Charles IV of Spain and His Family

Francisco Goya
Keywords: CharlesSpainFamily

Work Overview

Charles IV of Spain and His Family
Spanish: La familia de Carlos IV
Artist Francisco Goya
Year 1800-1801
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 280 cm × 336 cm (110 in × 132 in)
Style   Romanticism
Genre   portrait
Location Museo del Prado, Madrid

Charles IV of Spain and His Family is an oil on canvas painting by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya who began work on this painting in 1800 and completed it in the summer of 1801. It features life sized depictions of Charles IV of Spain and his family, ostentatiously dressed in fine costume and jewelry. The painting was modeled after Velázquez's Las Meninas when setting the royal subjects in a naturalistic and plausible setting.

The royal family is apparently paying a visit to the artist's studio, while Goya can be seen to the left looking outwards towards the viewer. As in "Las Meninas," the artist is shown working on a canvas, of which only the rear is visible; however, the atmospheric and warm perspective of the palace interior of Velázquez's work is replaced in the Goya by a sense of, in the words of Gassier, "imminent suffocation" as the royal family are presented by Goya on a "stage facing the public, while in the shadow of the wings the painter, with a grim smile, points and says: 'Look at them and judge for yourself!'"

The barely visible man in the background shadows at the left is Goya himself (2). Others are, left to right:
(1) Carlos Maria Isidro (1788–1855) – King's 2nd son
(3) the future Fernando VII (1784–1833) – King's 1st son
(4) Maria Josefa (1744–1801) – King's sister
(5) Fernando's future wife – it wasn't known who she would be by the time the work was created;
(6) María Isabel (1789–1848) – King's daughter
(7) Maria Luisa of Parma (1751–1819) – King's wife
(8) Francisco de Paula (1794–1848) – King's youngest son
(9) Charles IV (1748–1819) – King
(10) Don Antonio Pascual (1755–1817) – King's brother
(11) Carlota Joaquina (1775–1830, only part of head visible) – King's eldest daughter
(12) Don Luis de Parma (1773–1803) – King's son-in-law
(14) his wife Maria Luisa (1782–1824) – King's daughter, holding
(13) their baby Carlos Luis (1799–1883), the future Duke of Parma.

This portrait of the family of King Carlos IV (1748-1819) was painted in Aranjuez and Madrid in the spring and summer of 1800, shortly after Goya was named First Chamber Painter. It clearly show´s the artist´s mastery at individualizing characters. The forerunners to this complex composition are Louis-Michel van Loo´s Portrait of Felipe V and his Family (P02283) and Velázquez´s Las Meninas (P01174), both of which are in the Prado Museum Collection. The scene is presided over by Queen María Luisa de Parma (1751-1818) and King Carlos IV, at the center. Beside them are their children, the infante Francisco de Paula (1794-1865) and the infanta María Isabel (1789-1848). On the left are the Prince of Asturias and future Fernando VII (1784-1833), wearing blue; the infante Carlos María de Isidro (1788-1855), who was second in succession to the throne; the infanta María Josefa (1744-1801), who was the King´s sister; and an unidentified young woman. On the right are the infante Antonio Pascual (1755-1817), the King´s brother; a rendering in profile of Carlota Joaquina (1775-1830), Queen of Portugal and eldest daughter of the Monarchs and the Prince and Princess of Parma: infanta María Luisa (1782-1824) holding her son Carlos Luis (1799-1883); and her husband, Luis de Bourbon, the future King of Etruria. Of special interest here is the careful rendering of the clothing, which was the latest fashion at that time, and of the jewels, which may have been created by the Court Jeweler, Chopinot; as well as the honors, such as the sashs of the Order of Carlos III and of the recently-created Order of María Luisa, the Golden Fleece, and the crosses of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Genaro. The harmonious and clear yet complex composition reveals the artist´s mastery. The subtle definition of characters bears witness to the painter´s ability to analyze human beings. This work is listed in Madrid´s Royal Palace in 1814 and in the Prado Museum collection in 1824.

