El rey Carlos III [The King Charles III]

El rey Carlos III [The King Charles III]

  • c. 1786
  • Oil on canvas
  • 197 x 112 cm
  • Cat. P_135
  • Commissioned from the artist by the Banco Nacional de San Carlos 
Manuela Mena

This portrait of Charles III (Madrid, 1716-1788) has been considered one of the worst of the group that the artist painted for Banco de San Carlos between 1784 and 1788. Aureliano de Beruete, for example, believed it was a posthumous portrait of the monarch, while Xavier de Salas thought it had been painted earlier for another use and only later reassigned to the bank. Nonetheless, its payment on 29 January 1787 appears in the bank’s archives, which suggests it dates from that year or the end of the previous one. That payment of 10,000 reales de vellón was for three works: the present one and Goya’s portraits of the Count of Altamira and the Marquis of Tolosa. This has been considered the portrait listed in an inventory from around 1806-1807 as a “full-length portrait of Charles III with its gilded frame”, which hung in Banco de San Carlos’s main Assembly Hall alongside Goya’s other portraits for that institution. However, its size and iconographic significance suggest that it may be the work listed in that same inventory as the only painting in the Boardroom: a royal portrait hanging under that room’s canopy, the most representative place in an institution founded by that monarch and named after his own patron saint.

This would make it the first of Goya’s portraits of the king, and it differs considerably from his second, which dates from about 1788 and presents him in hunting attire. Originally a part of the Royal Collection, that second work is now at the Museo del Prado. Certain technical details of the bank’s portrait may indicate that it was indeed the first, as the paint surface shows numerous adjustments in the king’s position, including his head and right shoulder, his feet, which were somewhat farther forward and wider apart, and the outlines of his frock coat and his right arm. Such changes do not appear in Goya’s depiction of him as a hunter. In the bank’s canvas, it is also possible that the king may have rested his left hand on the staff carried by the bank’s directors. Its outline appears to the right of his figure, while he holds the baton of Captain-General of the Armies in his right hand, an interesting detail given that Spain was then at war with England. X-rays and infrared reflectography confirm the artist’s changes to this work.

It was previously thought that Charles III did not sit for Goya, who would therefore have drawn on Anton Raphael Mengs’s portrait from around 1765—over 20 years earlier—for the monarch’s features. Mengs’s work was the official image of the king and was widely known through prints, like that of Manuel Salvador Carmona. In fact, all the portraits of Charles III painted after Mengs’s masterpiece reflected efforts to endow his peculiar face, with its large nose and sunken mouth, with greater nobility and dignity. For example, Mariano Salvador Maella practically traced the features from Mengs’s work in his portraits of 1784, like the one at the Royal Palace, which shows the king attired as Grand Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece, or the three-quarter view also held by Banco de España. Goya followed the model as required, no doubt so that the king’s power would be immediately recognised, since Mengs’s image was so widespread that it had even supplanted the monarch’s true appearance. However, he made some fundamental changes in the age and expression of the king and in the naturalist accentuation of the suntanned complexion of his face, which contrasts strongly with the white forehead of Mengs’s work. Known references from that period indicate that the king’s daily hunts had greatly tanned his face, but Goya moreover emphasises the depth of his wrinkles, which were very noticeable by then, and the drooping skin on his neck, a highly realistic detail that clearly reveals his age. Moreover, the emphasis on his rather stiff smile and the intensity of his amused gaze draw him closer to viewers while simultaneously capturing their attention. Such is not the case with Mengs’s portrait. Goya’s letters to his childhood friend in Zaragoza, Martín Zapater, indicate that he knew the king in person, and he may well have taken a life study of the monarch in order to paint his portrait. If so, he must have had an impression similar to the one accurately described by the Count of Fernán Núñez in his Life of Charles III: “At first glance, the magnitude of his nose suggested a very ugly face, but after that first impression passed, an even greater surprise emerged: behind that frightful semblance lay a goodness, attractiveness and grace that inspired love and trust.”

