Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
October 13, 2017
Tara Zanardi Framing Majismo: Art and Royal Identity in Eighteenth-Century Spain University Park: Penn State University Press, 2016. 264 pp.; 44 color ills.; 35 b/w ills. Cloth $94.95 (9780271067247)

Tara Zanardi’s Framing Majismo examines the cultural phenomenon of majismo, the eighteenth-century movement that defined Spanish types drawn from the urban lower classes. She emphasizes that majismo was a product of the Enlightenment as well as a xenophobic reaction to foreign influences, and argues that majismo imagery provides a view into the tensions between gender and class, as well as between tradition and modernity, in eighteenth-century Bourbon Spain. Zanardi brings together an impressive collection of sources in her interdisciplinary research, and this book will be of interest to scholars and students of many disciplines beyond art history. Visual representation was critical in the formation of an elite Spanish identity for the French Bourbon monarchy, which assumed power from the Spanish Hapsburgs in 1700. As Zanardi argues, “Pictorial majismo helped forge a perception of a collective Spanishness” (6), though she questions what exactly constituted Spanish heritage. Central to Zanardi’s analysis are majos and majas, respectively male and female popular, urban, and plebeian characters that were typecast as Spanish, and how they came to epitomize lo castizo (pure Spanishness). She examines multiple images of these characters in paintings, prints, costume books, and tapestry cartoons. Yet, as Zanardi reiterates, there were discrepancies in characterizations that do not provide one fixed definition.

Chapter 1 analyzes eighteenth-century investigations into Spanish national character and race. Zanardi argues that prior to 1800, race was inseparable from discussions of national character, both being formed by cultural and climatic conditions. With an increase in cultural exchange between Spain and France after 1700, an introspective look at Spain’s own history and culture ensued. A championing of Spain’s artistic past occurred through projects sponsored by the Royal Academy, the decoration of royal residences, and the restoration of architecture. Projects such as Italian artist Giambattista Tiepolo’s fresco in the throne room of the Royal Palace in Madrid, which portrayed provincial Spanish types, endorsed Bourbon imperial power and a new Spanish royal identity. Academically trained artists emulated earlier Golden Age masters, such as Diego Velázquez and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Paintings of urban figures in public spaces provided opportunities to showcase national narratives and collective Spanish identities. Since the plebeian classes appeared to embody more authentically Spanish characteristics, the elite turned to popular types as models, championed local costumes, and legitimized their authority by collecting visual representations of traditional subjects.

In chapter 2, Zanardi demonstrates how majos embodied many contrasting characteristics. She argues that the majo was an artificial construction of masculine Spanishness. She invokes Judith Butler to discuss the gendered, performative aspect of the majo and the possibility of “becoming majo” as a masculine ideal. Though many majos were known for their masculinity, several depictions hint at their femininity, particularly in their slender frames and elegant swagger. Majos were tied to the past and local traditions, as well as to urbanity and modernity; they were champions of the people, as well as models for elite emulation. Also addressed in this chapter is the history behind the majo’s costume. Often comprising a chambergo (wide-brimmed hat) and a long cape, this costume was emblematic of Spanishness and often appropriated by elites for masquerades. Government regulation of dress sought to curtail the use of these fashion choices, as authorities deemed them problematic and suspicious in their abilities to conceal identities and weapons. Lorenzo Tiepolo’s pastels of cropped figures provide interesting examples of majos interacting with other types. Majos are distinguishable from soldiers by their costumes, and their informal groupings imply theatrical narratives. Zanardi claims that these cramped images of urban types in conflict were objects for elite consumption that “do not avoid depicting the reality of Madrid” (52), though the political climate to which she refers, the 1766 Esquilache riots that resulted in part from reforms stipulating Spaniards’ apparel, is discussed later (62–63). Alternatively, Tiepolo’s innovative compositions may be evoking imagined stories of conflict to distance elites from the popular classes. Though not directly addressed by Zanardi, Tiepolo’s own Italian heritage reinforces the notion that these pictorial narratives were fictive constructions of Spanishness produced by a foreign artist and patron. Proud, national majos were pitted against their opposite, the petimetre, a French type that was both feminized and foreign, though the boundaries between the two types were not so easily maintained. For example, José Camarón Bonanat’s painting Una Romería (1785) depicts a Spanish majo, but the figure looks like a French petimetre by his fanciful dress and affected demeanor (65). In Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos (1797–98) this division was also not easily defined. The ambiguity and malleability between majos and petimetres points to the shifting nature of social types, which complicates these images as simply decoration for elites, an important point not fully resolved in the chapter.

