María Cayetana de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba  

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"Gratitude for all the honors showered upon him by the countess was not strong enough in Goya's breast, however, to prevent his preferring to her society that of the younger and fairer Duchess of Alba, whose essentially Spanish type of beauty and subtle charm appealed to his passionate nature. Such was his devotion to this lady, indeed, that scandalous reports concerning it soon came to be circulated, until at last the queen, whose own reputation was far from being above reproach, enraged at the dominion exercised over her favorite painter by the young duchess, and probably prompted to the step by the jealous Countess of Benavente, summarily banished the beautiful Duchess of Alba from the court to the latter's residence at San Lucar." --Masters in Art

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María del Pilar de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba, 9 times Grandee of Spain, (10 June 1762 – 23 July 1802) was a Spanish aristocrat and a popular subject of the painter, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.


María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo became the 13th Duchess of Alba (one of the oldest and most influential noble houses in Spain) in the year 1776. Her marriage to José María Alvarez de Toledo y Gonzaga, 15th Duke of Medina-Sidonia made her and her husband the wealthiest couple in the Kingdom of Spain; their only rivals to this title were the House of Osuna.

The Duchess' relationship with famed Spanish painter Francisco Goya and her somewhat eccentric personality have contributed greatly to a continuing interest in her life during the two centuries since her death. Goya executed several well known portraits of the duchess, most of them during his stay at Sanlúcar de Barrameda (one of the Andalusian country seats of the House of Medina-Sidonia), shortly after the death of her husband, the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, in 1796.

Goya's accompaniment of the recently widowed Duchess combined with certain innuendo expressed in his portraits of her have exacerbated rumors that the two were lovers. Although this has never been confirmed, the sheer number of portraits the artist painted of the Duchess certainly suggests, at the very least, a close platonic relationship between the two.

The painting La maja desnuda executed between the years 1797 and 1800 by Goya has also been rumored to portray her. The painting, considered scandalous by Spanish society of the time, depicts a fully nude reclining woman. It, together with a companion piece depicting the same model clothed, La maja vestida, was commissioned by Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy (the known lover of Spain's queen, María Luisa).

The true identity of the Majas is uncertain. Many art historians over the years have rejected the possibility that the painting depicts the duchess, including most recently Australian art critic Robert Hughes in his 2003 biography, Goya. Those scholars believe that the painting depicts either Godoy's young mistress or an idealized composite of several different models.

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