The Spaniard Francisco Goya is loved by filmmakers, like few artists. It is understandable: a stormy biography, the intensity of political and romantic passions around Goya, the dangers and secrets of his life – all this makes Goya a welcome person for screenwriters and directors. We collected and compared five films about Goya and the subjects of his paintings. They all sing, dance flamenco, make backroom deals and execute heretics. For the rest, these are completely different stories and very different Goyas.

The Naked Maja (1958. Italy, USA, France)


The plot introduction. In the central square of Madrid, which is full of excited people messing up, a heretic in a long cone-shaped cap is taken to the fire. “Crazy gang!” scrutinized Goya through his teeth standing in a crowd contemptuously, then he suddenly noticed an aristocrat Ava Gardner with chiselled face among the common people. “Enough, I don’t like being where a person is set on fire like a torch,” she says. “This one should be better burnt either,” whispers Goya’s merry friend into his ear, “I swear, she is a sorceress and has a bad eye!” “Whereas I swear that I have not seen anything more beautiful,” exclaims the extra romantic Goya...

Who played Goya? American actor Anthony Franciosa. He had much common with his character, not only externally: Franciosa was just as pugnacious and ardent, had problems with justice (even spent 10 days in prison for beating a photojournalist) and romantic (married 4 times) as Goya.


Francisco Goya. Self-portrait of 1795. Detail. The Prado
Anthony Franciosa starring in The Naked Maja




What interesting can you learn? For example, try to remember the name of the prototype of the paintings Clothed Maja and Naked Maja — donna María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Álvarez de Toledo, Duchess of Alba.

Downsides. All those that are inherent in any melodrama: beautiful characters, noble gestures, heroic deeds and almost complete absence of the “crude truth of life”, so much advocated by Goya throughout the film.

Quote: “Yes, I used to study under Velázquez and Rembrandt, and there was nothing more for me. Now only I began to learn from life itself. Who, if not the artist, should show life?”



Goya or the Hard Way to Enlightenment (1971. USSR, GDR)


The plot introduction. The life of Francisco Goya – both public and personal – “is complicated” as it is usually stated in social networks. “400 rials for a caftan - isn’t it too much?” his wife María Josefa complains. “But I’m a court painter!” retorted Goya, who was rapidly building his career. Now he is the official artist of the Spanish kings. He is so independent that he dares to paint angels from street dancers, and his queen was elderly and ugly. The monarchs and the Holy Inquisition appreciated his rare gift – truthfulness, and Goya had eschewed politics until Cayetana the Duchess “from the Alba dynasty” appeared in his life. She made fervent speeches about how the French king and the Italian queen dishonoured her beloved Spain, and, seduced Goya, covering the face of the Blessed Virgin with her black lace mantle...

Who played Goya?
Donatas Banionis. The most intelligent and sophisticated Goya of all them.


Francisco Goya. Self portrait with spectacles. 1800. Musée Goya, Castres
Donatas Banionis starring in Goya or the Hard Way to Enlightenment




What interesting can you learn? The structure of the Inquisition mechanism from within – what specific sins were punished, what were heretics dressed up in, and what can influence the sentence. The scene of the Inquisition Tribunal in the film lasts more than 10 minutes – according to cinema standards, almost an eternity.

Downsides. Novellization. Characters sometimes produce long literary tirades, the ball at the court of the Spanish king is not too different from the ball in War and Peace by Sergei Bondarchuk by its visual decision, while the latter was shot 6 years before the Goya, and Goya himself sometimes resembles Pierre Bezukhov.

Quote: An artist cannot be involved in politics, especially now. Who rules the country?! The Fool King. The queen who considers nothing more important than her voracious flesh. Moreover, the first minister is the man, whose only remarkable spot are his elastic thighs.”



Naked Maja (1999. Spain, France)


The plot introduction. The beautiful Duchess Cayetana Alba is becoming sadder day by day. She feels the clouds gather over her head. In two weeks, someone tried three times to set fire to her new palace. The Queen of Spain, Maria Luisa, hates Alba: she cannot forgive her beauty, wealth and a number of petty female tricks. The beloved of Cayetana, the cunning prime minister, Manuel Godoy, married another woman, but often sleeps with either the corpulent queen or the fragile dancer Pepita (Penelope Cruz). Another Alba’s lover, Francisco Goya, was painting The Naked Maja for the Duchess, but her proportions suspiciously resembled the same dancer Pepita. It is so difficult for the Duchess to give up the thought of her own exclusiveness – she wants to die from this. And she as if jokingly asks Goya, what is she better to choose – Verona greens or Neapolitan yellow – colourful pigments, deadly, like cyanide and arsenic. And in the morning, after a party in the palace, Alba suddenly dies...

