Portrait of Manuel Osorio by Francisco Goya.
We are in 1788 in Spain.
A powerful man with a very long traditional name, which can be summed up as “Conte di Altamira”, wants portraits of his entire family.
The king's painter is Francisco Goya and it is therefore from him that the Count of Altamira commissions the work.
Goya will make the portrait of the count, of the countess with her daughter, the portrait of the eldest son and the portrait of the youngest son, Manuel.
Here too we can call him, with summary skills, Manuel Osorio or, even more restricted as the Americans do, “Red Boy”, the boy in red.
The child's pose is particular.
He is dressed in a red dress with a lace collar and satin slippers. He is there, we would say, frozen with his arms outstretched holding a magpie tied to a thread.
The gaze is almost surprised, as if it had been surprised by the flash of a camera.
The magpie has Goya's business card in its beak.
Unlike the other three portraits, at the child's feet, Goya paints three cats on one side and a cage with birds on the other.
For Goya, cats are a disturbing symbol, a danger, something to fear.
Especially as they stare at the magpie and seem ready, as any cat would, to jump on her.
Caged birds are already more difficult to interpret with confidence. For some they would be a symbol of an innocent soul which, among the many meanings, could fit the picture.
This composition helps to create tension, creating an atmosphere of the type: "a moment before ..."
The child, innocent soul, close to the danger and wickedness of life.
The image is special, very suggestive, it remains etched in the mind and almost seems like a dream.
Or a premonition?
An event that Goya could never have known, just as disturbing as the cats, is that Manuel, the child in red, will die a few years later.
Anyone who thought that Goya actually painted it after the child's death has been proven wrong by scientific evidence.
It is a mystery, just as the creative and vital capacity of art remains mysterious.