The Duchess of Alba: Aristocrat and Muse

Fabulous riches, a privileged life and titles beyond compare set the 18th Duchess of Alba apart from more than the regular folk. The recent passing of the Duchess at age 88 was felt the world over. Known to friends as Cayetana, the Duchess of Alba didn’t count her wealth in terms of euros in the bank. Her family’s fortune included priceless works of art that Spain restricted the sale of. The historical significance of the works in the House of Alba’s collection means that the family must keep them within their domain.


Not only are the artworks significant in themselves, but the Duchess (and at least one of her predecessors) are rumored to be part of art history. During the 18th century the 13th Duchess of Alba was artist Francisco Goya’s muse. She was thought to be the model for the artist’s ‘La Maja Desnuda’. The portrait of a reclining nude is on display at the Prado Gallery in Madrid.

Like her ancestor, the 18th Duchess of Alba was also rumored to be a muse for one of the world’s most notable artists. Famed cubist Pablo Picasso reportedly asked the Duchess to pose for him. Not only did he ask her to pose, but he wanted to recreate the reclining nude (that the 13th Duchess of Alba posed for) with her.

Goya - Young Woman with a Letter

You won’t find a reclining nude featuring the 18th Duchess in any art collection or hanging on a museum’s walls. The story goes that her conservative husband would not allow her to pose for Picasso in this fashion. That said, some reports contradict the fact that it was her husband that said “no.” In 2009 she claimed that she refused, noting, “I think he would have worn me out” and that modeling was dull, according to The Local, Spain’s News in English website. She supposedly never regretted the decision to decline Picasso’s offer.

Although the Duchess never met Picasso in person, she had a connection to the art world that spanned her life. With hundreds of paintings in Liria Palace alone, the House of Alba’s full collection is reported to be the largest of any European aristocrat. Featuring works that span five centuries, the collection includes works by Goya, Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoir and many more.


About the Author

Erica Loop has a BA in the history of art and architecture as well as film studies. She has worked for the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art. Ms. Loop has taught studio-based art classes for children from toddlers to teens for the past decade along with writing freelance content across the web.