Alisa Luxemberg describes some nineteenth-century responses to Goya’s Family of Carlos IV :

“In fact, this colorful description of Goya’s canvas first appeared in Lucien Solvay’s L’Art espagnol, published in Paris and London in 1887. Solvay penned the phrase as his positive response to Goya’s truthfulness in the royal portrait…

  [The Family of Charles IV] has numerous points of resemblance with any decent 
  family of grocers who might have had themselves portrayed on a lucky day, stiff and 
  formal, in their Sunday best.

       …In many late 19th-century art publications, Goya was considered a democratic engagé, an artist of the people. A royal portrait commission like The Family of Charles IV troubled these expectations of an independent artist freely choosing his subjects and painting without having to cater to sitters’ demands. Seeing the portrait as caricature, however, fit nicely with the critics’ belief that Goya was, at heart, a republican, not a monarchist….
       In nineteenth-century Spain, Goya’s paintings and the Family of Charles IV, received mixed commentary, but were never compared to caricature. The painter, restorer, and critic Ceferino Araujo Sanchez disparaged Goya’s painting in an important publication on Spanish museums….Araujo Sanchez specifically stated that the Family of Charles IV and The Third of May, 1808 were not Goya’s masterpieces. The low esteem in which Goya’s royal portrait was held may be reflected in an 1863 photographic catalogue of works in the royal museum (not yet called the Prado), which did not include this or any other work by Goya….  
       Two French publications written for comfortable, not particularly well-educated tourists treat the royal portrait as a failed work. In 1869, the Countess de Gasparin described her book as ‘not an erudite work’ and herself as ‘a simple tourist’ visiting Spain for the first time. She considered Goya’s group portrait to be a horrific revelation of ugliness and madness:
         Charles IV shows us his prodigious nose, a kind of fig or eggplant, an 
         enormous protuberance, fleshy, bruised, that is embedded in the middle of 
         a stupid physiognomy, hanging bestially from his forehead over stupefied 
         lips. His wife, of a repugnant ugliness that reveals the vices of her soul, is 
         also portrayed…there in full length…always with a look of fury, violent and 
         coquettish…a kind of monster required for the idolatrous temples of the Fiji 
         islands…Let’s assume that she was crazy and not speak any more about 

Alisa Luxemberg, “Further Light on the Critical Reception of Goya’s Family of Charles IV as Caricature,” Artibus et Historae, vol. 23, no. 46 (2002): 179-81.

Fred Licht offers an explanation for the positive reception of Goya’s Family of Carlos VI at the time of its painting:

 “The original question concerning the acceptability of such an unflattering group portrait is now no longer quite so enigmatic. The reason Goya could get away with his unashamedly naked revelation of his sitters’ appearance lies in the intricate situation he has set up, which is derived from the common procedure used in self-portraits. Goya has not presented his sitters as he saw them. He has presented them as they saw themselves. He records the unimpeachable evidence provided by the sitters themselves. We do not have in this painting an aesthetically conditioned image for which the artist takes full responsibility; the artist has abdicated his traditional prerogative, that of interpreting reality by recasting it in accordance with the dictates of his personal style….Goya relinquishes the position of an agent who transmits an ideally transformed reality by means of an inspired act of creation. Instead, he bears witness to the existence of certain phenomena without deigning to become involved in the meaningful interpretation of the truths to which he testifies. If we wish to draw conclusions about the meaning of paintings such as this, we do so at our own risk.”

Fred Licht, “Goya’s Portrait of the Royal Family,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 49, no. 2 (June 1967): 128.

