Was Goya Gay?

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 1, 2022 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History

I don’t think that Goya was gay, but he had an emotionally charged relationship with a close friend, a never-married businessman named Martin Zapater.  They discussed masturbation and sent each other drawings of their penises in their letters. Martin Zapater y Claveria (1747-1803) was a wealthy Aragonese merchant and Enlightenment thinker. 

A new book, Goya y Las Mujeres, by Spanish art historian Natacha Sesena suggests that the painter had a homosexual relationship with Zapater. Letters written by Goya to Zapater at the height of Goya’s creative years have romantic and sexual undertones.

Goya, the artist who first painted a woman’s pubic hair (“La Maja Desnuda) in 1797-1800, had 20+ children, a wife and mistresses, and must have had some heterosexual leanings—but kept his emotional and intellectual intimacy for a friend from his youth, Martin Zapater.  Goya was very private and reserved in his opinions, but spilled out his heart in his letters to his friend:

“My Martin, I am desperate to go with you because I like you so much, and we suit each other so well, and it’s impossible to find anyone comparable, and I imagine what my life would be like if we could be together and hunt and drink chocolate and spend the 23 reales I have in your company…it would be the greatest happiness in the world.”  Some of Goya’s letters are signed “Yours and yours again, your Paco Goya” and “He who loves you more than you think.”

During an illness in 1790, Goya told Zapater that “with your portrait before me, it seems I enjoy the sweetness of being with you oh my soulmate I didn’t believe friendship could arrive to the stage I am now feeling.” 

Most passionate friendships, for women at least, are never consummated, and always remain in the realm of “sexual almostness.” Sexual almostness stimulates a heightened awareness of possibility, but also the boundaries that surround us. It could push an artist into daring realms—like painting pubic hair.