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This reclining woman represents a very characteristic type of Spanish beauty. Goya has painted this picture under two different aspects, although in an absolutely identical pose. In one, the woman is represented completely nude, while here the artist has clothed her in corselet and trousers. It is asserted that the Duchess of Alba served him as model for both of these pictures.
The advent of Goya in the middle of the eighteenth century marks a sort of providential date in the art of the peninsula. The Spanish school had fallen into profound decadence. Of the great traditions of Velazquez, Ribera, Zurbaran, and El Greco, nothing survived save the regret of knowing that they were forever lost. All the prodigious strength and powerful realism of that glorious period had become degenerate, enfeebled, anaemic to the point of utter decrepitude. In the horde of artists of that time, not a single hand was capable of taking up the brush let fall by the great predecessors. One only in all their number, a certain Claudio Coello, mustered sufficient energy to attempt to carry on the broken tradition. With praiseworthy insistence and undoubted talent he endeavoured to restore its bygone dignity to the painting of his time. Among many other noteworthy works, a magnificent canvas from his hand may still be seen in the sacristy of the Escurial. But this unlucky artist, like all the others, had
come too late into a world which had grown too old. He could no longer be understood. The same decadence had overspread the whole of Europe, but to a greater degree in Spain than elsewhere. Politics, customs, traditions, popular taste, all bore the imprint of that degeneracy which heralds the end of a race. What could a Claudio Coello do in a society that had disintegrated to such a degree? His strength seemed too brutal, his realism was accused of barbarity, and the conscientiousness of his line-work caused him to be considered as a painter who had become old-fashioned and had fallen behind his times. All the favour of that period was bestowed upon the fa presto school of painting. Luca Giordano, who usurped Coello’s place in the regard of Philip II., had begun to inundate Spain with his facile and spiritless productions. He covered the walls of the Escurial with frescoes brushed in with a turn of the wrist, the dexterity of which ill concealed their absolute lack of inspiration. In his wake a swarm of Neapolitan painters, equally dexterous, but of even less worth, swooped down upon the peninsula, and day by day still further perverted the standard of popular taste. With the dawn of the seventeenth century the decadence, instead of diminishing, became more accentuated. The Neapolitans had been succeeded by Frenchmen—but what Frenchmen! Their art had neither the nobility of Poussin, nor the greatness of Le Brun, nor the suavity of Le Sueur; they bore such names as Ranc, Hovasse, Louis and Michel Vanloo, and their manner drew its inspiration from the worst type of composition brought into fashion by Mignard. Their whole effort was confined to producing the merely pretty, and their tastelessness was absolutely, yet regrettably, adapted to the growing affectation of the century. After them came the turn of the Tiepolos: these latter were not merely remarkable virtuosos of the palette; their prodigious facility was frequently ennobled by genuine talent; their line-work, though too often slighted, still showed a certain degree of conscientiousness, and some of their works are really worthy of admiration. But they too were infected with the malady of the century; they sacrificed themselves to the taste of their day, which was definitely degraded to the extravagances of fashion and the frivolities of gallantry. They were wholly lacking in the ability to impart to this type of painting the vivacious charm
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