Madrid is one of the most unexpected and sparkling cities you can visit in Europe. Elegant and somewhat austere, with big traffic from avenues well-regulated, not really a park city (despite the big Parque del Buen) but it is definitely the city par excellence of the great museums, classic or contemporary.
The pink marvel of the Prado is one such fundamental stop, one unmissable destination when ‘in town’ and for me, it is room 37, and the Condesa de Chinchón. She was one of Spain’s unseen Goyas until acquired from the Rúspoli family for a ‘king’s ransom’.
The countess, a fashionably dressed young woman, sits in a chair to have he portrait painted. She is almost a contemporary of Gainsborough’s feathery beauties and Ingres’s icily flawless grandes bourgeoises. But attractive as this girl is, the painting does not flatter; it arouses unease.
Her isolation is what you feel first: her chair is surrounded by darkness. Under the blond fringe, her dark eyes are apprehensive; her hands are clasped anxiously over the gentle swell of her belly. Painted by Goya, the greatest painter of an age of anxiety in which the civilized assumptions and institutions of two centuries crumbled. “The sleep of reason produces monsters,” he wrote, and, in all but the charming rococo work of his youth, chaos, dread, and fear throng the shadows, sometimes assuming monstrous shapes and faces. Our own age produces little that Goya did not envision.
María Teresa de Borbón, 15th Countess of Chinchón, who had been encouraged by Queen Maria Luisa of Parma and by opportunism to marry Manuel de Godoy, the Prime Minister, in a marriage of convenience.