms are tenderly enveloping the child in a motherly embrace, with the child’s head resting against her breast. This is an extreme contrast to other common portrayals of Africans in European paintings at the time, in which the majority depict and singularize the African subject as “the other” (Cuartero 6). Unable to have children, the duchess cared for Mariluz as if she were her own daughter (Cantón 81-82).
“Gentes de color, gentes de placer y otras rarezas: Una aproximación a su estudio en la pintura europea y americana de los siglos XVII y XVIII.” Cabildo Insular de Fuerteventura. Comisión de Cultura (Islas Canarias, España), n.d. Internet resource.
Goya, Francisco, Janis A. Tomlinson, and Serraller F. Calvo. Goya: Images of Women. Washington, D.C: National Gallery of Art, 2002. Print.
Vallentin, Antonina. This I Saw: The Life and Times of Goya. New York: Random House, 1949. Print.