The importance of the present royal portrait, and of its location in a representative part of Banco de San Carlos, is demonstrated in the technique employed by Goya, as well as by its colours and luminosity. It may have presided over the boardroom, where it would have hung from the velvet or “crimson damask” of the canopy listed in the inventory. There, its green tones must have stood out forcefully, which is why Goya accentuated the density of the surface with a thick paint layer and densely impastoed brushstrokes. The green of the monarch’s apparel, masterfully nuanced along the luminous edges to thrust the figure into the foreground, is heightened by abundant gold embroidery, almost in relief, that reflects the light and skilfully guides the viewer’s gaze to the king’s face. His visage is framed in turn by a perfect triangle of colours formed by the sashes of the military orders and the double gold chain bearing the Golden Fleece and the Grand Cross of his own Order of the Immaculate Conception.

This image of the king also alludes to Banco de San Carlos’s function through the decoration of the strip across the luminous background area conceived by Goya, and never properly interpreted, against which the monarch’s figure stands out magnificently. This decoration may actually have existed in one of the bank’s rooms during those early years, although this is not a certainty. Like all great artists, Goya was able to place his figures in an allegorical space that clarified the painting’s message, as he did, for example, in The Family of Charles IV. The decorative pattern’s beauty and tension seem to arise as an imaginative response to suggestions by Juan Agustín Ceán Bermudez and Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, who must certainly have supported the award of the bank’s commission to Goya. And this pattern was not a mere copy of something already produced by the “professional decorators,” as Goya referred to painters who specialised in supplying motifs for “decorations” such as borders, tapestries, carpets and so on. The figures that face each other in the decoration that appears here are in fact griffins rather than winged lions or dragons, as they have previously been described. This iconography was consistent with the bank’s function, as these mythological beings with an eagle’s head, and sometimes with pointed ears, wings and the hindquarters of a lion, had served as heraldic emblems since Greek times. Their mission was to guard the gold and other treasures of the gods. Moreover, the interesting and previously unremarked decorative motif between each pair of griffins is Mercury’s caduceus, the two entwined serpents carried by that god as a wand. The god appears seated, caduceus in hand, on the decorative border of Banco de San Carlos’s foundational document, and this motif remains a part of Banco de España’s symbolic language today, as can be seen in the decoration of its railings. The caduceus, which was also used by alchemists as a symbol of the transmutation of mercury into gold, has been considered an emblem of commerce since its origins, and has been used as an insignia by institutions dedicated to the study and teaching of economics. In Goya’s painting, Charles III stands directly before these two symbols, which have been joined to represent commerce and wealth, as well as their conservation and increase thanks to the recently founded Banco de San Carlos.

Manuela Mena

Manuela Mena
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
Fuendetodos (Zaragoza) 1746 - Bordeaux (France) 1828

The name appearing on his baptismal documents is Francisco Joseph Goya, but in 1783 he added the word “de” to his surname, and that is how he signed his self-portrait in the Caprichos when they were published in 1799: “Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Pintor.” At 53, he was at the height of his career and social standing, and in October he was appointed First Court Painter by the monarchs. From a young age Goya had wanted to find the documents certifying his nobility in the Zaragoza archives, but he never did. Success as an artist was slow in coming, despite the fact that he had begun studying painting at the age of 13. This was in José Luzán’s studio, although in 1762 he was already attempting to obtain a grant that the Royal Academy of San Fernando awarded to young men from the provinces so they could study in Madrid. The following year he attempted to obtain the firstclass Painting Prize, but neither of these efforts was successful. A few years later, in 1769 — probably after living between Zaragoza and Madrid, where he may have studied at Bayeu’s studio — he decided to pay his own way to Italy. And in 1771, he was equally unsuccessful in his attempts to obtain the prize of the Academy of Parma. From Italy, he returned to Zaragoza, where he must have had some kind of support, because that year he painted a fresco in the choir at the Basilica of El Pilar. In 1773, he married Francisco Bayeu’s sister, and this was decisive in his move to Madrid in 1775, where his brother-in-law had invited him to collaborate on a project to paint cartoons for tapestries to be hung in the royal palaces. This marked the beginning of his slow rise in courtly circles over the following years.

