The portrait of the Duchess of Alba, created by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes in 1797, is a striking representation of one of the most prominent figures at court during late 18th century Spain. María Cayetana de Silva, the 13th Duchess of Alba, is depicted pointing at the sand beneath her feet with the words “Solo Goya” (Only Goya) inscribed on it. The painting is also known as “The Black Duchess” and currently resides at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.
Goya’s unique style stands out in this piece through his use of short and angular figuration to represent the duchess. This distinctive technique contrasts sharply with Velázquez’s more elongated and curved versions of female nobility. The duchess herself was an enigmatic figure, known for her independent nature and fondness for causing scandals amongst high society.
Beyond aesthetics, this portrait reveals much about both artist and subject. It portrays the power dynamics that existed within court life: while it seems as if she is pointing towards herself, she is actually drawing attention to whom she believes possesses authority over her – Francisco Goya himself. Moreover, there are rumors suggesting that the Duchess and Goya may have had an affair which adds a layer to this artwork’s history. Overall, this piece remains a testament to both its creator’s genius and its sitter’s unconventional spirit; a mastery work indeed worth admiring.”