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Goya's Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Remember how you felt the last time you were sick? Perhaps your muscles were weak and aching. Maybe your mind was confused by feverish dreams. You might have slept for days.

That is how the old man here seems to feel. His sickly face is nearly as pale as the bedsheets. Ghostly heads hover behind his bed, like figures in a dream. He is too weak even to drink without help. The blackness of the room gives no clue whether it is day or night.

Fortunately a younger, healthier man is by his side. This man’s skin has a healthy reddish glow. His arms are strong and his hands comforting. The ruby liquid in the glass he offers seems to promise that color, and life, will return to the man in bed.

The painter of this picture knew all too well how it felt to be sick—because he was the man in bed. The younger man was his doctor, Eugenio García Arrieta. Francisco de Goya, Spain’s most famous painter of the time, painted the picture to thank Dr. Arrieta for saving his life.

Francisco de Goya, Spanish (1746-1828)
Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta, 1820
Oil on canvas
Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Painter to the king
Picturing a world without reason
An act of kindness in a nightmarish world

Thank-you Card: Who has made a difference in your life? Thank him or her the way Goya thanked Dr. Arrieta—with a portrait. Be sure to include yourself in it, too. At the bottom of the picture, write a statement explaining what the person you chose has done for you.  

Goya Comes to Life: The makers of Goya's Ghosts, a movie inspired by Goya's life and paintings, re-created scenes from his paintings. (See the Web site of the actor who played Goya for some stills from the movie. Stage a short play of your own based on Goya's Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. Use the portrait to develop the characters and dialogue and prepare costumes.  

Reading Faces: Examine several other pictures by Goya in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Enlarge the images to look closely at them. What kind of person do you imagine each subject to be? How has Goya shown those qualities? Which people do you think Goya painted from life? Which ones came from his imagination? Why do you think that? Write labels for each picture, explaining your opinions, for an exhibition of the images in your classroom.  

Spain in the Age of Enlightenment: Goya saw dramatic political changes in his lifetime. Use the library or the Internet to find out more about Spain in the 18th and 19th centuries. How do you think Goya might have felt about the various events that occurred then? Write about them from his perspective in an imaginary diary.  

December 2006