In 1780, at the age of 32, Goya was elected Academician of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, for which he presented Christ on the Cross (Museo del Prado, Madrid). At the same time, the chapter of the Basilica of El Pilar commissioned him to paint a fresco on the dome of the Regina Martyrum. The Count of Floridablanca’s support was also decisive for his career in the early 1780s. After painting his portrait in 1783, Goya was commissioned to make one of the paintings for the church of San Francisco el Grande. It seems very likely that Floridablanca also recommended his services to the Infante Don Luis and his family in 1783 and 1784, as well as to Banco de San Carlos for the portraits of its directors. In 1785, Goya was assistant director of painting at the Academy of San Fernando, and in 1786 he was finally appointed the King’s Painter. The following year, he obtained the patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna and soon thereafter, that of the Count and Countess of Altamira. Goya was 43 years old when Charles IV came to the throne in 1789, and he was soon appointed court painter by the new monarch. By then, only one of his six children was still alive. Goya was still painting tapestry cartoons for the king at that time, but over the following ten years, his life and his approach to art were to change radically. This transformation may have begun with the grave illness that left him deaf in 1793. That is when be began to make independent works, such as the “diversiones nacionales” (“National Pastimes”) that he presented at the Academy in 1794, or the series of drawings and subsequent prints known as Los Caprichos. He also continued to respond to commissions for religious works, but the results were filled with such unprecedented innovations that they are considered even more revolutionary than his work in other genres. His canvases for La Santa Cueva in Cádiz (1796) and The Arrest of Christ, which Cardinal Lorenzana commissioned for the sacristy at Toledo Cathedral (1798), are fine examples. Goya’s fame is also due to his portraits of the Spanish elite from the monarchs to the leading aristocrats, including the Duke and Duchess of Alba, as well as outstanding cultural, military and political figures from that period, such as Jovellanos, Urrutia, Moratín and Godoy. This work culminated in 1800 with his portrait of the Countess of Chinchón and The Family of Charles IV (Museo del Prado, Madrid), as well as others that paved the way to modernity, such as his version of Venus as a nude model in the Majas (Museo del Prado, Madrid).

With the arrival of the new century, Goya and all his compatriots were affected by the war against Napoleon. His testimony is some of the most impressive of all — a deeply critical view marked by his reflections on violence in such works as Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War) or, in 1814, his Second and Third of May, 1808 (Museo del Prado, Madrid). His portraits offer a view of the new society, including its aristocratic patrons, such as the Marchioness of Santa Cruz, the Marchioness of Villafranca Painting her Husband and, from 1816, the Tenth Duke of Osuna (Musée Bonnat, Bayonne), as well as the new bourgeoisie, with likenesses of Teresa Sureda (National Gallery, Washington), his own son and daughterin- law, Javier Goya and Gumersinda Goicoechea (Noailles collection, France), and the actress Antonia Zárate. Before and after the war, Goya continued with his series of drawings and prints, including Tauromaquia and his Disparates, which dates from the years when the Constitution of 1812 was abolished. These culminate in the Black Paintings on the walls of his own house.

Goya’s portrait of Ferdinand VII is one of those that most clearly convey its model’s character, and this king’s repression was almost certainly the reason why the artist left for France in 1824, following the arrival of the Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis in Madrid that May. After a stay in Paris in July and August, where he visited that year’s Salon, he settled definitively in Bordeaux. His work from the final years of his life contained many innovations, including the use of lithography for a new series of four prints called Bulls of Bordeaux, and the miniatures he painted on ivory, with subjects that also appear in his drawings from those years. There, he offers a broad view of contemporary society, mixed with his memories and experiences, all marked by his permanent desire to fully explore human nature.

Manuela Mena

Paloma Gómez Pastor
Carlos III (Madrid 1716 - Madrid 1788)
Rey de España 1759 - 1788

Born in Madrid on 20 January 1716, the son of Philip V (1683-1746) and his second wife, Isabella Farnese (1692-1766). He enjoyed good health and was very keen on hunting. Besides Spanish, he spoke French and three Italian dialects, he wrote in Latin, and he learned some German. He showed great interest in manual trades such as clockmaking and printing, and enjoyed games like billiards. He was an outstanding student of geometry and mathematics, showed a great interest in flowers and trees, and possessed considerable knowledge of military tactics and fortifications.

When Antonio Farnese died without issue in 1731, Charles inherited the Duchy of Parma. Isabella Farnese had secured recognition for her son as heir to the rights of succession of the Farnese and the Medici. The War of the Polish Succession (1733-1735) prompted the kings of France and Spain to subscribe their first Pacte de Famille in 1733. At the head of the Spanish armies in Italy, the Infante Charles conquered Naples in 1734 for Philip V, who thereupon proclaimed him its king. With the conquest of the island of Sicily in 1735, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was born, over which he ruled as King Charles VII from 1734 to 1759, when he was proclaimed king of Spain. During these years, the two kingdoms preserved their autonomy and their respective laws, institutions and privileges. Charles’s reign has been seen as the starting point of the modern history of Southern Italy. Although Naples was chosen as the capital of the new kingdom, the king was always attentive to the problems of governing Sicily.

