HAVANA – One of Francisco de Goya’s iconic self-portraits is coming to Havana along with Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, who on Thursday are touring the hall where the painting will be displayed and remain for a month in the Cuban capital to mark the first official visit of a Spanish monarch to Cuba.
The royal couple began their last day on the communist island with a visit to the National Fine Arts Museum (MNBA), the country’s most important such institution, accompanied by Cuban Deputy Culture Minister Fernando Rojas and museum director Jorge Fernandez.
The MNBA is housed in an important building in Old Havana that has special significance in the common history of Spain and Cuba since it is the old Asturian Center of Havana, built by immigrants from Spain’s autonomous region of Asturias.
In his speech during the dinner he and the queen offered to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Wednesday evening, the king expressed his wish for Spanish culture to become better known on the island and for it to be able to influence local artists.
“We want our great works to be known and, so, on this trip, we have the privilege of offering to the Cuban people the impressive portrait of Goya, which will be housed in the MNBA for the next few weeks,” said Felipe, going on to emphasize the importance of cultural cooperation as an “essential element” in the bilateral relationship.
The canvas, dated by Goya in 1815, belongs to Madrid’s Prado Museum, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year and has implemented a restricted loan policy, which makes the loan of this particular work – the first by the Prado to Cuba – all the more exceptional.
Chronologically, this is the second self-portrait by Goya in the Prado’s collection, but it has not been on display there recently.
It is a work in which the artist (1746-1828) appears wearing a white shirt underneath a dark red velvet garment that he used as a prop in many of his other similar paintings in the late 18th century and early 19th century.
The technique the artist used “accents the soft skin ... of the face, which needs little external light to stand out ... almost like (Diego) Velazquez,” as described by the Prado catalogue, referring to the Spanish court painter who lived from 1599-1660.
This is the fourth occasion on which the painting has come to the Americas in the last 20 years, the most recent prior trip being for an exhibition in the United States.
The painting was brought to the island with the support of the Accion Cultural Española society and it has been “resting in isolation” since Nov. 9 to acclimatize it to Cuba’s tropical climate, Spain’s ambassador to Cuba, Juan Fernandez Trigo, told EFE.
Attending the museum will be one of the last official acts for the monarchs in Havana before heading east to Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second-largest city and the first seat of the Spanish colonial government from 1515 to 1556.