The Naked Maja (La maja desnuda) (1958)
Director: Henry Koster.
Starring: Ava Gardner (Maria Cayetana, Duchess of Alba), Anthony Franciosa (Francisco Jose de Goya), Amedeo Nazzari (Prime Minister Manuel Godoy), Gino Cervi (King Carlos IV of Spain), Lea Padovani (Queen Maria Luisa), Massimo Serato (Conte Rodrigo Sanchez), Carlo Rizzo (Juanito), Audrey McDonald (Anita), Ivana Kislinger (Pepa), Renzo Cesana (Bayeu), Carlo Giustini (José), Carmen Mora (Prima Ballerina), Patrick Crean (Enrique), Peter Meersman (Dr. Peral), John Karlsen (Inquisitor).
Goya and the Duchess of Alba
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A blonde woman with her hands tied behind her back and what looks like a dunce hat on her head is paraded through the streets. Francisco Goya watches from the street. His comment is: "Mad dogs!" His friend Juanito tells him that they must get out of here because the Inquisition can even read a person's thoughts. As they walk, the Duchess of Alba notices Goya and keeps looking at him. Goya also notices her. She says to the man with her that she is not going to stay and watch the burning of the young blonde woman. She gets into her carriage. The Duchess says she is opposed to such "idiocy".
Goya's friend says the witch they should burn is the Duchess. He adds that she has the evil eye. Goya says she's too beautiful to be a witch. He goes into a tavern where the Duchess is watching a performance by Spanish Flamenco dancers. Goya sits down with his friend at a table and he immediately draws the Duchess's face on a drawing of the unfortunate blonde woman on a horse. Three soldiers serving the king come into the tavern. The leaders shouts out a call for an inspection of papers. Goya is so busy drawing that he doesn't stand up with all the others in the tavern. This makes the leader of the soldiers angry and he goes over to chastise Goya. He pokes Goya with his sword and Goya gets angry and starts fighting with the soldier for control of the soldier's sword.
The Duchess says: "Why are we standing here?" The soldier pulls away from Goya and asks who is she? She is the Duchess of Alba. The soldier snaps to attention and apologizes to the Duchess for the disturbance. He and his two men leave the tavern. The Duchess and her crowd start to leave the tavern. A drunken man named Jose asks the Duchess for a dance. Her aide tries to get rid of the fellow and gets punched hard in the face by the drunkard. Jose starts to go after the aide some more. Another aide tries to intervene and Jose pushes him out of the way too. He starts to hit the first aide again, but now Goya intervenes, shouting: "Jose, that's enough."
Jose gets mad and goes after Goya. When he is not successful, he pulls out a knife. Goya's friend throws him a knife and the fight is on. The Duchess wants to watch the fight and does so. Goya knocks the knife out of Jose's hand. Jose quickly retrieves it and, on his knees, tries to slash Goya, who now knocks the man out with a boot to his head. Goya starts to walk over to the Duchess, but Jose gets up again and slashes Goya on the right side with the knife. The people chase Jose away. The townspeople grab Goya and carry him into the tavern and place him on a table.
Her aides say it's time the Duchess was going, but she just tells Dr. Perall to help the wounded man. She goes with the doctor and asks if her physician may be of any help? Goya stands up and tells the Duchess that his name is Francisco Goya. The Duchess says: "I know." She says everyone knows who Goya is. He's the painter of the day. She helps the doctor patch up Goya. While she helps, she talks to Goya about his paintings. The Duchess now invites Goya to her next party.
The aide that Goya saved from a bad beating now shows Goya's drawing to the Duchess. This makes Goya very angry at the man. The Duchess says: "You have a great feeling for likenesses, Senor Goya." Goya takes the drawing of her and tears it up. He says: "I was just dreaming when I sketched it, your highness." And now the Duchess says she would like him to do a portrait of her. Goya is ready and willing, so she makes an appointment with him.
Goya works on a painting, but keeps looking at the clock. He wants to be sure to be on time for the Duchess. His aide tells him that he can't let Goya go. Goya tells him to stop babbling. He puts on his coat while he is walking away. The aide shouts: "The queen hates her. If you go, you'll never be court painter." Goya, however, runs into Maestro Payer and he wants to see his progress. The maestro wants to make sure that Goya is not altering the original design. He says: "Art means order, discipline, a sense of tradition." The maestro is the president of the art academy, but Goya insists that he must learn art from nature and to paint the world as it is. The maestro says if he can't follow the original design, then he will tell the king and turn over the frescoes to someone else.
The clock strikes 5, the time for his appointment with the Duchess. Goya starts to leave the frescoes and the maestro behind, but the maestro asks him if this is his answer?
The Duchess is listening to a song from a female singer. She reaches down and touches a young, dark-skinned girl, who is all smiles. A woman asks another woman who is that little girl? The other woman says it's the daughter of the Duchess. The woman is astounded, thinking that the father has to be black to have produced such a dark skin tone for the girl, but the other woman says, no, the child is adopted. Ohhhhhh!! says the woman.
The Duchess keeps thinking about Goya and his absence. At the end of the song, the Duchess goes out of the room and speaks to Goya's aide. He says that Goya couldn't make it because he is so busy with his work for the king. The Dutchess doesn't look pleased. She tells the aide to tell Goya that he is excused. The Duchess returns to the music room and tells all her guests that Goya cannot come because of his busy work schedule. She then asks the singer to sing another song for them.
Goya is exhausted from painting in the same formal style. He gets so frustrated that he just pushes his canvas over saying: "Enough!" He looks around at his models and tells everyone to take off their classical clothes. He says he wants to paint them as they are. He asks the group to sing. As they sing, Goya sketches them.
Soldiers of the king demand that the church door be opened. It is opened and the soldiers start throwing out the models and workers. The king and his people want to see how the frescoes are coming along. The soldiers then push the scaffolding into a corner. Goya meets the king and queen and then the Duchess and Goya see each other. The king now looks up to see the frescoes. He seems a bit lost and asks what is the subject of the paintings? The king asks what do other people think? The queen suggests that the Duchess of Alba should tell everyone what she thinks, since she seems to find the paintings so entertaining.
The Duchess says she finds the paintings amusing. This is her opportunity to get back at Goya. She says it's not the subject matter that she finds so amusing, but the coarse way in which the figures are painted. The Duchess says she thought she would find frescoes more worthy of the king, queen and court. But Goya has filled the church with the "lowest creatures of Madrid: beggars, loafers, ladies of the street." Goya tells Her Majesty that he paints what he sees and feels. He then says that the people are not looking down in contempt of the king, but rather to speak of their problems to the king. The Duchess questions where did he get the beautiful angels he has painted? She suggests he had women in the church showing a lot of flesh. The Queen doesn't like the Duchess. She says that she had heard that these are the type of women the Duchess likes to hang out with.
The king steps in between the women and now asks Maestro Payer what he thinks? Payer says: "Your Majesty, Senor Goya has broken all the rules of painting, but I have never seen anything so powerful or startling in the history of art. They are well and bravely done." The Queen says: "I think that Senor Goya has earned the title of court painter." She then asks the King if he agrees? Well, of course, the husband agrees with his wife in matters of decoration and art. Everyone turns to leave. The Duchess stays back until almost everyone has left and she congratulates Senor Goya.
Goya and Maestro Payer travel in a coach to the palace. The two men attend a musical concert with the whole court. The Queen comes in and the musicians stop playing. Everyone rises for the Queen. She goes right over to the King and asks if he has asked Goya about painting their portrait? The King shows Goya around saying that here they almost have the entire family together. He then asks Goya how does he want the people to regroup? Goya says he has some ideas about the placement of the family members.
Goya has been painting a portrait of the Prince, who is extremely impatient and keeps asking isn't Goya finished yet? A very important advisor to the King, Prime Minister Manuel Godoy, comes to ask if the Prince has revealed anything negative about the members of the court? Goya says no. The advisor tells Goya that he can help the painter, because he is very trusted by the King. Goya responds that all he cares about is his painting. The little Princess saves him as she comes into the room to complain to Senor Goya that her kit won't fly anymore. Goya looks at it and says it's broken, but he can fix it for her. They go outside to fix the kite.