His reign was one of timid reforms. A fiscal reform was undertaken but ultimately failed, and the Bank of Naples was founded in 1751 in conjunction with an attempt to unify the monetary system. Agriculture, on the other hand, was at the level of mere subsistence, and livestock was transhumant. Charles was outstanding as an artistic patron, the chief exponent being the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. His is the merit for the first systematic organisation of the work to recover the cities buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D.

He married Maria Amalia of Saxony in 1738. They had thirteen children, six boys and seven girls. Among them were Carlos Antonio, who would reign as king of Spain under the name of Charles IV; Fernando, who was to succeed his father in the Kingdom of Naples; and Gabriel Antonio, King Charles’s favourite son, who eventually married Maria Ana Victoria, the eldest daughter of the monarchs of Portugal.

He was proclaimed King of Spain on 11 September 1759 upon the death of Ferdinand VI, his brother, who left no heir. His son Fernando succeeded to the crown of the Two Sicilies under the regency of Bernardo Tanucci. Charles arrived in Spain at the port of Barcelona, and reached Madrid on 9 December 1759, although his solemn entrance was officially held in July 1760. In September of that year, Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony died. Charles III remained a widower for the rest of his life.

In his first government, he retained the same secretaries of the State Bureau as those of the previous reign with the exception of a newly appointed finance secretary, Leopoldo de Gregorio, Marquis of Esquilache, his tax minister in Naples. Together with Bernardo Wall, these figures now came to the political forefront. The initial policy of Charles and his ministers was geared towards three principal areas: the Treasury, the Army and the Navy. His financial policy started with recognition of the Crown’s debts during the reign of his father, Philip V, which Ferdinand VI had refused to assume. Reforms in the Army and Navy were necessary owing to the international situation during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Charles III was in favour of armed neutrality, but was unable to maintain this position after England declared war on Spain in December 1761. With an Army and Navy still insufficiently prepared, the consequences were disastrous. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 confirmed England as the great hegemonic European power.

His reign in Spain began with a foreign defeat, and this may be why projects for reform of the Spanish Monarchy received firm encouragement. The reforms affected very diverse fields ranging from fiscal policy to the reorganisation of the administration of justice, the law on the entailment of real assets by the clergy, the elimination of constraints on guild production, the liberalisation of the grain trade in 1765, the control of the privileges of the Concejo de la Mesta (the wool traders’ council) in Extremadura, and the introduction of free trade with the American dominions between 1765 and 1778. There were also positive efforts to foster a popular industry, Nuevas Poblaciones (‘New Settlements’) were founded in Sierra Morena and Andalusia, notice started to be taken of social outcasts, the university curriculum was organised and reformed at Salamanca, Valladolid and Alcalá while the Colegios Mayores (‘Higher Colleges’) were suppressed, various ‘Economic Societies of Friends of the Country’ were founded, and Banco Nacional de San Carlos was created in 1782.

Both in Naples and in Madrid, where he earned the sobriquet of “the best mayor of Madrid”, Charles took an overt interest in the city’s affairs. Major urban improvements – street paving, guttering and sewage works, street lighting – were commissioned from Francesco Sabatini, and Charles managed to turn Madrid into the great capital of the Spanish Monarchy, embellishing it with buildings and monuments like the Museum of Natural History, the General Hospital, the College of Surgery, the Astronomical Observatory and the Botanical Garden. He supported the industrial arts, setting up the Capodimonte porcelain factory at El Buen Retiro in 1759, patronising the Royal Cloth Factory of Segovia in 1762, and protecting the interests of the Glass Factory of La Granja, founded by Philip V and remodelled in 1773. He also fostered science and technology, especially botany and medicine. For this purpose, he sent several scientific expeditions to America, one of which was the expedition of José Celestino Mutis to New Granada (1782-1808).

