Francesco de Goya. Merienda a orillas del Manzanares [Picnic At the Edge of the Manzanares River] (1776) is a tapestry painting intended for the dining room of Prince and Princess of Asturias in the San Lorenzo Palace in Madrid.

Goya described the subject as a merienda, the word used by the Spanish for our word picnic. Currently, merienda is considered a snack or a light meal, and the Museo del Prado has retitled it The Picnic.

Though he insisted this subject of a merienda was his invention, merienda, a light meal or snack, already had a history in Spain and France. Merienda first appears as a snack in the picaresque novel The Life of Lazarillo De Tormes (1554), then as an alfresco lunch in the first volume of Cervantes Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605), and Quevedo’s El Buscon [The Thief] (1626). Goya was aware of the French vogue for hunt picnics, repas de pique-niques, popularized by Watteau, and others, and he adapted their aristocratic subjects for more ordinary people.

Selecting from his resources, Goya’s merienda presents us with a convivial group of four mojos and a woman sitting around a  white picnic cloth on the hillside above the river at a picnic. The woman in blue seems dreamy as she sips wine and ignores the young men, majos, who based on their clothing, suggest theatrical stock figures, such as an aristocrat, soldier,  hunter, etc. who are seemingly drunk and flirting with a young woman, Maja, carrying a basket of oranges, which may be a prostitute an innocent. Nevertheless, two men lift their tumblers to toast her beauty, while she coolly regards them, perhaps embarrassed by their effrontery. Her hand points towards the backside of a dog chewing on picnic refuse. (Perhaps Goya’s joke.)

Goya’s merienda is not a snack. The cloth is laden with a copper stockpot and a ceramic casserole, pewter serving plates, glass tumblers, a ham, roast chicken (?), cheese, and bread.  There is much to drink, and the picnickers are drunk.

* Goya’s other picnic paintings are La Pradera del San Isidro [The Meadow of Saint Isidor] also in the Museo Nacional del Prado, and A Picnic in the National Gallery, London

Featured Image: Merienda a orillas del Manzanares

See Francesco de Goya. Merienda a orillas del Manzanares [aka The Picnic or The Picnic At the Edge of the Manzanares River] (1776), oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid; Janis A. Tomlinson. Francisco Goya; the Tapestry Cartoons and Early Career at the Court of Madrid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.