The kite is now flying high and the Princess is overjoyed. She takes over holding the kite string. Goya keeps asking her to back up more and more until he runs into a game of blind man's bluff. The blind-folded woman contestant grabs hold of Goya and everyone laughs. Now they make Goya the blind man. He manages to catch the Duchess of Alba who was only watching the game. The players say that Goya must guess who he has caught. He starts feeling the hair and face of the Duchess. She tells him bitterly: "There was a time, Senor Goya, when you were too busy for anything but your court painting." He pulls off his blind-fold, sees the Duchess and asks her to excuse him. She leaves.
The Duchess, dressed in a more simple gown, says she is going to the dance at the carnival. She is warned that the Queen forbid her to attend the carnival at night. The Duchess says that's why she is going out tonight. A man named Sanchez warns her that tonight agitators are saying that they are going to use the carnival as an excuse for a demonstration against Prime Minister Manuel Godoy. The Duchess gets in her carriage and leaves.
The carnival crowd intends to burn Godoy in effigy. The Duchess arrives and is warmly welcomed by a crowd. They take the horses away and pull the carriage themselves.
The King looks at a huge painting by Goya. He notices that Goya is brutally honest with some of the facial problems of his subjects. Count Delgado comes in and virtually begs the King to hear his petition. The King listens to him as Delgado says that they have not proof on which to execute Montijo and his two brothers. He admits he was told to see Godoy, but Godoy is the one who wants the Montijo brothers out of the way. The King says he doesn't interfere in the business of the prime minister. Delgado is crest-fallen. So the king gives Delgado a watch and tells him to go.
Goya speaks up for justice in this case, but again the King says he won't, he can't interfere in the business of the prime minister. But Goya is not easily discouraged. He tells the king that there are people all around him who commit the most heinous of acts in the name of the King. Finally, the King warns him to stick to his painting.
The people at the carnival hang and burn the effigy of Godoy. And the dummy of Napoleon is going to be next.
The "closest of advisors" to the King, comes into a room where the Queen is and they kiss passionately. He tells the queen that the people are burning him in effigy because they blame him for coming to terms with Napoleon. She tells him to just use the troops to put down the carnival protestors. Godoy says he already issued that order, but there's a complication because the Duchess of Alba is egging it on. It was she who lit the fire. The Queen is furious with the Duchess and wants to teach her a lesson to not mess with affairs of state.
At present the Duchess is dancing with the partiers. Goya walks through the mass of revelers and sees the Duchess dancing. She notices him but keeps dancing. He leaves. When she finishes dancing, she looks over at Goya, but he has already gone. She runs after him and catches up with him. He asks her what she wants, "your highness". The Duchess says her name is Maria. He tells her that beneath that simple dress are very fine lace and silk. Goya adds they she maligns his painting just like the others at court. He then says he is not going to be one of her toys. She slaps him hard and says Goya is mad and she pities him. She starts to blend back with the crowd but the crowd starts running away as the cavalry descends on them. Goya rushes over to Maria and takes her to safety while she says: "Leave me alone!" Shots are fired and people are falling in the streets. Goya forces the Duchess behind a large bush and covers her body with his own. He gets so angry at the killings that he starts to go back out onto the streets, but Maria won't let him go. They kiss. Goya waits a bit and then escorts Maria to a tavern. People are surprised to see the pair together.
They sit down at a table and Maria remarks that Goya's royal idols have fallen before him. Sanchez comes into the tavern telling Maria he has been looking for her everywhere. Maria criticizes the royals, Sanchez defends them and now Goya criticizes the military. This makes Sanchez angry and he reminds Goya that he too is a functionary of the king. Goya says proudly that he is an artist and a free man. Maria asks Goya to dance with her. Goya dances with her. When they return to the table, they find that Sanchez has left the tavern. Goya says that Sanchez has loved her before and is still in love with her. Maria says the other men don't matter.
