The chapel of San Antonio de la Florida houses some magnificent frescos painted by Goya in 1798
A solemn-looking building from the outside, the interior of the chapel of San Antonio de la Florida is a revelation with its grand pictorial decoration painted by Francisco de Goya at the end of the 18th century. While completing this masterpiece of Spanish art, the Aragonese painter was aware that he was decorating one of Madrid´s most popular churches, famous for its procession on 13 June.
The chapel that currently stands on the site, built in 1792, is the third in a series of churches dedicated to San Antonio de la Florida, the popular saint from Lisbon. As a result of the special concerns that have always surrounded its preservation, it was declared a National Monument in 1905, and in 1928 an exact replica was built alongside so that services could be held in the new building, leaving the original as a museum devoted to Goya. Work has been carried out on both the chapel and the paintings on several occasions, most recently in 2005.
Though the building itself is one of the best examples of the Neo-classical Madrid style, it is the Goya frescos that make a visit to the San Antonio chapel a necessity. When Francisco de Goya was commissioned in 1798 to paint the inside of the chapel, he was 52 years old and experiencing difficulties as a result of his deteriorating hearing. In spite of suffering from constant attacks of dizziness, he came to the chapel every day by carriage, in the company of his friend and assistant Asensio Juliá, completing the San Antonio frescos in just six months.
The chapel is built in the shape of a Greek cross, its walls decorated with pilasters and pediments. Cherubs and angels, dressed in the typical attire of the Queen María Luisa period, draw back drapes as if they were theatre assistants, revealing the scene for the visitor. Goya chose the theme of the miracle of Saint Anthony to decorate the dome, moving the depiction of the heavens which would normally fill this space down onto the lower walls, along with his cherubs and angels.
In the apse, Goya painted the Adoration of the Trinity, and the painter’s depiction of the miracle of Saint Anthony shows him reviving a man who had been murdered, in order to demonstrate the innocence of the saint’s father, who had been unjustly accused of the murder. One of the most striking aspects of the scene is that he shows it taking place in 18th century Madrid on a feast day held in honour of Saint Anthony, instead of showing it in 13th century Lisbon, the place where it is supposed to have happened.
A great connoisseur and lover of the festivals and traditions of Madrid, Goya turned his work into a magnificent representation of various 18th century personalities, dressing them both in contemporary and historical clothing. The Aragonese painter also shows his close affinity with Madrid in some of his landscapes of the city.
When painting his frescos, Goya used a technique which consisted of painting with colours that had been diluted in water on plaster that was still damp. He would sketch out the figures on paper before painting them on the walls, though his creative urges led him to make several changes as he was working, anticipating artistic styles that were to follow, such as expressionism and impressionism.
Another of the attractions that draws visitors to the chapel of San Antonio de la Florida is the painter’s tomb. Though he died in Bordeaux in 1828, his remains were brought back to Spain in 1919 and laid to rest in the chapel. Installed at the foot of the presbytery, Goya’s tomb is made of granite and marked with the tombstone that had adorned his grave in Bordeaux. As he had been buried in France alongside a relative by marriage, Martín Miguel de Goicoechea, both were brought to Madrid and laid to rest alongside each other in order to avoid errors of identification.
Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida
Address: Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida, 5
Phone number.: (+34) 91 542 07 22.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday: from 9.30 am to 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday: from 10 am to 2 pm. Closed on Monday.