Goya: Exhibition in focus

Painter to the aristocracy

‘The Family of the Dukes of Osuna and their Children’

Four years after painting the group portrait of the ‘Family of the Infante Don Luis de Borbón’, Goya was commissioned to paint one of the most distinguished and enlightened aristocratic families at the time, the Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their young children. Placed against an undefined and atmospheric backdrop this ‘perfect family’ is carefully and self-consciously arranged, with every adorably childish pose frozen in time. Each gesture, toy, or creature plays its part in the whole, superbly orchestrated composition.

The children have their toys; Francisco de Borja, the Osuna heir, rides on an improvised hobby horse, the baton of command belonging to his father, while Pedro de Alcántara has a small carriage, giving the portrait the intimate character of a domestic snapshot. The girls are shown standing; Josefa Manuela holding her father’s hand, and Josefina next to her mother, who affectionately protects her with her arm. Two little dogs, one looking at us from the shadows and the other looking up, have been inserted to further emphasise the informality. The Duke stands in his mourning attire following his father’s death in 1787, while the Duchess sits elegantly in an armchair in a simple bodice and skirt ensemble of white striped muslin. To break the symmetry and vertical lines created by the figures, Goya has made the Duke lean at a slight angle, giving the overall composition a natural and informal air.

The sincere realism of Goya’s earlier portraits is here replaced with a polished and lighter palette, sophisticated and refined; a perfect reflection of his newly found patrons.

Francisco de Goya, The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children, 1788 © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Francisco de Goya, 'The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children', 1788
© Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado



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