Goya tells her that tonight he is going to paint her. In his studio they kiss. He places her on a lounging couch. She says she would like Goya to know her past. He asks her if she had ever really loved anyone? She says not before you. They embrace. Maria says that her husband died and left her all alone and with no children. She was subjected to a lot of harsh criticism from others and now she loves to scandalize those hypocrites. She tells him to let her go for awhile, so she can think all this through. When will she return to him? Soon, she hopes. She runs out.
As she runs into her place, she feels very happy, but then she sees the prime minister waiting for her. She soon finds out that his soldiers are going through her possessions. And now she's really angry. Godoy tells everyone to wait for him outside. The soldiers file out of the room. Now he turns to Maria and says that the Inquisition would be very interested in the banned books she has in her library, including Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu. He goes on to say that she disobeyed the explicit orders of the queen. And she encouraged the rabble to rebel against the state. Therefore, she will be forced into exile for one year. She will stay in the village of Solinar. And he has to leave tonight, immediately. He will not leave the house until after she has left.
Goya is having his house thoroughly cleaned and spiffed up. Juanito comes back with the sketches he was supposed to give to Maria. He says bluntly: "She's gone." That's just her style, flitting from one place to another. Here today, gone tomorrow. She is taking a long vacation at her villa in Solinar. Goya tells Juanito to get his traveling bags ready. He rides his horse to the villa at Solinar. He jumps off his horse and goes in searching for Maria. She is with her little girl. She asks him why did he have to come here? She can't see him anymore. This makes him really mad, so she tells him that she has been exiled here. Goya wants to know why Maria was exiled? She doesn't want to tell him. He insists on knowing. Maria tells him that she loves him.
Outside on the grass, Goya finishes a painting of Maria. She likes it. Just then soldiers come riding up to the villa. Goya comments that these soldiers are always on maneuvers. The column of horsemen stops and Sanchez rides over to Maria and Goya. He stays for a little while making small talk and then leaves. Goya is upset asking why did Sanchez have to come through here? Maria laughs and tells him that after all this time, he's still jealous. They embrace and kiss.
Goya travels to Santa Cruz. Maria is worried about him. All of a sudden, Godoy appears at their door. He asks her what would she think if he could get her back to Madrid? She wonders what he wants from her? He says Napoleon wants to enter Spain and he will richly award anyone who helps make this possible. Maria rejects the very idea. She says if Napoleon comes, the people will resist him. So, Godoy starts saying that he wasn't serious about any of this. It's just that a politician must explore all possibilities. He looks into one of her side rooms and sees the painting of The Naked Maja. Maria quickly goes over and closes the doors. He asks her now about Goya. He scolds her for having her painter with her. He says he gives Goya just three days to appear in Madrid. She asks him to give her his word that he won't harm Goya. He gives his word. He leaves. Now Maria tells her servants that they are not say anything about this to Senor Goya.
Goya comes home and finds some man's gloves. He takes the gloves in with him when he goes to see Maria. She tells him not to be jealous. It was just a friend that visited for awhile. For some reason she doesn't want to tell Goya the truth. Instead she lies to him. She gets word to Sanchez and he comes to visit her. She now pretends that she and Sanchez are having an affair. She deliberately kisses Sanchez and Goya sees them together. Now Maria says she doesn't love Goya. Goya gets upset, pushes her away from him and Sanchez tries to stop him. Goya starts choking Sanchez, but then shouts "no" and pushes him to the side. He leaves. Once he is gone, Maria starts crying that she loves Paco (Francisco Goya's nickname).
Goya returns to the tavern in Madrid looking terrible. He passes out at the bar and goes down in a heap. Juanito puts him to bed and takes care of him. Goya starts working on a series of drawings about witches and witchcraft and sometimes uses Maria's face for a witch here and there. He publishes these drawings under the title Caprichios (Whims). The book seller has copies of the drawings to sell. Maria comes into the book shop. She sees some drawings, walks directly to them, picks them up and looks at them..
