Maja Desnuda, Maja Vestida (Naked Maja, Clothed Maja)

From Censorpedia

Date: 1815

Region: Europe

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion Explicit Sexuality

Medium: Painting

Artist: Francisco Goya (1746 - 1828)

Confronting Bodies: The Spanish Inquisition

Date of Action: 1815

Location: Spain


Description of Artwork: Two of Goya's pieces which are known to have aroused the anger of the censors of the Inquisition are Maja Desnuda (1800, Naked Maja) and Maja Vestida (1808, Clothed Maja). These were unusual pieces for Goya which presented a woman lying on a bed, and, in the case of Maja Desnuda, a naked woman lying on a bed. The works were realist paintings, and especially scandalizing to the Inquisitors was the naked Maja's visible pubic hair. Anther piece which may have been censored and angered the royal court was Los Caprichos (1799, The Caprices), which was a satirical, unflattering portrait of the family of Charles IV.

In 1800, Spain’s prime minister, Manuel Godoy, commissioned Francisco de Goya’s Maja desnuda to adorn the walls of his gabinete interior, or inner cabinet. In Godoy's collection, paintings by Goya, Velázquez, and Titian lay beyond reproach in this private room. Siloed away from the public, the repressive climate produced by the Spanish Inquisition effectively made some of the finest art in the country inaccessible to all but the most trusted visitors — even when the art’s owner was the most powerful man in Spanish civil society.

The privacy with which Godoy shielded Goya’s work likely reflected its transgressive theme. The painting was an avant-garde representation of a nude woman, similar to the Velázquez and Titian depictions in the room but more radical by nature since it contained no mythological framing or historical narrative to excuse the nudity it depicted. Fifteen years later, the prime minister’s wary, secretive approach to the display of the lascivious paintings in his collection appeared prudent.

On March 16, 1815, as Godoy lay exiled in France, Goya received a summons from the Secret Chamber of the Inquisition in Madrid, requesting that he testify as to whether two sequestered paintings “were his work, why he made them, who commissioned them, and for what purpose.” The paintings in question — “La maja desnuda (The Nude Maja)” and “La maja vestida (The Clothed Maja)” — were revolutionary images which went beyond the boundaries of acceptable artistic expression in Spain at the time. Under the Inquisition, even biblically-inspired religious art was subject to censorship by the Catholic Church, with paintings that displayed nudity or heterodox ideas facing scrutiny, trial, confiscation, and sometimes destruction.

15 years after Godoy commissioned the Maja paintings for his gabinete interior of forbidden images, Goya was left to answer for them. Protected by the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, Goya largely evaded punishment. Yet his paintings lay confined to the basement of a government building for years, off-limits to the public. The sequestered paintings did not publicly resurface until 1819, with the founding of one of Spain’s most famous public institutions, the Museo Nacional del Prado, of which Godoy’s collection was the initial germ.


The Incident: Maja Desnuda and Maja Vestida were both held in the "private cabinet" of the disgraced former chief minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy. Godoy was hated in Spain for both his decadence and his part in Spain's collapse during the Napoleonic wars, which led to the abolition of the Inquisition by the French monarch, Joseph Bonaparte. When Bonaparte was deposed and the Inquisition was reinstated the Inquisitors were only too happy to bring to light Godoy's seedy habits, including the two paintings by Goya. The paintings were also considered especially scandalous because in the prudish, religious Spanish culture the nude was hardly ever portrayed in art. There had also been a recent surge in the popularity of pornography which the Inquisition was alarmed about. Goya was summoned to appear before the Inquisition to explain the works. The Inquisition, however, was not as powerful as it had been before the Napoleonic Wars, and it seems that Goya might have chosen to not appear before the Inquisition because there is no further mention of him in the Inquisition records. In 1825 Goya received a request for a copy of his satirical court portrait Los Caprichos. In Goya's reply he wrote "...they nevertheless accused me before the Inquisition, not would I copy them myself..." The glancing reference to censorship is taken by some to mean the work was censored, although it is more commonly accepted that Goya was referring to the censorship of the Maja paintings, which may have made him less popular with the royal court.

Results of Incident: The Majas paintings were taken to the Royal Academy sometime after the Inquisition was abolished and its assets distributed in 1835. The Clothed Maja was kept in another "private cabinet" for a number of years and The Nude Maja was not available for viewing until a Goya exhibit in 1900. In 1901 both paintings were acquired by the Prado.

• Censorship: A World Encyclopedia,

Date: 1991

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion Explicit Sexuality

Medium: Painting

Artist: Francisco Goya (1746 - 1828)

Confronting Bodies: Pennsylvania State University Commonwealth Campus, affirmative action office

Date of Action: 1991

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Description of Artwork: Goya’s Maja desnuda lies in front of a solid, hazy background that refuses to let the eye linger on extraneous detail, and which forces the viewer to gaze upon her nude figure. As a realist painting, it is frank and unapologetic about its subject's nudity, with no excuse or mythological framing to explain it.

The Incident: On November 7, 1991, a memo circulated at Pennsylvania State University Commonwealth Campus announcing the affirmative action office had been notified “that one of the art reproductions . . . hanging in [Room] C-203 could contribute to a chilly climate in that classroom, and, thus, be in violation of the law concerning sexual harassment.” As the memo claimed, “The reason given is that the reproduction in question, although a recognized art work [sic], is being displayed in a classroom rather than in a gallery or museum setting . . . Therefore, because we have no defined gallery space for art displays, all reproductions will be removed from C-203 and placed in storage.”

This wasn’t the first time Goya’s Maja desnuda was targeted at Pennsylvania State University Commonwealth Campus. Until the fall of 1991, the room had primarily been used as a music classroom, and instructor Paul Miller had refused requests from campus administrators to remove the work, citing censorship as his chief concern. The print of Goya's Maja desnuda was originally purchased over a decade earlier for an art history course taught in the same classroom.

Results of Incident: When the censors at Pennsylvania State University Commonwealth Campus finally won out over Goya’s Maja desnuda, administrators took down the rest of the art in the classroom along with it. As with Godoy’s gabinete, the other paintings hanging alongside Goya’s Maja desnuda also contained themes that made censors uncomfortable, and the paintings were deemed guilty by association. The Maja desnuda scandal not only led to the censorship of Goya’s image, but also the removal of Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair, Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man, the central panel of Crucifixion with Virgin and Saints by Perugino, and a van Ruisdael landscape, Wheatfields.