Goya Time


Manuela Mena Marqués
Chief Goya Curator at the Prado:
'To believe in Goya micro-signatures is madness...'

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Manuela Mena, chief curator of the Prado, gave yesterday a conference in the Camon Aznar Museum and defended the necessity to review the work of the Aragonian painter.

Prado Madrid
Photograph of the Prado in Madrid by A. Holloway. Used by permission.

By Mariano Garcia.Zaragoza.
Article published on November 18, 2005 in the Heraldo newspaper, Aragon, Spain.

“Since I began at El Prado I have done many things in the pinacoteque. During this time everything that entered the museum went through my hands, and there hasn’t been a day in which one or two paintings attributed to Goya didn’t come in. I calculate that I have seen between 7,000 and 8,000 works of this type.

Even yesterday (that is on Monday) a gentleman from Mexico showed me three paintings that had been offered to him for sale. None was a Goya. Of the almost 8,000 pieces that I have contemplated during that time, the ones that can be considered as authentic Goyas can be counted on the fingers of my hand: a drawing, three pieces that I have bought for El Prado…”

That’s the way Manuela Mena began yesterday, the chief curator of the 18th Century Painting section at the Prado Museum. Her conference in the Camon Aznar de Ibercaja, her second in the cycle titled “The Real Goya”, and she gave clues to which, on her judgment, might be the criteria to establish the authorship of these works. Nonetheless she evaded references to some of the recent polemics generated around this author.

About the hypothesis defended by Don Juan Jose Junquera concerning the “Black Paintings” as not being of Goya, but rather from his son, Mena shows herself prudent.

“I do not say neither YES, nor NO. I only say that one must have respect by Junqueras’s ideas, that is based on documents and that have been brought to light things that no one had until now had imagined.”

And about another recent polemic, like the one sprung around the authorship of “La Lechera de Burdeos” (The Milkmaid of Bordaux), Manuela Mena did not even speak.

“Insofar of what concerns works in the Prado collection - she said, "you must understand that I cannot make any commentaries. We are now doing a work that is going to take a long time and which results will then be seen.” And those of the Zaragoza Museum, she asserted, "Among them there are very good Goyas, some not so good and even others that no longer appear in any of the studies of the work of this painter. This one is an artist that must be reviewed deeply, even when this might cost an enormous amount of work. To me, particularly, there is a painting that I like very much and it is “Virgen del Pilar," one of those youthful works that very few give value to, but in which you can find everything…”

She did show herself very belligerent about the possibility that Goya made micro signatures in his works, a hypothesis that several specialists are presently studying, likewise among some university’ art departments, too.

“To believe in these micro signatures is madness," She stressed, "An authentic madness. That happens with painters like Rembrandt or Goya. With that type of technique, with that usage of the pictorial matter, one can, if you insist, see anything at all in those painting. It may well be, given the case, to even read 'El Quixote.' It is absolutely false that Goya did micro signatures in his paintings.”

Mena inclines towards another type of method. “In order to study Goya," she assured in her conference, "One must begin to study the perfectly documented works, which do not offer any type of doubts. And, once you are in front of them, to study the pictorial technique, the range of colors, the composition, the use of light, which might perhaps be the most distinctive element of the quality of an artist.”

There are, according to her judgment, between 150 and 200 exclusive characteristics of Goya as a painter, and when you face a painting that is wanted to be attributed to Goya, either you find them or not. And there isn’t anything else. That’s the way one must establish the authorship of a painting.

As an example she brought forth an example relative to portraits, the way in which the hair and the forefront meet the hairline.“The great immensity of artists paint the forefront first, and later, on top of it, the hair. Goya did it backwards.”

And, she concluded, "...as a rule of thumb, something pasted, dirty and without light can never be a Goya. He was an artist of an impressive clean technique.

HERALDO.es (copyright Heraldo de Aragon, S.A. 2005)

Additional information:
• The web site goyadiscovery also carries this article with added photographs and more information about the authentication debate between the prado experts and other art scholars and scientists.
• For further information about Goya 'micro-signatures' view our information on the work of Prof. Perales here.
* Dr. Sarah Symmons touches upon this subject in our 2006 interview with her here.

• For further reading on Mena's saying that the Goya painting Milkmaid of Bordeaux is by Rosario Weiss, go to the Milkmaid page here.

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