Who can blame The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts—arguably one of America’s elite small museums—for titillation via a mailer that trumpets:
Nudes from the Prado. A must-see exhibition, exclusively at the Clark!
And on the reverse side of the envelope just above my name:
. . . a sensuous exhibition of masterpieces . . .
Undressing the envelope for details revealed more:
Included in this sensuous exhibition are major paintings by Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacopo Tintoretto, Diego Velázquez, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Guercino, Nicolas Poussin, Luca Giordano, Guido Reni, Jusepe de Ribera, and others.
Nobody (including Quixote) trained a shaper lance on the consummately repressed culture that spawned the Inquisition and its descendant—ultraconservative Catholicism with feeling. And who but Goya—at the turn of the 19th century no less—would have spawned La Maja Desnuda and her scantily clothed alter ego, La Maja Vesta. By all accounts, he painted them for his friend and Spain’s prime minster, Manuel de Godoy, who displayed them discretely in a dedicated room with other “sensuous masterpieces.” More details here.
I first encountered La Maya in 1961 as an eleven year-old stamp collector. Spain had issued the first Majas in a centennial celebration of Goya in 1930 in the final years of the monarchy. It had hoped to draw revenues through her limited distribution targeted to stamp collectors. But some of the Majas did escape into the mails—with less than pacific results. More philately here.
As an 11-year-old lad, the Maja rocked my world, immediately occupying a place of honor beside several subequatorial issues of National Geographic. For moral support, I draw on the late Robert Hughes via his biography of Goya:
Compared with the classical and idealized nudes of the Renaissance, this is a sexy and straightforward girl, and her level gaze, which both entices and sizes up the (male) viewer, has filled more than one art critic—and, presumably, many more than one visitor to the Prado—with feelings of inadequacy verging on alarm. It is, in effect, a Spanish Olympia, and it rouses the same kind of feelings that are provoked by Manet’s great painting in all its sharp and independent sexuality.
Next up, a supreme test for a 65-year-old:
Can a Goya-less, Maja-less exhibit at The Clark work for me?