Directed by Henry Koster, the painter Goya falls in love with the Duchess of Alba, and they both challenge the Spanish monarchy and its capitulation to Napoleon’s France.
A crowd watches as the Spanish Inquisition parades women accused of witchcraft. Francisco Jose de Goya (Anthony Franciosa) expresses his outrage, but his friend Juanito (Carlo Rizzo) warns him that the Inquisition can read even his thoughts. Goya sees Maria Cayetana, Duchess of Alba (Ava Gardner), leaving. Before she gets into her carriage, she says she does not approve of burning human flesh. Juanito tells Goya they are burning the wrong woman because she has the evil eye. Goya admires her beauty.
Goya and Juanito go into a restaurant where a woman and men are dancing for the Duchess of Alba. Goya sketches the woman on the horse with the conical hat. Maria gives the woman dancer money and says she deserves it. Soldiers come in, and everyone becomes quiet and stands except Goya. The officer tells him he must stand for an officer of the King, and Goya grabs the officer’s sword. Maria asks why they are standing, and the officer turns around and asks who she is. When he learns she is the Duchess, he apologizes and leaves with his men. A man with Maria says that tomorrow the whole court will know that they were there, and she says it will not be the first time. As she goes out, others speak to her with respect. A drunk man asks her to dance and fights with an aristocrat. They go outside, and Goya tells Jose that he is drunk and should go home. Jose quarrels with him, and Juanito advises Goya to stay out of it. Goya walks toward Jose, and they prepare to fight. Jose has a knife, and Juanito tosses a cape to Goya. Maria ignores advice and stays to watch the fight. Jose falls on his knees, and Goya kicks him and tells him to go home. While Goya is paying his respects to Maria, Jose sneaks up on him. Goya turns around, and Jose slashes him in the chest. Men carry Goya inside, and people call for a doctor. Maria refuses to leave and asks her doctor to help him.
Inside Goya asks a woman for one of her petticoats for a bandage, and she tears one off. Maria offers her physician to help him, and Goya tells her his name. She knows it, and the doctor has him remove his coat. The deep cut did not sever tendons, and she hopes that he will still be able to hold a paintbrush. She kneels before him and says that his paintings frighten her because of their depth of truth. He says that the truth can be frightening; but not when we face it. Only when we avoid the truth, are we misled and become confused. She says he can go back to his painting and invites him to a concert at her home. He says he will be honored, and she turns to leave. A man hands her his sketch as an original Goya. She looks at it, and he takes it and tears it up, saying he was dreaming. She asks if he would do a portrait of her, and he accepts.
Goya is painting in the court and hears the church bell toll. He comes down from the scaffold and washes his face and hands. Juanito warns him not to go to the Duchess of Alba because the Queen hates her. An aristocrat comes in and asks Goya how his painting is going. The aristocrat says he likes art with order and discipline. They must learn from those who came before. Goya admits he learned from Velasquez and Rembrandt, but the rest for him are dead. Now he learns from nature. He wants to show the world as it is. The aristocrat says he may have to tell the King to get someone else to finish the frescoes. Goya goes out.
Maria and others are listening to a woman sing. A little girl sits on the floor in front of Maria, and ladies talk about how she adopted the child. Maria gets up and goes to hear a messenger tell her that Goya is busy painting for the King. She says he is excused. She goes back into the other room and talks about Napoleon with an aristocrat.
Goya is painting in the court and becomes tired and frustrated. He knocks the canvas down and takes the wigs off the people in the court. Others cooperate and remove their finery. He puts up a new canvas and begins drawing as the people sing.
Goya works on frescoes on the dome of a church. They hear soldiers pounding on the door, and a monk opens the door. Soldiers come in and start to move out the common people. Goya objects because he is painting them. The soldiers move the scaffolding
Outside Juanito sees King Carlos IV (Gino Cervi) and Queen Maria Luisa (Lea Padovani) arriving in an open carriage. Maria is in another carriage and waves. Soldiers keep the common people back. King Carlos enters the church, and everyone bows. He asks to see the painter and is introduced to Goya who kisses the hand of the Queen. Carlos says they were hunting with Prime Minister Manuel Godoy (Amedeo Nazzari) who meets Goya. Carlos looks at the common people in the fresco and asks what is the subject. He asks opinions from his advisors. The Queen asks Maria her opinion, and she calls them amusing. The Queen says it is a religious subject. She notes he has portrayed the lowest people in Madrid—beggars, loafers, and women of the street. Goya says he paints what he sees and feels, people who revere the royalty. Goya tells Carlos he could help them. Maria asks how he knew that angels look like such people. The Queen says Maria finds these people her favorite companions. Carlos asks an aristocrat, who says he broke all the rules but in beautiful ways. The Queen proposes that they make Goya the court painter, and Carlos agrees to appoint him with all the rights and privileges. Goya kisses the hands of the King and Queen, who expects to see him better dressed next time. Goya thanks Maria before she goes out.
