Goya was born on 30 March 1746 in the small town of Fuendetodos near Saragossa to José Francisco de Paula, a gilder, and Gracia Lucientes, a member of an impoverished noble family. At the age of fourteen, Goya began a four-year apprenticeship in Saragossa to José Luzán, an undistinguished painter who had studied in Naples. In 1763 and 1766 Goya unsuccessfully participated in competitions sponsored by the Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid. Sometime after 1766 he traveled to Italy, where he is documented from 1770 to 1771. An honorable mention in a competition held at the Academia de Parma helped him obtain religious commissions in Saragossa, where he settled by June 1771.
On 25 July 1773, Goya married in Madrid Josefa Bayeu, the sister of Francisco Bayeu, the leading Spanish artist at court. Bayeu greatly assisted Goya's career by obtaining for him a position at the royal tapestry factory, for which Goya executed sixty-three cartoons by 1792 (thirty-nine of them before 1780). Goya published in July 1778 his first serious group of prints: nine etchings after paintings by Velázquez in the royal collection. He was unanimously elected to the Academia in Madrid in May 1780 and he was appointed deputy director of the Academia in March 1785.
Goya's contemporaries esteemed him most highly as a portraitist. He received his first important portrait commissions in 1783 from the Conde de la Floridablanca and the Infante Don Luis. Goya quickly became established as a portraitist of the leading members of Madrid society. In 1786 Charles III appointed Goya painter to the king; shortly after his coronation in 1789, Charles IV made him court painter.
Near the end of 1792 Goya fell victim to a mysterious illness that incapacitated him for much of the following year, left him permanently deaf, and caused him to reevaluate his goals as an artist. Goya subsequently developed fantasy and invention into powerful social commentary in the Caprichos, a series of eighty etchings offered for sale early in 1799, but their sardonic criticisms of the existing social order made the prints controversial, and Goya quickly withdrew them from sale.
Between 1797 and 1799 Goya portrayed Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos and other important liberal intellectuals, some of whose ideas probably are illustrated in the Caprichos. Jovellanos, Minister of Grace and Justice from November 1797 to August 1799, helped Goya to obtain the commission for the frescoes in the hermitage church of San Antonio de la Florida, Madrid, executed between 1797 and 1798.
On 31 October 1799, Goya was appointed first court painter, the highest position available to an artist at the Madrid court. He executed several individual portraits of the king and queen between 1799 and 1801. After 1801 Goya was seldom given royal commissions, although he continued to receive his large annual salary. In the early years of the nineteenth century, Goya continued to produce images of government officials in which the sitter's rank is clearly indicated. He also began to create intimate, psychologically profound portraits in which the subjects are depicted simply and directly without attributes of rank against neutral backgrounds.
Scholars have long debated whether the oath of loyalty that Goya swore on 23 December 1808 to Joseph Bonaparte as king of Spain signified genuine support for the Napoleonic regime, which had been established earlier that year in Madrid. Goya sympathetically portrayed many leaders of the French community in Madrid, but he later painted the duke of Wellington and others who worked for the liberation of Spain. The violence that Goya witnessed during the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1814) inspired him to execute the Disasters of War, a series of eighty-two etchings done between 1810 and 1820, eighty of which were first published in 1863.
Beginning in about 1808 Goya painted a significant number of genre scenes, and dealt with similar subjects in many drawings about the period 1810 to 1823. In 1814 Goya commemorated the heroism of Spaniards who had fought against the French invaders in two large paintings. Attempting to regain royal favor, he did six portraits of Ferdinand VII, between 1814 and 1815. Ferdinand restored Goya's salary, which had been discontinued during the Napoleonic occupation, but he did not give the artist any commissions. In 1816 Goya published Tauromaquia, a series of thirty-three prints illustrating the historical development of bullfighting and the feats of famous contemporary bullfighters. He created, from 1815 to 1824, the Disparates, a series of etchings related in mood to the Caprichos but larger in scale and more difficult to interpret; eighteen of the twenty-two plates in this series were published for the first time in 1864.
In 1819 Goya suffered a relapse of his illness and almost died. This traumatic experience is probably reflected in the fourteen Black Paintings which he executed about 1820/1823 in oil directly on the walls of two rooms in the country house on the outskirts of Madrid, popularly called Quinto del Sordo (house of the deaf man), that he had purchased in February 1819.