Goya, Oh Goya: The Church of San Antonio de la Florida

Self stayed up till the wee hours of the morning (3 AM) reading the Goya book. She learned that the painter was laid low by a mysterious illness in the 1790s, an illness that seriously damaged his hearing (Goya became utterly deaf). In spite of his disability and anxiety, Goya was able to execute one of his most ambitious public projects: painting the frescoes of a newly erected church, the Church of San Antonio de la Florida.

The church was located in what was then the outskirts of Madrid. “In Goya’s time,” Hughes informs us, “the church was surrounded by woods and meadows at the edge of the royal park known as the Campo del Moro; today it abuts, more or less, Madrid’s largest railroad station.”

Goya had been in serious financial doldrums since the dreadful illness with its attendant deafness brought him down in 1792, and he needed a big project to restore him to the public eye. Nevertheless, it cannot have been easy to take the task on. Goya’s vertigo had been so extreme in the early phases of his illness — he could scarcely walk upstairs and keep his balance when he was convalescing . . . that he must have had many doubts and second thoughts about working on the scaffolding of a cupola thirty-three feet above the floor and almost twenty across . . . Did he have assistants? Apparently not; at least none are recorded . . .

Whether Goya had help or not, none of the strain of working high in the dome shows in the completed work — only a radiant and diaphanous joie de vivre. The frescoes of San Antonio, with their butterfly-winged and deliciously sexy angels, are young man’s art, created in defiance of oncoming age, by a man past fifty.

      — Robert Hughes,


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