A painting of Venus in the nude, stretched across a green velvet sofa, by Goya has been given a bigger, brighter home at the Prado Museum. Pursuing a more “panoramic approach” to the painter’s oeuvre, the Madrid institution has placed Las Majas in a new gallery alongside two little-seen sketches of Saint Bernardino of Siena preaching to an Aragonese king, as well as a reclining Venus by Titan.
It was a simple but effective renovation: the gallery walls were painted a lighter pastel color and the windows overlooking the Botanical Gardens were opened, naturally illuminating the iconic canvases for the first time in years.
“The Majas were in a very gloomy space, almost a cave, which was often congested,” Miguel Falomir, director of the Prado, said at a press conference at the Prado this week.
The enlarged space will reduce the risk of crowding, which has been issue for The Majas. Falomir said the two paintings, twin portraits of an odalisque clothed and naked, are among the most-visited works in the museum. The rearrangement also helps contextual the paintings within the tradition of representing Venus in a classical style, stripped of most mythological references. Titan’s Venus with an Organist and Cupid, created in 1555, was one of the first to imagine the love goddess reclining. In the painting, the organist sits ignored at Venus’ feet while Cupid whispers in her ear.
The rearrangement also puts Goya’s two preparatory sketches for the altar painting The preaching of Saint Bernardino of Siena before Alfonso V of Aragon in the spotlight for the first time in over a century. Goya was one of several artists commissioned in 1781 to decorate the Royal Basilica of San Francisco el Grande in Madrid. For his contribution, Goya imagined a crowd enraptured by Saint Bernardino’s sermon. A single sunbeam lights his crown, over which the Holy Spirit hovers.
Owned by the Fundación Tatiana Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, the earlier sketch was exhibited twice in 1900, in Madrid and Lisbon, while the second sketch is being presented to the public for the first time ever. The pair will be exhibited alongside three other sketches of altar paintings for the cathedrals of Seville and Toledo, including Goya’s Crucified Christ (1780), which earned the artist a place at the Royal Academy of Arts of San Fernando.