The commentary of the cover

In the Name of Filial Piety by Pierre-Marie Dumont

In 1785, Goya was forty years old, and already famed for his tapestry designs, his portraits, and his commissions for religious artwork. Though his brushwork was already highly personal, his art was still fairly conventional. Now he determined to express his own very original style by radically distancing himself from the neo-classical canons of the time. To mark this passage, he united in one artistic testament, this Annunciation, an homage to all his artistic influences. He had developed his talent by absorbing all these influences to better express his own particular genius.

In this work, an act of filial piety in tribute to and thanksgiving for all he had received, Goya sought to create a veritable patchwork of borrowings from different masters, periods, schools, and styles. To structure them, he adopted a neo-classical composition favored by Raphael Mengs, very much in vogue at the time: the Annunciation to Mary is staged like a Greek tragedy. The pyramidal composition however remains thoroughly baroque. For his part, the vibrantly luminous angel that stands out against a pastel background of pearl gray is a clear homage to Tiepolo and his rococo style. As for Mary’s pose and the blue of her cloak, they at first glance appear directly inspired by the classicism of Philippe de Champaigne—until closer analysis reveals that the volume and treatment of the folds owe more to Zurbarán. And then the faces: far from the solemn, impassive, or affected figures of the neo-classical, classical, or baroque, these are realistic, humanly natural, even prosaic, one might say. To which master could they be an homage? To Velázquez, that genius of Seville from whom Goya also borrowed and developed the wholly impressionistic mastery of painting in loose brushstrokes.

Finally, the miracle of this work resides in the fact that, contemplating it, the observer experiences it as never-before-seen, while, in fact, all its inspirations should give it a sense of déjà vu. Is this not a beautiful evocation of the grace of the Annunciation of the Lord, heralded and foreshadowed in so many ways by the prophets and saints of the Old Testament, yet appearing with such sublime originality in its historic advent?

Pierre-Marie Dumont

The Annunciation (1785), Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), Private collection. © akg-images / Erich Lessing.