Goya in a carriage comes to the royal palace with an aristocrat. Inside they listen to a concert, and he observes the people. The music stops as Prime Minister Godoy comes in with the King and Queen who asks Goya about their portrait. He says he has a plan, and Carlos introduces him to his son.
Later Goya while painting asks the Prince to stand up to pose. He stands up and walks out. Godoy explains to Goya about the Prince’s lack of diplomacy. Goya says he is only interested in his painting. The little princess comes in and tells Goya her kite does not work. He sees it is broken and helps her.
Outside in the gardens Goya is helping the princess fly her kite. He gets caught in a game and is blindfolded. He touches Maria and is asked to guess who it is. He touches her face, and she says he no longer is so concerned with his painting. She says the game is over.
At night people are dancing and singing in a plaza.
The aristocratic Aranda advises Maria not to go to this celebration, but she says her father would find it amusing. A man says the Queen has warned her, but she says that is why she is going. Conte Rodrigo Sanchez (Massimo Serato) advises her that her presence will be misunderstood.
In a tavern people have made dummies of Napoleon and Godoy that they take outside.
Maria arrives in a carriage, and people welcome her.
Goya is painting a portrait of the royal family. Carlos says his son will have to reign one day. He says his sister has a scar doctors could not cure. The Minister of Justice Delgado comes in and asks the King to pardon three brothers whom Godoy is going to execute. Carlos says he must speak to Godoy; but Delgado says they have no proof against them. The King tells him not to worry about it anymore and gives him a gift. Delgado turns and goes out. Goya pleads that Carlos condemn injustice so that the people will clear out of their minds misery, fear, and oppression. He says people’s lives are affected, but Carlos says Manuel must have his reasons. Goya says the King’s name is used to justify the worst crimes. Carlos advises him not to listen to gossip and not interfere in matters of state. He should keep to his painting.
Godoy kisses the Queen who asks him what is happening. He says they are burning his effigy, and he says he is losing his head. He could have put down the uprising. She asks him to order the guards to put them down, and he says he has already given the order. He says Alba is in the crowd. The Queen says she will teach her not to overthrow the state.
Men and women are dancing in the plaza. Goya arrives, and women urge him to join them. He pulls away and sees Maria dancing. She looks at him, and he walks away. She follows him and calls to him. He asks what she wants. He says it is a night of delusions. He comments on her revealing dress, and she slaps him. He says he is not a grandee, and she says he is in the King’s court. He refuses to be one of her toys, and she says he is mad and that she pities him. She walks away. Shots are heard, and soldiers on horses break up the crowd. Goya leads Maria behind a bush to hide. He hears the shots and calls them murderers. She holds him from doing anything.
Maria and Goya go into a restaurant, and Goya asks for a drink. She says she tried to warn him. She does not laugh at his beautiful paintings. Sanchez comes in and tells Maria he was looking for her. She introduces him to Goya, and he sits with them. Sanchez calls it a nasty business. She says idols fall in a storm. Sanchez says he honors the uniform he wears. Goya says it must feel tight. Maria asks Goya to dance with her, and they circle each other and dance without touching each other. Gradually they come closer and touch. She asks who he was, and she says a friend. He asks if she loves him, and she says no. He says she has loved him and others. He says he still loves her. She does not want to talk about it, and he helps her put her coat on. They embrace, and he says she is fascinating. He has painted her a thousand times, and she asks which is the truest. He says the one he will paint tonight. They go out together.
He takes her into his studio and kisses her, saying he loves her. She says no and that he must paint her portrait. He has her sit down and lights a lamp. She asks what he knows about her. He knows she had lovers. She asks if he still loves her, and he says he does not care about her past. She says she is proud and was born that way. She asks him to let her go. He asks if she has ever really loved anyone. She says she loves him despite the bitterness, shame, and fear. He says he loves her and needs her as he kisses and hugs her. She gets pleasure in scandalizing hypocrites, and he says he does the same thing. She does not want their love to become confused with the past. She asks him to let her go and come back later, and she goes out.
