Goya painting is on display at the Museo del Prado following its restoration

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Goya painting is on display at the Museo del Prado following its restoration
From left to right: Ramón Castresana, Director of the Fundación Iberdrola España; Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado; Elisa Mora, Restorer of the Museo Nacional del Prado; Javier Solana, Head of the Board of Trustess of the Museo Nacional del Prado; Andrés Úbeda, Director Deputy Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado and Marina Chinchilla, Deputy Management Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado. Photo © Museo Nacional del Prado.

MADRID.- The Museo del Prado presented The Countess of Chinchón by Goya following its restoration within the programme supported by Fundación Iberdrola Españá as its Protector Sponsor.

The painting, which is documented in Godoy’s palace in 1800, was moved to the General Deposit of Seized Works in 1813, located in the stores of the San Ildefonso Glassware Manufactory on calle Alcalá in Madrid. In 1814 it was in the palace at Boadilla del Monte near Madrid among the items returned to the Countess of Chinchón. It remained with her direct descendants until it entered the collections of the Prado in 2000, acquired with State funding and with a contribution from the Museum itself from the Villaescusa Bequest.

The restoration, undertaken by Elisa Mora, has reinstated the green tones of the ears of corn in the sitter’s hair, the crisp texture of her muslin dress and its embroidered details, and the subtle nuances of the greys and whites.

After 38 years in the Restoration department of the Museo Nacional del Prado, Elisa Mora is now approaching retirement with the satisfaction of having worked on reinstating the original pictorial values of outstanding examples of universal art - among them The 2nd of May by Goya, The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands apart by Titian, painted on marble - as well having been joint recipient with the other members of the Museum’s restoration team of the National Prize for the Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Items 2019, awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sport.

The restoration
The Countess of Chinchón is an oil painting on canvas and is in an exceptionally good state of preservation. Its most recent restoration began in March 2020 but little is known about previous restorations. In 1988 and 1996 small areas of the paint surface were consolidated in the Museum’s restoration studio prior to the work going on display at the Prado. Following its acquisition by the Museum in 2000, a technical carried out on the work revealed that it had been painted on another canvas already used by Goya, which X-radiography clearly showed to also be painted with a standing portrait of Godoy and another, less visible one underneath of a young knight with the cross of the Order of Malta on his breast. Both images had been covered over by a layer of pinkish-beige pigment that was used as the preparation for the final portrait of the Countess of Chinchón.

The recent restoration has included strengthening the corners of the original canvas, which is unlined, while various patches of cloth applied over small tears in the past have been replaced by linen threads. An important aspect of the procedure was consolidating the pictorial layer and the preparation due to the presence of craquelure which was posed a risk in terms of paint loss. The final phase consisted of removing the oxidised varnish and dirt that had accumulated on the painting’s surface.

The process of cleaning has been crucial for allowing a new appreciation of Goya’s masterly brushstrokes, which had been obscured by a dark, yellowish film that prevented the viewer from visually grasping the depth and sense of space around the figure. Now, the transparency of the new varnish makes it possible to distinguish the green tones of the ears of corn in the sitter’s hair, the crisp texture of her muslin dress and its embroidered details, and the subtle nuances of the greys and whites. The young countess’s character is perfectly conveyed by the pearly flesh tones, the pink of her cheeks and her fine, curly hair that seems to move before her eyes, with their clear, rapt gaze.

The Countess of Chinchón. Goya
The portrait of The Countess of Chinchón is documented in the correspondence between María Luisa and Godoy between 22 April and early May 1800, when the Queen was completing the preparations for Goya to paint his group portrait of The Family of Charles IV at Aranjuez. From these letters we know that the countess, María Teresa, was expecting another child following two previous unsuccessful pregnancies. Her daughter, Carlota Joaquina, was born on 2 October of that year with the monarchs acting as godparents.

The countess’s headdress with its ears of corn follows the fashion for women’s accessories of this period, which were adorned with fruit and flowers. Here it has an additional significance as an emblem of fertility, given that it is the symbol of the goddess Ceres whose feast days were celebrated in ancient Rome in April, the same month that this painting was executed.

María Teresa is represented in a manner appropriate to her high social rank: shown full-length, seated on a gilded chair that resembles the throne of her forebears given that she was a granddaughter of Philip V, and pregnant with the heir who would be both the son of the Prince of Peace and a descendent of the Bourbon dynasty. Goya was fully capable of transmitting all the innocence and candour that Godoy described in his letters. On her left hand the countess wears a ring that has a crisp, clearly defined brushstroke in the centre which emphasises the glitter of a diamond. On her right middle finger she wears another ring with a very freely painted miniature of a man wearing the blue sash of the Order of Charles III.

The shadow that surrounds the figure is notably different to the type of light used by Goya in other portraits of female aristocrats. Its Velázquez-like use of dense shadows combined with the brightly lit figure recall some of the prints from the Caprichos series by the artist of this same period.

The figure is structured with a rigorous geometrical ordering while the folds of her muslin dress create a series of complex, interlocking planes that suggest volume and increase her luminosity. The wafting ears of corn and the blue bows seem to be in motion, revealing the slightest movement of the countess’s head, while the stiff, white organza ribbon that secures the cap under her chin forms a rigid bow beneath her face, its three heavily charged white brushstrokes functioning to emphasise the young woman’s rosy complexion, the delicacy of her face, her gentleness and the nervous and repressed expressivity of her personality. While particularly striking are the fluidity of the handling, the lightness of Goya’s brushstrokes, the small amount of pigment used for this work, which in many areas shows the warm pinkish preparatory layer underneath, the figure is, however, elaborated with great detail and concluded with a rigorous technical precision and a use of dense pigment, possibly in order to disguise the fact that despite the importance of his patron, Goya reused a canvas already painted with two, relatively finished portraits: one of an unknown knight and the other of Godoy himself.

The Countess of Chinchón
María Teresa de Borbón y Villabriga, born in Velada on 26 November 1780, was the daughter of the Infante Luis de Borbón, brother of Charles III, and of María Teresa de Villabriga, a member of the minor Aragonese aristocracy. Together with her siblings, María Teresa lived away from the court from the time of her birth and was not allowed to used the Bourbon surname due to Charles III’s Pragmatic Sanction. On her father’s death in 1785 María Teresa was sent with her sister to the convent of San Clemente in Toledo, which she left to marry Godoy on 2 October 1797.

The marriage was decided by a decree of Charles IV. The young María Teresa, then aged 16, was consulted and agreed to marry Godoy, thus re-establishing harmony with the Bourbon family and leading to the return of her three brothers and their mother, who regained the use of the royal name and their titles. The marriage was also intended by the sovereigns to honour Godoy, their trusted favourite, by allying him with royalty.

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