Recognized early in his career as a great painter, Francisco
José De Goya y Lucientes was appointed Pintor del Rey
(Painter to the King) in 1786 and by 1799 was promoted to
First Court Painter. In this capacity Goya produced portraits of the
royal family such as The Family of Charles IV (1800). While Goya’s
earlier court paintings, such as The Parasol (1777), epitomize the idealization
of classical beauty popular during the Neoclassical movement,
the artist makes no attempt to promulgate the image of a beautiful
or perfect royal family in The Family of Charles IV. While it is clear
that Goya depicted the royal family in a natural light, it is not certain
whether Goya intended the portrait as a critique of the monarchy. In
light of the relationship between the patron and the painter, and in the
growing popularity of naturalism, Goya’s portrait was not so much a
critique but as a symbolic representation of the organization of the
monarchy amidst political instability and a homage to the art of painting.
The primary argument for interpreting “The Family of Charles IV” as
a social criticism and caricature of the royal family is the unflattering
representation that the monarchy was somehow duped into accepting
the piece, as they did not object to it upon its completion. Traditionally
the royalty was depicted with a systematic reverence equal to symbolism
and the importance of façade; the old would often be painted
young and attractive and malformations or imperfections would be
altered according to the desires of the patron. Though Goya did not
make drastic adjustments in his physical representation of the royal
family, he did not represent them grotesquely; as the pretty, young
Infanta Doña Maria Isabella is juxtaposed with her naturalistically
Journal of the Core Curriculum
aged mother, something of the Queen’s former beauty is revealed,
especially in her large eyes. Furthermore, in his representation of Doña
Maria Luisa (to the right, holding her infant son), Goya had an opportunity
to ridicule the royal family, as she suffered from a spinal defect,
instead, Goya depicts her standing rigidly upright, displaying his
humanity and respect for the family. Like Doña Maria Luisa, the figure
of the king’s sister, Doña Maria Josefa, has long been referenced in
Goya’s ridicule of the monarchy; however, historical records reveal that
the aging woman suffered from the effects of Lupus, which Goya painted
naturalistically, neither hiding nor emphasizing her illness. While
Goya did not gloss over the imperfections of the monarchy, there seems
to be little basis for the assertion that in depicting the monarchy naturalistically
Goya mocked his patrons. The relationship between the
painter and the patron seems to render the likelihood of mockery nearly
obsolete. As Edward Olszweski writes “That they were duped by
Goya seems as impossible to accept as the belief that Goya wanted
to mock and deceive them, for their portraits derived from numerous
approved sketches” (Olszweski 177). Thus, while Goya did not idealize
the royal family, he also did not mock them, and indeed there is no
historical reference to the portrait as mockery in the artist’s time (175-
While “The Family of Charles IV” is not a caricature of Spain’s royal
family, it clearly does aim to represent the organization of the monarchy
during an era of turmoil and instability, primarily through the positioning
of the subjects. Though the royal family seems to stand casually
in front of a mirror, as Goya paints their reflection, upon further
inspection it is clear that the artist constructed the portrait with a tight
structural order in mind. The Queen is clearly the central figure in the
image, though she is properly painted to the right of the King, as both
the faceless figure and Maria Luisa glance at her. The King’s stance
indicates his advance toward the center, to be met by Ferdinand (on
the left) and followed by the future Duke of Parma (on the far right),
which clearly draws the dynastic succession. Furthermore, the King’s
brothers and sisters fade into the background; both their positions and
their status fixed. The hierarchy of scale used in depicting the King’s
sons also emphasizes their importance and their place in the line of succession;
the twelve year old Infante Don Carlos stands behind the
future Ferdinand VII, eclipsed by his older brother yet still ready to
step forward and claim the throne should the need arise. Just as the
relationship between fathers and sons reflects their place in the state,
so too does the King’s relationships with his daughters, as they are
physically distant, reflecting their “function as barter” in dynastic marriages
(179). All are subservient to the rights of kinship, a concession
made only for the emotional needs of the youngest child, placed
between his parents.
Goya’s emphasis on the royal lineage seems excessive, as he represents
thirteen figures spanning three generations of the dynastic line,
