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The King of Spain, The Master​ German​ painter the Giant Ant Eater and Francisco de Goya

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Portrait of Charles the III King of Spain by Anton Raphael Mengs 1761

Portrait of Charles the III King of Spain by Anton Raphael Mengs 1761

Charles III (Spanish: Carlos; Italian: Carlo; 20 January 1716 – 1788) was King of Spain after ruling Naples as Charles VII and Sicily as Charles V. He was the fifth son of Philip V of Spain.

As King of Spain, Charles III made far-reaching reforms such as promoting science and university research, facilitating trade and commerce, and modernising agriculture. He also tried to reduce the influence of the Church and avoided costly wars. His previous experience as King of Naples and Sicily proved valuable. He did not achieve complete control over Spain’s finances, and was sometimes obliged to borrow to meet expenses, but most of his reforms proved to be successful and his legacy lives on to this day.

Historian Stanley Payne wrote that Charles III “was probably the most successful European ruler of his generation.

As a member of the ‘House of Burbons” Carlos III was of a “peculiar” beauty but this did not stop him from enjoying very much having the Neoclassical Geman Master Anton Raphael Mengs as his personal artist-in-residence.

As Jeniffer Walker very eloquently states in her article “Romantic Painter, Francisco de Goya Painting Found in Unexpected Location” “Charles III was interested, not only antiquities but also in avant-garde art of his time. He also became an avid collector of painting, sculpture, books and decorative objects, and among his collection were also animals, minerals, fossils, and plants. The New World was exciting for Spain and its monarchy during this time, and many ships would bring back various antiquities and curiosities from new and exotic countries—including animals. The giant anteater (also known as a great ant-bear) was brought from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to the court of the Spanish king and was the first of its kind to be seen in Europe. The king, fascinated with this giant animal, transferred it to the royal gardens of Buen Retiro. In addition, he also commissioned that a portrait is painted of the creature, under the direction of court painter, Antonio Rafael Mengs.

Self-portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs
Self-portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs

At the end of the 18th century Madrid was the capital of curiosity. Elephants, anteaters and megaterios were some of the creatures that Carlos III collected and wanted to show Madrid. This was the birth of the Royal Cabinet of Natural History, one of the most fascinating periods in the history of science in Spain.

So the mystery goes that the painting of the Giant Ant Eater could actually be by Francisco de Goya and was identified in the funds of the National Museum of Natural Sciences 8 years ago. The July-September issue of the Goya art magazine, edited by the Lázaro Galdiano Foundation, includes an article by Javier Jordán de Urríes – a specialist in collecting, painting, and architecture of the 18th century in Spain – in which Francisco de Goya has attributed a painting currently preserved in the National Museum of Natural Sciences.

Retrato del pintor Francisco de Goya (1826), por Vicente López, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Retrato del pintor Francisco de Goya (1826), por Vicente López, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The painting, oil on canvas of 105 by 209 cm, represents a giant anteater female from Buenos Aires that was given to Carlos III in July 1776. The monarch ordered the transfer of the specimen to the Buen Retiro at the time he commissioned his portrait, painted under the direction of Anton Raphael Mengs, first camera painter.

The canvas order is well documented and was assigned to an unknown artist from Mengs’ workshop. The stylistic similarities existing with the landscapes of the tapestry painted by Goya on those same dates, as well as the activities that at that time had occupied the other disciples of Mengs, have led Jordán de Urríes to assign the painting to the Aragonese, who most likely worked at that time as Mengs’s assistant in the fresco of “La Apotheosis of Trajano” in the Royal Palace of Madrid.

His Majesty’s Giant Anteater by Francisco de Goya?
His Majesty’s Giant Anteater by Francisco de Goya?