Just then the book seller is arrested for selling those drawings in Caprichios. He is to be tried by the Inquisition. The book seller pleads that these drawing were done by the great Francisco Goya. The man is told he doesn't need to worry about Goya, because the Holy Office will take care of him too.
Paco is arrested and taken to prison. There he is to be tortured to get him to talk. Goya hears the screams of other men.
Maria comes to a fancy ball. The king welcomes her back to Madrid. She tells the King that Goya has been arrested by the Inquisition. He's in great danger. The Queen tells her that they can't interfere with the law of the Inquisition, for that institution is sovereign. The Queen calls the King away to deal with state affairs. The King whispers to Maria that he will see what can be done for Goya.
At the trial the priest asks Goya why he drew these drawings for Caprichios? He says to show the corruption of sin and folly. The priest gives him a hard time. Then he says it is a mortal sin to paint a nude painting. Things are going badly for Goya, but , all of a sudden, one of the judges stands up and tells Goya that they have been petitioned by the royal palace to grant him a pardon. He goes on to say they will grant clemency to him. But let the trial be a lesson to the talented artist. He is suddenly let go.
Godoy tells Maria that her painter has been released. Maria says to Godoy that she won't forget the kindness he did for her. He then asks her to stay because he wants to tell her something. The French army is entering Spain, but they come as friends. This new makes Maria very angry because she knows it to be a betrayal of Spain. She starts to walk out of the room. He stops her to ask how much would her cooperation cost? She says a sum that he could never pay. Begging him to be relieved of his company, she now walks out.
The Queen is suspicious of Godoy's relationship with Maria. She tells him that she made him and she can break him. An underling comes in to talk with Godoy and the prime minister tells him to tell their agent to administer the poison immediately. The French soldiers enter Madrid. The people stay in their houses.
Maria finds out that the royal family has left Madrid for France on the orders of Napoleon. Many of the friends of Maria have been arrested by the French. She drinks her medicine (which may contain the poison).
Juanito does like that Goya seems to be cooperating with the French. Goya says he paints what he wants to paint. Juanito asks him what world does he live in? The French are taking everything from the Spanish. And now their new king will be a brother of Napoleon, namely Joseph Bonaparte. Goya gets mad and slaps Juanito. He apologizes, but Juanito now tells him that he is going to leave in order to fight the French. Goya asks hasn't Juanito been betrayed enough? He mentions the Duchess of Alba. Juanito tells him that the Duchess is very ill or she would be fighting alongside the Spanish people against the French.
The Duchess has written her will leaving everything to her loyal servants. The people of Madrid pick up arms to fight the French and their mercenaries. Mercenaries attack the people in the street, but they start taking a lot of casualties. The crowd grabs Prime Minister Godoy and he may finally get what he deserves. French soldiers come and kill a lot of the residents of Madrid.
Goya goes to see Maria. He meets Sanchez inside her house. He is just leaving, but Sanchez tells Goya that Maria saved Goya from Godoy by pretending that she was in love with him (Sanchez). Goya puts his right hand on Sanchez's shoulder.
Goya is announced, but Maria delays him because she wants to pretty herself up. He comes into her dressing room. The two hug each other and Goya cries over Maria. As they talk, she encourages him to continue painting great things for Spain. She gives him a really huge ring. The Duchess says she wants to see the portrait he did of her on the grass of her villa in Solinar once more before she dies. Goya wants to stay with her, but she sends him for the portrait. As he starts leaving, Maria collapses. He returns to her and cries over her body.
This film, a good one, makes a whole love story out of the affair of Goya with the Duchess of Alba. They don't really know, but it is possible that the model for the Naked Maja was indeed, the Duchess of Alba. Whether true or not the plot makes a good love story. I had not seen many movies by Ava Gardner, but I do think she did a good job in her acting role in the film. Anthony Franciosa was not quite as good as Ava, but he did okay. The Duchess died in July 1802 at the age of 40. It is believed she died from complications of her tuberculosis. The portrait of the Naked Maja was done in 1797 and 1800. In 1797 he was 51 years old.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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