yet in his work, Goya also addresses the delicate state of the monarchy.
Quite noticeably, the group lacks a common focus, some looking
out towards the viewer while others gaze at each other, adding a sense
of animation to the portrait, while also creating a sense of uncertainty
and disorder. Furthermore, in the somewhat uncomfortable stances of
the family members Goya seems to allude to their impending exit, an
uneasiness in the regency permeating the painting. Thus, it seems that
in the uncertainty of focus and casual demeanor of his subjects, Goya
underscores the uneasy state of the monarchy during an era of turmoil.
Journal of the Core Curriculum
Further displaying the fragility of the monarchy is the faceless figure
to the left of the Queen. Though this figure is thought to represent the
bride of the future King Ferdinand VII, the woman had not yet been
chosen, thus, a face could not be painted. This uncertainty of lineage is
poignantly depicted by Goya as the faceless figure could easily have
been omitted, and the decision to include this indication of fragility only
emphasizes the artist’s symbolic structure. Thus, in his deliberate choice
of subjects and their positioning Goya sheds light onto the insecurity of
a fragile monarchy, though he does so subtly and without a sense of
ridicule or caricature (Licht 127).
While the representation of both the structure of the monarchy and
its fragility is central to Goya’s “The Family of Charles IV,” by drawing
inspiration from earlier works such as Diego Velásquez’s “Las Meninas,”
the artist celebrates the art of painting. The reference to “Las Meninas”
is clear, in both the subject matter and its representation. Like
Velásquez, Goya places himself in the image and alludes to a mirror
in the space of the viewer that the subjects seem to gaze into. The
Infanta and her servants represented in “Las Meninas” are animated,
with a great sense of movement and interaction that indicates an unposed
nature paralleling that of “The Family of Charles IV.”
Furthermore, Goya incorporates the idea of a painting within a painting,
by including two large pieces in the background, much like
Velásquez’s visual references to the work of Rubens in “Las Meninas.”
It is important to note that like Goya, Velásquez held the illustrious
position of court painter, a position he revered and in which he sought
to garner respect. Thus, in his hearkening back to a great predecessor,
Goya recognizes the distinction of the tradition of courtly portraiture
from which his work springs.
Perhaps the most important parallel between “Las Meninas” and
“The Family of Charles IV” is the placement of the artist in the scene.
Though Goya paints himself hidden in the background (almost completely
enveloped by the dark tones of his chiaroscuro), he remains visible,
a necessary reference to the importance and dignity of his profession.
Further celebrating the artistic ability of his work, Goya uses
elaborate detail to articulate the clothing of the royal family. Unlike
the clothing in other work such as “The Parasol,” in “The Family of
Charles the IV” the artist carefully details the fine brocading and
Kleiner, Fred S., and Christian J. Mamiya. "The Enlightenment and Its Legacy." Gardner’s
Art Through The Ages; The Western Perspective. Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.
Licht, Fred. “Goya’s Portrait of the Royal Family.” The Art Bulletin 49, 1967.
Olszewski, Edward J. “Exorcising Goya’s “The Family of Charles IV”” Artibus et
Historiae 40th ser. 20, 1999.
embroidery of the royal wardrobe. While the effect of the richly
detailed clothing partially serves to demonstrate the wealth and elegance
of the ruling class, the careful execution displays the skill of the
artist, a tactic used by Velásquez (Kleiner 592, 662).
While Goya avoided neoclassical idealization in his depiction of
“The Family of Charles IV”, there seems to be little true basis for the
assertion that the artist ridiculed the monarchy in portraying them naturalistically.
Perhaps the desire to see Goya as a critical painter, especially
given his later work, has clouded the true nature of the monarchical
painting. Though Goya subtly demonstrated the fragility of the
monarchy and the importance of the line of succession in the careful
placement of each subject and in the uneasy nature of their gathering,
he made no attempt to ridicule the family, depicting them as they were,
even making adjustments to improve upon their actual features (as in
the straightened back of Doña Maria Luisa). Furthermore, in his visual
references to the work of an earlier court painter, Diego Velásquez,
and in the exquisite detail of his own work, Goya celebrates not only
the art of painting, but also the professional painter. Thus, though
Goya’s work is void of a harsh social criticism, the artist consciously
included references to the state of the monarchy and to his own position
in the court (artistic liberties which are still surprising given the strict
nature of royal commissions).