The Allegory of Madrid by Francisco de Goya
The Allegory of Madrid by Francisco de Goya shows through its continuous changes the evolution of the unstable Spain of the XIX Century. A Spain invaded by Napoleón, reconquered by the hated Fernando VII and that ended in the creation of a Liberal Government.
The Museum of the History of Madrid, houses an important collection which is responsible for telling the history of our city since it was chosen by Felipe II as the capital of the empire, until the recent restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in the XXth century. Despite being an unknown museum for many people, its importance is huge.
Among its works, in the section dedicated to kings Jose I and Fernando VII, one stands out: The Allegory of Madrid by Francisco de Goya. It is a work that looks like a tribute to the town and the heroic uprising against the French troops, occurred on 2nd of May 2 in 1808. But the truth is that this painting has a curious external history, it has suffered several changes, conditioned by the turbulent political period in which it lived.
When Spain was invaded by Napoleon in 1808, the new French townhall ordered to the best painter of that time to make an official portrait of the new king, Jose Bonaparte. But the disappointment about the French culture that Goya felt because of the invasion, led him to rebel against the new king, and he finally depicts an allegorical symbol of the citizens and their uprising. So he left Jose I depicted in the picture just in the background, in the medallion in which today we can read Dos de Mayo. Maybe this was the fastest way that Goya found to disobey the orders of an intruder king. But to protect himself from the possible punishment of the intruder king, he said that he had no idea of how this king looked like because at that time he was campaigning in Andalusia and could not portray him in person.
The historical difficulties during the War of Independence, modified the picture, because after an important victory of the Spanish people, Jose Bonaparte had to leave the capital and so, in 1812, his portrait in the Allegory was deleted, and his name changed by the word Constitución as tribute to the recently promulgated in Cadiz. Goya, with his constitutional thought, made this change quickly and proudly. However, a little bit later and during this same year, the French came back into the capital and the figure of José I was painted in the allegory again. But Goya, tired of so much change, ordered a disciple to discover the portrait of the French king, because he did not want to be involved again in this mission.
However, in 1813, the final victory over the French brought to the allegory the word Constitución as a symbol of the triumph of the Liberalism. But this joy would end really quickly with the arrival the new king Fernando VII “The Desired” in 1814, who destroyed the progress made in the political context to reimpose the Absolutism in Spain. That’s why he did not like the depicteon of Constitution in allegory. But as he appreciated very much the work of Goya, instead of destroying it as he had done with liberalism, he ordered to change it by drawing his own portrait on the medaillon.
Then he punished Goya and accused him of having accepted the assignment to portray Joseph I in allegory from the intruder government.
As a revenge, Goya portrayed Fernando VII in a caricatured way. That is why Fernando VII finally ordered to Vicente Lopez to replaced Goya and improve his portray.
Nevertheless, Fernando VII didn’t last forever and after his death, his daughter Isabel II decided to erase the portrait of his father in the allegory in 1843 and replaced it by the inscription Libro de la Constitución (Constitution) in a time when liberalism had won the battle to absolutism.
The last modification happened in 1872 under the brief reign of another foreign monarch, Amadeo of Savoy when the then Mayor of Madrid (Liberal), the Marquess of Sardoal, wanted to know what was under the medallion in order to restore the original appearance of the Allegory. But it was so deteriorated, that he finally decided to depict what we can see today: Dos de Mayo, as a tribute to the heroes of the uprising. The idea was to avoid further changes in the canvas by political changes, so choosing an important historical event that was not related to any political ideoligy sounded like a great idea. And it was, because despite the differences between liberals and absolutist that provoked tensions in the nineteenth century, the myth of 2nd of May 2 joined both trends with the aim of recovering the lost homeland under the power of the French.
With this, the original purpose of Goya was achieved by finally paying tribute to the population. The importance of this work is preserved in a museum for the enjoyment of all madrileños and tourist. That is why with these lines I wanted to encourage you to visit this lonely museum that tells the story of our city in a really enjoyable way.
And with this Allegory of Madrid by Goya we have travelled along the history of the unstable Spain of the XIX Century. If you would like to know much more about them and step on the place where all these things happened, do not doubt it.
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