Chapter 3 examines the performing majo body through images of bullfighting. Zanardi argues that bullfighters enacted a gendered identity and were national heroes that visualized lo castizo. In the eighteenth century, bullfighting was transformed from an aristocratic pastime into an artistic sport associated with the popular classes. Zanardi traces the historical origins of bullfighting by showcasing Goya’s images from Tauromaquia (1816), which connected bullfighting with kings and conquests. However, a consequence of the new Bourbon dynasty was a decrease in royals’ participation in bullfighting. Further, attempts to ban bullfighting for moral and economic reasons also increased, curtailing the nobility’s involvement. A complete makeover of the pastime occurred at the hands of the lower classes, which transformed bullfighting into pure performance and spectacle. Soon the cult of celebrity made bullfighters national heroes despite their humble origins.

Chapter 4 analyzes literary and pictorial representations of majas. Zanardi provides a detailed history of the maja’s dress, its usage, politicization, and economic value, in particular the mantilla (veil) and the basquiña (petticoat). Like majo garb, maja dress also came under government regulation, especially the mantilla, which had the ability to conceal the identity and social standing of the woman beneath, as well as heighten the wearer’s sexuality. Like the majo, the maja emblematized tradition and Spanishness. Characterized as being passionate, fashionable, and assertive, the maja expressed female agency and was seen as embodying Spanish femininity, even as the type challenged societal conventions. Like its masculine counterpart, the maja was viewed as having a dual nature—both brash and graceful, traditional and modern, demure and defiant, feminine and masculine. Visual representations reflected these dichotomies—some images emphasized her refined elegance, others her bold independence. Theater, in addition to visual imagery, provided a venue to exhibit the performativity of majas, as well as reinforce Spanish culture. In the second half of the eighteenth century, women became more closely associated with textile fabrication and fashion-related work. Female workers, such as the dressmaker, increasingly contributed to the national economy. The amplified presence of women in the public sphere, from the maja to the seamstress, caused anxiety and apprehension, an appealing subject to artists. The belief that women in the public sphere also exhibited freer sexual conduct complicated the maja’s role as the embodiment of Spanish femininity. Tied to a concept known as marcialidad (self-awareness/forthrightness), the complexity of the maja’s unwavering popularity despite her conflicting traits is more effectively analyzed in this chapter.

In chapter 5, Zanardi demonstrates how elite women, such as the Duchess of Alba and Queen Maria Luisa, among many others, appropriated popular dress to craft and cement a Spanish identity. Zanardi argues that despite the maja’s complex duality, she functioned as a model for elites to express their “fashionable individualism, which served as a form of female agency” (151). By fashioning herself as a maja, the Duchess of Alba showed support for Spain’s lower classes and asserted her individualism. Zanardi notes Goya’s complex relationship with Alba and highlights the interesting contrast between Goya’s formal portraits of Alba and his many informal drawings of maja types. By commissioning Goya to represent her as a maja, Alba served as a trendsetter, a type of celebrity that, like the bullfighter, inspired other nobles to follow suit. As Zanardi posits, Alba imitated “real majas” as well as the idea of the maja (173). In Goya’s Queen Maria Luisa in a Mantilla (1799–1800), the queen exemplified the politicization of sartorial choices. Appealing to the popular classes, she sought to embody a Spanish female identity, a tactical maneuver given her Italian heritage and the increase of xenophobia. Curiously, in contrast to noblewomen’s appropriation of popular dress to convey Spanish identity in their portraits, noblemen chose pan-European styles for their self-fashioning. Zanardi points out this disparity using several portraits of male royals by Goya, drawing on kingship/queenship studies, monarchical history, and religion as a means of understanding these gendered differences.

In her conclusion, Zanardi briefly explores how visual representations of majos and majas evolved in movements such as nineteenth-century costumbrismo (depiction of local customs and traditions) and in the works of the twentieth-century Spanish artists Ignacio Zuloaga and Joaquín Sorolla. While eighteenth-century images focused on urban types, later artists emphasized regional characters and customs in Andalusia and Castile. Popular types were no longer used to craft a royal Spanish identity, but rather fulfilled the needs of the bourgeoisie and foreigners. The interrelationship between majismo and costumbrismo is an important area of further study. As the world becomes more global, nations strive to reinforce borders and strengthen local and national identities. Zanardi convincingly shows that majismo’s ability to reflect the past as well as implicate the modern, and the way that it highlights the demonstrated importance of fashion and appearances in constructing national character, is of continued relevance today.

Mey-Yen Moriuchi
Assistant Professor, Art History, La Salle University

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