For the first time in over 200 years, four portraits of Altamira family members will be reunited in the exhibit “Goya and Altamira Family” in gallery 624 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s European paintings collection. Besides showing the skill of the Spanish master Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), the exhibition offers insight into the life and luxury of the 18th-century Bourbon aristocracy.
The Altamiras are “comparable to the Rockefellers in the United States or to the Albas in modern-day Spain,” Xavier F. Salomon, curator of the exhibition, said. Salomon, who himself had the idea of showing the four paintings together, added that this exhibition offers a “unique, broader context” in that spectators are allowed into the intimacy within the Altamira family.
Such intimacy of the family environment contrasts with the stately style of aristocratic portraiture, and the serious faces of the subjects are highlighted by the bright and splendid use of color in their vestments. In the portrait of Vicente Osorio de Moscoso, the boy’s elegant clothes, the diamonds that embellish the brooches in his pants and shoes, and the gilt of his sword show off the wealth and power of his family. His portrait mirrors that of his father, the Count of Altamira, alluding to his role as successor and his future responsibilities, but the playful puppy at his feet reminds spectators of his youth. Both are portrayed in a “Napoleonic pose, right hand in vest,” Salomon said.
“There is obviously a tension between representing reality and flattering the subject,” Salomon said. “Goya is able to do both.”
Also exhibited is the “Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter, María Agustina,” a delicate, feminine painting that, though formal, shows the sweet bond between mother and daughter.
“There is a beautiful intimacy in how they both hold the lilac-colored flowers,” Salomon said.
And, of course, there is the most popular and celebrated of all four portraits: the Met’s very own “Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga,” more commonly known as the “Red Boy.” In this portrait, Manuel, who, according to Met Director Thomas P. Campbell, has worked “his way into the affections of so many visitors,” is surrounded by his beautifully rendered pets: three attentive cats, a tethered magpie, and an elegant cage of birds.
“It is the most interesting picture by far,” Salomon said. It is in this portrait that Goya lets loose and does not allow himself “to be limited by the formality and structure of court life.”
Finally, the exhibition also includes a portrait of Juan María Osorio by a collaborator of Goya’s, Agustín Esteve y Marqués. Juan María, the middle child between Vicente and Manuel, unfortunately died before Goya was commissioned and was therefore not painted by him.
“It’s like a family reunion,” Salomon said.
“Goya and the Altamira Family” runs through Aug. 3.