Goya, Francisco (Spanish, 1746-1828)

Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

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The inscription at the bottom of this painting reads, “Goya, in gratitude to his friend Arrieta for the compassion and care with which he saved his life during the acute and dangerous illness he suffered toward the end of the year 1819 in his seventy-third year, painted this in 1820.” How sick Goya was is reflected in the lolling head, extremely pale skin, vacant expression, and inability to sit up independently. The only sign of life he exhibits is the way his hands clutch the sheets. The severity of his illness is also indicated by the priest waiting behind with a chalice in case last rites were required. Two servants also stand by—awaiting instructions, out of concern, or both. In the face of such affliction, Eugenio García Arrieta’s healing powers would have to be extraordinary. Although Goya seems unaware of the cup of medicine the doctor offers, we know that somehow he managed to administer it—perhaps the red liquid in the glass implies that soon Goya’s face will regain its color. Dr. Arrieta is shown in an extremely flattering light—as a compassionate, intelligent, and dedicated healer using everything at his disposal to save his patient. His success earned him Goya’s admiration, respect, and gratitude. Little else is known of Arrieta, except that he was born in 1770, was sent by the government to study the plague on Spain’s Mediterranean coast soon after Goya’s illness, and is thought to have died there or in Africa. This image is contrary to most of Goya’s depictions of doctors, whom he showed as corrupt or ignorant, and sometimes even as actual asses. Notes by Mariann Smith
Physician-Patient Relations
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN