This oil on canvas portrays a naked woman reclining on a bed of pillows and is believed to be one of the first depictions of female pubic hair in Western art.
Painted towards the end of the 18th century, the story behind this Spanish painting and its subject remains a mystery. Some say she was the Duchess of Alba and others claim that she was one of the mistresses of the Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy who owned the painting as part of his collection. Regardless of who the woman was, the painting remained a subject of controversy and when questioned by the inquisition about the origin of the Naked Maja and its sister painting ‘The clothed Maja’, Goya refused to divulge any information.
The erotic nature of the painting makes it one of the most revered works of art in terms of female nudes. Fluid paint is applied thinly to give the appearance of pearly flesh while soft light enhances the perfection of the woman’s figure. Everything that is exposed in the Naked Maja remains covered in the Clothed Maja, which stretches the eroticism even further by leaving the viewer to imagine what lies beneath her clothes. The woman in this painting, while fully clothed, appears just as inviting as the naked woman from the first picture, producing an even more seductive result.
Goya’s Naked Maja is also an example of how erotic art of the period also acted as commentary on the politics of a corrupt society that was intent on keeping their desires hidden. In response to attitudes about sex held by the Spanish government, Goya self censored his work in creating the Clothed Maja, but given its erotic elements, it is clear that he did this in a satirical and almost defiant manner.
Recognizing his society’s desperate need for enlightenment, Goya’s art encapsulated the role that fantasy and desire would play in leading Spain into a new era.
This is just one reason why Goya is considered to be the father of modern art.
The clothed Maja (picture taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_maja_desnuda)