Who played Goya? Cuban actor, director and producer Jorge Perugorría.




Francisco Goya. Self portrait. 1795—1797. Fragment. Metropolitan Museum
Jorge Perugorría starring in the Naked Maja





What interesting can you learn? That the Duchess of Alba mastered the French art of depilation - this motif is repeatedly and somewhat intrusively played out in the film. Cayetana’s lovers react to novation in different ways: Manuel Godoy is delighted, but Goya is perhaps discouraged.

Downsides. It’s annoying that Goya plays the role of a weak-willed extra in the plot: the main parties go to Cayetana, Pepita and Godoy.

Quote. “See this yellow paint? If it is Neapolitan — beware: you can die of one glance! And this purple? It is usually used to paint the Jesus’s tunic. No holiness — this is cobalt: if you just smell it, and the blood will freeze in your veins. See this green? The colour of the meadows and the eyes of the angels. Verona green, pure poison!”



Goya’s Ghosts (2006, USA, Spain)


The plot introduction. 1792 year, Madrid. The inquisitor monks seated in a circle pass the drawings by Goya from hand to hand. They frown, shake their heads, and clatter their tongues. “Is it really sold in bookstores?” “Oh, yes! And on the streets. In Toledo, Seville and in the port of Cadiz. And these engravings go beyond the seas – they can be found in Rome and even in Mexico.” “So, the world sees us like that?!” the inquisitors realize the greatness of the black PR that Goya carried out in Spain. Danger hangs over the artist, but the colourful Fra Lorenzo Casamares suddenly comes up for him. He argues: why persecute Goya, who only shows the true face of our world, if heretics, Jews and women who do not know a single prayer are still not punished? All evil goes from them! And at that time the model of Goya, daughter of a rich merchant Inés Bilbatúa (Natalie Portman), sitting in the tavern of donna Julia, crinkled her pretty little nose when seeing a roasted pig. The next morning, she receives an order to appear in the Holy Chamber. With her put on the rack, the monks offer Inés to admit that she disdained pork because of her hidden Judaism. Will Goya or Fra Lorenzo manage to rescue her?

Who played Goya?
The Swedish-Hollywood hero father (five of his eight children became actors) Stellan Skarsgård.




Francisco Goya. Self portrait. 1783. Museum of Fine Arts in Agen, France
Stellan Skarsgård starring in the Goya’s Ghosts





What interesting can you learn? A lot of "technological" nuances. How is engraving done, how is the “garroth” (execution through strangulation) performed, and how the woman who spent 15 years in dungeons of the Inquisition looks like.

In fact, the Goya’s Ghosts is by no means a biopic, the director didn’t focus on the artist’s biography. He was perhaps more interested in the era of the Napoleonic Wars. As well as the story of the Spanish Inquisition, which is shown in its terrifying details in the Goya’s Ghosts. Actually, Miloš Forman said in multiple interviews that the idea of this film arose after he read a book about the Inquisition. That is, the story of Goya’s Ghosts did not begin with the biography of the artist himself.

Therefore, in some places, the director and screenwriter ignore facts and introduce fictional characters instead of real ones. For example, in Goya’s Ghosts, there is no Duchess of Alba, some Inés becomes the artist’s muse. And this role went to Natalie Portman, since the director noticed the similarity of the actress with the girl depicted in Goya’s painting The Milkmaid of Bordeaux. Padre Lorenzo is also a fictional character, but it is through his image that the whole essence of this era is shown. While the artist plays mainly the role of observer and a bit of a “reporter” describing the era in the only way that is available to him.

Downsides. The Skarsgård’s face of a good-natured coot and bumpkin does not really fit in with the role of the one used to be called the “gloomy Goya”. But, obviously, in Miloš Forman’s film Goya’s Ghosts, the whole supply of proud gloom went to Padre Lorenzo, the brilliant Javier Bardem.