The reign of Charles III in Spain entered a second phase in 1766 after the so-called riots of Esquilache in Madrid, which were accompanied by numerous disturbances in other provinces. The pretext for the outbreak of the rioting on 10 March 1766 was an ordinance forbidding the traditional mufflers, long capes and round hats, which had to be replaced by a short cape or topcoat and a three-cornered hat in order to make it easier to identify wrongdoers. Besides demanding the reinstatement of the Spanish style of dress, the rioters also called for a reduction in the price of bread and the dismissal of foreign ministers, above all Esquilache.

One major consequence of the riots of the spring of 1766 was the expulsion of the Society of Jesus, which was very influential in the Church at that time. Given its absolute dependence on the pope, the Society defended doctrines contrary to the temporal power of kings. In a fiscal declaration of 1766, Campomanes requested the removal of the Jesuits from the kingdom, for which Floridablanca finally obtained the agreement of Pope Clement XIV in 1773. Although officially accused as instigators, the ministers of Charles III were aware that the main cause of the riots had been food shortages and hunger, and this explains later measures like the Agrarian Law of 1784, which restricted the privileges of the migratory flocks herded across Spain for the wool trade, and the proclamation of various mechanical trades as honourable.

During the decade from 1766 to 1776, marked by the riots and the downfall of Esquilache, the government of the Monarchy rested on the shoulders of certain individuals. Grimaldi was the first secretary of the State Bureau, Aranda and Campomanes were the president and fiscal advocate of the Council of Castile, and acting in coordination with them in all matters of regalist policy was Roda, the secretary of the Bureau of Grace and Justice. The rivalry between Grimaldi and Aranda led to a dispute between two court factions, the golillas (or lawyers) and the so-called ‘Aragonese party’. The failure of the expedition to Algiers in the summer of 1775 occasioned the fall of Grimaldi and his replacement by Floridablanca as secretary of the State Bureau. His departure marked the end of foreigners in the Monarchy’s government.

No sooner had he taken up his post than Floridablanca found himself confronted by such matters as the independence of the thirteen English colonies of North America. The renewal of the third Pacte de Famille (of 1761) with France through the Convention of Aranjuez of 1779 put Spain and England on the brink of war. Floridablanca was unable to retain the role of international arbiter that he desired, and at the urging of France, which had Charles III’s support, he was forced to subscribe the Convention. This led to the declaration of war, which nevertheless concluded with the advantageous Peace of Versailles, whereby Spain regained the island of Minorca and the two Floridas from Great Britain. One consequence of the war was the issuance of public debt, the so-called vales reales or royal debentures, from 1780 onwards.

In the last years of Charles III’s reign, Floridablanca consolidated his political primacy and became a kind of de facto prime minister. This situation resulted in 1787 in the creation by Royal Decree of the Supreme State Junta, which was accompanied by a reserved directive in whose drafting Charles III took a personal hand. The directive constitutes a domestic and foreign policy programme for the Monarchy in the second half of the eighteenth century. The Supreme State Junta set up by Floridablanca seems to have been the logical solution for a monarch who was by then close to death. He dictated his will to the Count of Floridablanca, acting as the interim secretary of Grace and Justice, on the morning of Saturday 13 December, 1788, and he died on 14 December. Charles III was the first Spanish Bourbon who wanted his remains to lie alongside those of the Habsburg kings as a sign of the dynastic continuity of the Hispanic Monarchy. Chronologically speaking, he was the last Spanish monarch of the Ancien Régime, since he died before the French Revolution of 1789.

The most intimate portrait of Charles III that has been preserved is the one written by the Count of Fernán-Núñez, who describes him as simple and straightforward in his personal dealings. Modestly dressed (and always in hunting outfit when in the country), he contrived to appear even-tempered, self-controlled, unceremonious and sometimes even easygoing. Very religious, he was a devotee of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Januarius. Austere, regular and chaste in his habits, Fernán-Núñez especially emphasises his affability towards all and sundry, including humble people and servants.

Among the overall judgements of his reign by some contemporaries, it is worth mentioning those of three critical spirits. In his Eulogy of Charles III of 1788, Jovellanos concluded that his had been “the wise and laborious hand that enlightened the nation and removed it from the influence of political errors.” In another Eulogy of Charles III of 1789, Cabarrús maintained that he had not had “any goal other than the happiness of his subjects.” And in his Funerary Eulogy of 1789, José Nicolás de Azara asserted that “on the throne, had he been a vassal, he was what he would have wished his monarch to be.”

Paloma Gómez Pastor

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