Maria Cayetana de Silva De Alba

Maria Cayetana de Silva De Alba

13th Duchess of Alba
Date of Birth: 10.06.1762
Country: Spain

Maria Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duchess of Alba

Maria Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo, also known as the 13th Duchess of Alba, was married off at the age of thirteen to a man six years older than her. However, she soon realized that she had made a mistake in her choice of husband. By the age of twenty, Cayetana became the most famous woman in Spain, and her behavior often became a topic of heated debates.

Cayetana had a penchant for playing cruel pranks on her loved ones and acquaintances. For instance, she once pretended to be a poor girl and asked a young seminarian she met on a walk to take her to a cafe. At the cafe, she ordered so much food that the student couldn't pay the bill. Upon her cunning suggestion, the cafe owner made the young man leave his pants as collateral. However, this incident did not deter her new admirer, who boldly visited the duchess the next day. Thinking he was meeting a mere servant, he was embarrassed to find himself in the midst of a glamorous society where everyone knew about his recent misadventure. Cayetana was as proud as a queen and indulged in expensive whims just like her father, the Duke Jose Alvarez de Toledo y Albear, a liberal-minded supporter of progressive reforms.

Despite her eccentricities, Cayetana was sympathetically regarded by the public. She was despised by Queen Maria Luisa, who banished her from Madrid for three years. However, the scandalous affair between the queen's lover and the Duchess of Alba only fueled public sympathy for the notorious beauty. The renowned artist Francisco Goya was not the only one who dedicated his creations to her. Juan Melendez Valdes, for example, praised her intelligence and beauty in his work "Days of Silvia," calling her Venus, the star of love.

Goya's admiration for Cayetana was undeniable. He depicted her in his portraits, highlighting her beauty, delicate figure, elongated pale face with huge eyes, and abundant black curls. He also revealed her capriciousness, willfulness, independence, and mischievous spirit. The most famous portrait of her, painted in 1795, depicted her in full height. After becoming a widow in 1796, the duchess retired to one of her estates, where Goya was her guest for several months. It is believed that Goya portrayed himself alongside Cayetana in a wonderful genre painting showing a gentleman and a lady on a walk. The faces of both characters vaguely resemble Goya and Cayetana. Goya also created remarkable drawings depicting scenes from the duchess's life, some of which were quite intimate, showing the young woman adjusting her stockings or lying in bed. The best-known drawing depicts a young, beautiful woman with the same curls, leaning her face towards a little African girl sitting on her lap. It is known that the duchess bought the girl from a slave market and took her into her home, unofficially adopting Maria de la Luz.

Cayetana not only openly associated with the artist, but also allowed him to paint her in the nude, which was scandalous in the prudish Spanish society of the time. The paintings "Maja Clothed" and "Maja Nude" caused numerous debates, and researchers often speculated about the identity of the woman depicted. Many doubted that it was Cayetana. However, it is a legend that cannot be dismissed. Foreign researchers even propose another version: the famous "Maja" paintings are revenge by a rejected master, to whom a fickle woman betrayed, and her features were attributed to some (probably low-born) girl...

There is no doubt that Cayetana Alba ignited the strongest feeling in Goya's heart ever experienced by him. He loved her with all the passion of his nature, as he confessed in a letter to a friend, "I am sometimes so agitated that I can't bear myself. I can only calm down a little to return to work." It is possible that the proud duchess reciprocated his feelings. A fierce opponent of the romantic love theory was the artist and art historian Alexander Benois. He suggested that the two "Maja" portraits depicted one of the many passions of the Prime Minister Godoy, a libertine and hedonist. According to his description, these paintings were part of the confiscated property of the fallen favorite and ended up in state collections.

However, during Benois's time, the existence of the main evidence - a portrait of Cayetana in traditional Spanish attire with a black mantilla on her head - was not yet known. The names Alba and Goya were engraved on the rings she wore on her right hand. Moreover, her finger points to the sand. After restoration work carried out in the late 1960s, the inscription "Only Goya" became visible. The artist never exhibited this painting; it was kept in Goya's house until the end of his life.

Unfortunately, no happiness (even if illusory) lasts forever. Soon after, Cayetana fell ill and died, possibly as a result of an underground abortion, in 1801. The entire city of Madrid bid her farewell, and her funeral was grand and lavish, befitting a noble lady.

In her will, Cayetana's wild nature was reflected. She left significant sums of money to people she barely knew - poor students, a mentally unstable beggar monk, an abandoned child found in one of her castles, various actors, and bullfighters. The first royal painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes was left with a simple ring, and his son Javier received a small pension.

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