Maria returns to her palace and finds Godoy waiting for her. He says he placed himself at risk to help her. She finds soldiers searching her room and blames him for invading her privacy. He sends the soldiers out of the room and says much endangers her, writings by Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu who are revolutionaries. He says he is responsible for the security of the kingdom. As a man he admires her, but she tells him to save himself the trouble. He spent an hour calming the Queen because Maria incited people against him and the state. He reduced her punishment to one year of exile in the village of Solinar. She asks what happens if she refuses, and he says she and those dear to her would be in trouble. She must leave tonight.
Goya asks if he has any messages and gives orders to his servants. Juanito comes in, and Goya asks if he took the sketches to her. Juanito says she is not for him and gives back the sketches. He says she has gone to her villa in Solinar for a long vacation. Goya tells him to get his traveling bags ready, but Juanito disagrees.
Maria is riding in a carriage with Anita who reads from a book.
Goya rides on a horse and arrives at Solinar at night. He bursts into the villa and demands to see Maria. He finds her with her daughter. Maria hands the girl to a servant who goes out. She closes the door and asks why he had to come there. She asks him to go away and says she cannot see him anymore. He gets angry, and she says she was exiled. He asks why, but she won’t let him be involved. She says she loves him and kisses him.
In a meadow Goya is painting Maria, and she dismisses Anita. She likes her portrait, and they embrace. They see cavalry approaching, and Sanchez rides over to ask her pardon. He asks if she needs him for anything and goes on. Goya wonders if they know what they are doing. She says it is war. She says he is still jealous, and he agrees. He wishes he could know her thoughts and kisses her.
Maria is playing a harpsichord and asks Aranda if Goya has returned yet. He says it is a dangerous trip, and he has dangerous papers she signed. He goes out, and she plays for her daughter. Godoy appears, and she has her daughter go out with a servant. He says he was in the area for maneuvers. He says he could send her back to Madrid. She asks what the terms are. He says Napoleon is endangering Spain, and she could help. Napoleon would be grateful to anyone who helped him come into Spain without losing any soldiers. She answers no, and he warns her that her people will be massacred. She says when honor is at stake, they don’t count numbers. He says she is impressive and laughs. He opens a door and sees the painting of the Naked Maja. He asks if Goya is well and reminds her that she is in exile and not on a honeymoon with her lover. He gives Goya three days to return to Madrid. He cannot do what he pleases at 50,000 reales a year. She promises to reimburse him, but he says that is not necessary. He says they found enough evidence in his studio to hand him over to the Inquisition. She says he would destroy a man to attain his ends. He tells her to send him back to his paint-box. She asks if she has his word that he will not be harmed. He gives his word of honor, but he will come back to make sure he is gone in three days. He goes out, and she tells the servants that Goya must not know he was there.
Goya comes running in and picks up her daughter. He notices gloves left on a table and asks Anita whose they are. He asks who was there, and she says no one. He sends the girl out to play. Goya finds Maria in the bedroom and kisses her. He asks who was there and shows her the gloves. She says an officer brought news from Madrid. She asks why he is always suspicious. He hands her a letter. She reads it and says the situation is more serious. She says they would make him go back to Madrid if they found him there. He does not care about the court. He says his life began with her, and he wants it to end with her. She says the worry will make her unpleasant. He pretends to paint her face, and she says he has to go back to Madrid. He says he will not leave her unless she stops loving him.
Maria asks Anita about letters she sent.
Maria tells Sanchez that she can not be faithful to anyone for very long. He says she wants to use him to get rid of Goya as she has done before with others. She says she loves him. Goya comes in, and asks Sanchez if this is part of his maneuvers. She invites him to stay for dinner, and he says he only wanted to pay his respects. Goya looks in the bedroom.
Downstairs she tells Sanchez that she really wants him to stay. They embrace and kiss. Goya comes down the stairs, and she tells him it is over between them; he must leave and go back to Madrid. He gets angry and manhandles her and Sanchez before going out. Sanchez tries to help her up, and she says she loves Goya. Sanchez says he envies him.
Goya rides his horse back to Madrid and comes into the restaurant. He is in agony and collapses, saying, “Everything is false.”
Goya is restless in bed. Maria asks Juanito to let her see him. They go into his bedroom, and she kneels by his bed. She says Sanchez was only trying to help. She says she loves only Goya. He is in agony, and Juanito persuades her to leave the room.
Juanito brings in hot food, but Goya says he wants to finish his drawing.
