Painting of Eugenia Martinez Vallejo, Clothed, by Juan Carreño de Miranda.
Eugenia Martinez Vallejo, Clothed. Juan Carreño de Miranda. Oil on canvas, c. 1680. Image from Museo del Prado.

Born 1674 in Bárcenas, Spain, Eugenia Martinez Vallejo is known for featuring in two paintings by artist Juan Carreno de Miranda. Known for his portraits, the painter of baroque tradition was appointed court painter to the queen in 1671. However, he remained for a long time in the shadow of the very popular Diego Velazquez, who was one of his friends.
Painted in 1680, both of Eugenia’s portraits can be seen today at the Museo Del Prado in Madrid, where they are displayed side-by-side as a pair. However, calling her a muse would be wrong. Eugenia was brought at the age of 6 to the court of Charles II who ordered the works. There, she was exhibited because of her obesity as a curiosity or a ‘freak’. The dehumanising term was often used to refer to people with disabilities. As a matter of fact, it was common practice for aristocrats to take advantage of the disabled for their own amusement by exhibiting them as mere objects. One of the most famous examples of this is the painting Las Meninas, painted by Velazquez in 1656. The notorious painting features among the subjects Maria Barbola, who suffered from achondroplastic dwarfism. However, this was not an isolated case. Philip IV, who was the reigning king at the time, retained at the royal court around 110 people who suffered from dwarfism.

In Eugenia’s case, the painter goes as far as to refer to her as a monster. Indeed, the paintings are known as The Monster Clothed and The Monster Undressed. The latter portrait shows Eugenia posing naked and deprived of her humanity like a mythological creature. This often leads the painting to be subtitled Bacchus, who is the Roman God of wine, festivity, and insanity. In the other portrait, Eugenia wears a red and white dress which transforms Eugenia’s body into a grotesque shape. While the portraits are praised by art historians for presenting her with dignity, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, the paintings are very hard to look at and it is impossible to deny the darker reality which is so obviously at play. In the portraits, Eugenia appears highly sad and uncomfortable.

Detail from Eugenia Martinez Vallejo, Naked, by Juan Carreño de Miranda.
Detail from Eugenia Martinez Vallejo, Naked. Juan Carreño de Miranda. Oil on canvas, c. 1680. Image from Museo del Prado.

The girl, who came from a poor background, is said to have suffered from Prader-Willi syndrome. The genetic disorder, which usually appears in childhood, is accompanied by various physical complications. One of those symptoms is obesity as those affected often feel constant hunger. While many laws were passed to restrict the exploitation of disabled people, discrimination against obese people persists and still causes a lot of harm. This is unfortunately visible on the Prado’s website, on which we can find a presentation of the works. In the analysis, the institution decides to completely ignore the reality that is depicted. By doing so, they contribute to perpetuate the violence that is presented in front of our eyes. This is why it is so important to tell Eugenia’s story and change the narrative in order to help her regain the dignity she deserves and break the stigma.

-Claire Rochet
Girl Museum Inc.

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