Quote: “Are you blind, my brother? Don’t you see the devilish temptation and filth that this Goya exudes? He is the conductor of the darkest forces! Oh yes, he painted churches. He painted angels, yes. But when your mother looks up, wanting to pray to the Lord, whom does she see? Who was the model for Goya to paint his angels, what do you think? Whores! Fallen women smile at your mother from his frescoes!”



Goya in Bordeaux (1999. Spain, Italy)


The plot introduction. Goya is between 70 and 80. He turned gray, heavy and flabby. And he is almost deaf for many years. Now, having become an exile in his homeland, Goya lives in French Bordeaux, and he likes everything here – the countryside, climate, friendly people and excellent wine. However, from time to time Goya suffers from unconsciousness, when the overweight old man in his underwear wanders along the French boulevards, scaring passers-by. However, crippled Goya couldn’t get away from others or from himself: he got intercepted by a beautiful girl of 13 or 14 on the street. She turned out to be his daughter Rosarita. The decrepit Goya also had an incredibly young wife Leocadia, and while Goya took a bath, he dictated his memories to the chronicler Leandro. All the time, Goya told him and his daughter how he once nearly had become a torero, how he had got into the Spanish high society and dreamed of becoming a court painter, how he had loved the Duchess of Alba and been a bad husband to his then-wife María Josefa. His wife and his daughter loved and took care of old Goya. Nevertheless, he continued to imagine the nightmares of the experienced Spanish-French massacre. Goya painted all the walls in his new home with the horrors of war, and the poisoned many years ago Cayetana, Duchess of Alba, the love of his life, came to his dreams.

Who played Goya? An outstanding Spanish actor Francisco Rabal. In 2000, for his Goya, he became the laureate of the 14th Goya Prize ceremony – that is, ironically, the name of the national film award, the Spanish Oscar. However, in the biography of the actor, there was a more terrible coincidence with the life of his hero, whom he played in Goya in Bordeaux. In August 2001, the 75-year-old Rabal returned from Montreal to Spain. On the plane, he suddenly felt ill: overload exacerbated his chronic bronchitis. The actor began to cough and gasp, the plane made an emergency landing in Bordeaux, but Rabal could not be saved. So the same French city became a place of death for both famous Spaniards – Goya and Rabal – beyond their will.




Goya. Self portrait. 1815. Prado.
Francisco Rabal starring in the Goya in Bordeaux.





What interesting can you learn? Thanks to flashbacks and the overall solidity of the script, you can get very well acquainted with the biography of the artist. Perhaps, the Goya in Bordeaux presents almost all the facts that are present in any of the artist’s biographies. From the particulars you can find out that Goya attached candles to his hat, as he preferred to work at night. However, most biography films can tell about this.
At the same time, the film Goya in Bordeaux softens the picture somewhat. All the artists’s horrors have remained somewhere in the past, much has been smoothed out in his memories. Relations with Leocadia and Rosarita seem rather warm. However, Leocadia is sort of skimmed over in the film, the emphasis is shifted towards Rosarita. By the way, according to one of versions, it was she to become the model for the famous Milkmaid of Bordeaux (and another version claims that the picture was painted by Rosarita herself). It is unlikely that we will ever find out how things really were, and no sensational statements are made in the film.

Perhaps warm relationship with his relatives is only a fiction of the director, since the artist bequeathed almost all of his property to his son Javier, while Leocadia and Rosarite got only the decor of the house in which they lived, including two paintings, including the Milkmaid of Bordeaux. The latter became the subject of a property dispute between Leocadia and Javier.

Downsides: none.

Quote:At 45, I survived by miracle. The frivolity and sins of youth did not bring me to good. I got very sick, was on the verge of my death. Everyone said that I would die and go to hell. I survived, but got completely deaf. Deafness cut me off from the world and made me miserable and lonely for a long time. I did not want to see anyone, to speak with anyone. Since then, I have been tormented by headaches. I will no longer hear the murmur of water, children's laughter, female voices, the singing of birds, the sound of the wind, peals of a summer thunderstorm, I will not experience the enjoyment of music that comforted me so much. It was then that I began my work on my Caprichos.”

Author: Anna Vcherashnia