People look at the collection of drawings called Caprichos, and they identify various people who are satirized. Maria comes in the shop and looks at the pictures. An official comes in with two soldiers with a warrant for the arrest of the bookseller. The officer says the artist will be arrested too.
Goya is taken by soldiers and put in a wagon.
Goya is sitting in an empty room, and a guard tells him to come with him. He hears screams and goes out with the guard.
King Carlos is enjoying music and dancing in his palace. A Frenchman is teaching the Queen and others the latest French dance. Maria comes in and is welcomed by the Queen and King. She says that Goya is being held by the Inquisition. The Queen says they cannot disobey the sovereign Inquisition. Carlos tells her he will see what they can do. Godoy asks her to meet him in his office.
The Inquisition is questioning Goya, and he says he wanted to show the corruption of sin and folly. He is shown a drawing of monks listening to a priest portrayed as a parrot. He tries to quote the Bible, but they stop him. He is asked if he admits he painted a nude, and he says yes. He says it is natural beauty, and he did not paint it for yokels to see it. He says they have no right to do this. They call it an invitation to lust and sin. He is asked if the model influenced him, but he shouts that only he is responsible for it. He is called arrogant and guilty. A judge says the royal palace has asked them to grant him clemency, and they let him go.
In a palace Maria meets with Godoy who tells her that Goya is free. He gives her a document which is only an admonition. She asks if the King gave the order, and he says nearly so. She says she is grateful, and he asks her to sit down and talk. He says he freed Goya so that he can insult them with his portraits. He asks her to help them persuade people that the French army now in Spain came as friends. He says if she were a man, she would be killed. He asks her how much her cooperation would cost. She says no amount would do. She says she has many friends and leaves.
The Queen asks Godoy how much that woman paid him to give the order she had refused. She warns him she made him and can break him. She goes out, and he orders a servant to tell the woman in Maria’s household to poison her over time.
Maria in a robe is weak and drinks the medicine Anita brought her. Aranda tells her that the royal family has gone to France. She asks about their friends, and he says that some have fled, and others have been arrested.
Outside a palace the flags of Spain and France hang next to each other. Godoy proclaims that Joseph Bonaparte is ruling Spain, and soldiers cheer.
Maria lies on a couch.
A soldier reminds Goya of his offer. Juanito shows contempt for his painting for the French. He says that Goya does not know what is going on. He says the fraud is complete, and he is paid with money stolen from the people. Goya slaps him and apologizes. Juanito says he is going away. Goya asks if he will fight the French alone, but Juanito says he will not be alone. Goya says he can always find fools to die for something. He asks if he has had enough of being deceived and abandoned. He asks where the Duchess of Alba is. Juanito says she is very ill, or she would be resisting with them.
Servants are gathered as Aranda reads the will of Maria who lies on the couch.
Goya walks with people who are shouting and carrying weapons. The French cavalry rides in and shoots people. Goya escapes the battle as people kill each other. Sanchez is captured, and he shouts that he is Spanish. French infantry march down steps shooting.
Goya comes into Alba’s house, and a servant says he has changed. He says she is not well and tells Goya to go to her. He tells Goya that she made him leave her by saying what she had to say.
Aranda tells Maria that Goya is there. She struggles to stand up and is helped to walk. She puts on make-up, and he comes in her room. He goes to her and says she was interrupted, helping her with her face. He kneels down, embraces her, and cries. She asks what he sees in her face. He says it is the end of a long, dark night. He helps her stand up, and she walks to her couch. He wants her to get better, and she says the waiting is over. He says he was at fault. She regrets she did not tell him sooner. He asks her to tell him if there is real danger. She leaves him himself and Spain. She tells him to look for her in every Spanish face and live for a long time to paint so that Spain may live through Goya. She says giving a dying speech would almost be worth dying for. He kisses her and says no. He asks about her rings, and she gives him one. He reminds her of the portrait at Solinar. She says she is no longer beautiful, but he disagrees. He wants to capture her beauty again. She asks to see the painting again and asks him to bring it to her. They embrace, and she asks if he loves her now as he did then. He says he loves her more. He goes to bring it quickly. As he leaves the room, she falls on the floor. He slowly goes to her and lies down next to her, crying.
With beautiful cinematography this biopic depicts the romance that might have occurred between the famous Goya and the Duchess of Alba. He uses his paintings and she her power to try to help the people in their struggle against the monarchy of Carlos IV governed by Prime Minister Godoy. When they let imperial France under the Bonapartes take over Spain, the people fight back. Goya’s painting for the court enabled him to survive the Inquisition and the war, but Maria died at the age of forty in 1802.