Charles IV of Spain and His Family is one of Goya's most famous painting. From the correspondence of Queen Mary Louise with Godoy, the collector who was Goya's main client in those years, we learn that the king had expressed the desire to be portrayed with his family in April 1800. Shortly afterward Goya moved to Aranjuez, where he started to make preparatory studies of the members of the family that were to be included in the painting, in which he also found room for himself, in semidarkness in the background next to a large canvas. The picture represents, from the left, Don Charles Mary Isidore with his arm around his elder brother, Ferdinand prince of Asturias and the future Ferdinand VII; behind them stand the king's sister, Mary Josephine, while Queen Mary Louise, who was considered the true mastermind of the court, is the most brightly illuminated figure and occupies a central position with her youngest children, Mary Isabelle and Francis. Next to his consort stands the king, Charles IV; behind him we glimpse his brother, Anthony Pascal, and to his left the members of the family of the princes of Parma, Louis of Bourbon and Mary Louise with their son, the king's cousin, Louis. The formality of the portrait required the men and women to wear the honors awarded by the two rulers: the women have the sash of the order of Mary Louise, the men that of Charles IV; those who have the right to do so also wear the emblem of the Golden Fleece. Two figures have not been identified with certainty, the woman next to Ferdinand and the one on the other side, in profile, who may be Charlotte Joachine, daughter of the royal couple and queen of Portugal.
Goya is successful in his aim of producing an official portrait of the family, managing brilliantly to avoid the risk of producing the usual array of figures on parade. The fact that he included himself suggests that the painter wished to allude to Velazquez painting Las Meninas, which was considered a family portrait and of which he had made both a copy in sanguine and an engraving in 1778. In fact there are three elements in common with that work: the painter portrays himself along with the royal family, standing next to a canvas; the room of a palace decorated with paintings; and the central position of the queen, which recalls that of Margaret of Austria. The influence of Vekazquez is always present in the artist's portraits: it is revealed in the handling of light and space and in the paint laid on in spots, a tendency that grew ever more pronounced in Goya over time, so that the portraits painted after 1800 seem to anticipate the technique of the Impressionists. Goya's portraits, direct, psychological and realistic, renewed the genre and cleared the way for the diverse artistic currents of the 19th century.
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