Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828)
Oil on canvas; 50 x 40 in. (127 x 101.6 cm)
The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.41)
This portrait represents the son of the conde de Altamira. Outfitted in a splendid red costume, Manuel is shown playing with a pet magpie (which holds the painter's calling card in its beak), a cage full of finches, and three wide-eyed cats. In Christian art, birds frequently symbolize the soul, and in Baroque art caged birds are symbolic of innocence. Goya may have intended this portrait as an illustration of the frail boundaries that separate the child's world from the forces of evil, or as a commentary on the fleeting nature of innocence and youth. The picture is one of several portraits commissioned by the Altamiras after Goya was appointed painter to the king (1786). It may have been executed after the child's death in 1792, since the imagery and sinister undertone seem more characteristic of Goya's works of the 1790s.