Dionisio Fierros (1827-1894 ) was a Spanish Romantic painter who in 1849 painted a "vanitas", an allegorical still life, for the Marquis of San Adrián of Navarra.

It wasn't a very robust work of art, especially in an era of great Romanticism and drama.

It was a traditional "vanitas" of a skull, which was the most common symbol representing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death. It was a human skull displayed in a three quarter view. It had no jaw. It rested on a green carpet. It showed many dental failures. The color used was a toasted yellow.

It would have been a fairly boring 44 x 37 cm oil on canvas painting had it not been for the three words written on the back of the wooden frame, in sepia ink; ' Skull of Goya '.

Report by Karla Darocas. Hons. B.A. (Copyright 2019)


Don Francisco de Goya decided to leave Spain in 1824, in part due to his dislike for Ferdinand VII's Bourbon doctrine and total sovereign authority, and in part due to his poor health. He was 78 years old and completely deaf.

In August, Goya went to Paris to visit the Royal Museum of the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Gobelins Tapestry Factory, the Savonnerie Carpet Factory and the Mosaics.

The Louvre contained more than 1200 paintings, classified into three groups: French School, Flemish, Dutch and German Schools, and Italian Schools. Included in the Italian room, was the "Spanish school". There he found the the Portrait of the Infanta Margarita Teresa, by Velázquez, a Purísima and five other paintings by Murillo, as well as the Adoration of the Shepherds by Ribera.

He later settled in Bordeaux with Leocadia Zorrilla, his live-in house keeper since 1812, when he was widowed by Josefa Bayeu.  Leocadia came with her two children Guillermo and Rosario. Leocadia was 36 years old and her children were 14 and 9 respectively. Rosario was considered Goya's God-daughter and he guided her into an artistic career.

Bordeaux at this time was very crowded with Spaniards who were exiles of various positions such as aristocrats, military and businessmen. Here he connected with is old friend and in-law Martin Miguel de Goicoechea. Goicoechea was a wealthy cloth industry businessman.

They had become in-laws in 1805 when Goicoechea's daught, Gumersinda de Goicoechea married Javier de Goya, son of Francisco. This is when the two gentlemen became grand associates.

As a wedding gift, one of many, Goya painted his son and future daughter-in-law in standing portraits. On neutral backgrounds, he portrays the pair in their latest fashions bathed in light and characterized by a symphony of grays and whites. The small dog might have been real or a Romantic pet prop used to show their enlightened and educated stance. 


Goya continuing to work in Bordeaux until his death at age 82 on April 16, 1828. Because Leocadia Zorrilla was a political liberal who had been living with a widow out of wedlock, the Catholic Church had very strict rules regarding giving last sacraments to the artist. And the records testify that, in fact, Goya did not receive them.

He was laid to rest in the cemetery of La Chartreuse. He was buried in the same crypt as his friend Martin Miguel de Goicoechea, who had died three years earlier.

In 1888, the Spanish consul in Bordeaux, Joaquín Pereyra, made a note to Maria Christina Henrietta Désirée Félicité Rénière, who was Queen of Spain, second wife of the deceased King Alfonso XII, that the Spanish authorities should really repatriate the remains of Goya.

Thus, in 1888, the exhumation of both Goya and Goicoechea took place in front of the Police Commissioner of the Judicial Delegations, the Inspector of Cemeteries, the Director of Funeral Pouches, Spanish Consul Pereyra, as well as Goya's friend, the French artist Gustave Labat.

Labat recounts, "We found ourselves in the presence of two boxes, without any plates, and we proceeded to open both. In the farthest one from the entrance were the bones of one person. In the other box were all those from another body, except the head."

The Spanish Consul Pereyra wrote at the time that there was no doubt that the headless skeleton was Goya, since he had the cape and rosary with which he had been buried.


Needless to say, many an imagination ran wild and speculations flew as to the whereabouts of Goya's head.

Of course the grandson of the artist Dionisio Fierros was questioned. Investigators wanted to know how the skull of Goya could have been painted in 1849, when they had only discovered it missing in 1888 - 39 years difference?

Reports started to spread that the painter Fierros had a skull in his studio that he never let out of his sight. A skull that would later be inherited by his son Nicolás, who took it to Salamanca when he began his medical studies. That skull unfortunately was destroyed in an experiment.


Madrid filmmaker Samuel Alarcón reports in his documentary, aimed at reviving the missing Goya head mystery, that according to D. Héctor Vallés Varela from the Zaragoza Royal Academy of Medicine, the theory that Goya's head might have been secretly separated from the body at the cemetery was impossible.

Vallés remarks, "Cutting a head from a corpse is not easy because there are bones, muscles and tendons, and blood, a lot of blood."

Vallés backed up his theory by performing a craniometric study according to the principles of forensic anatomy. Vallés measured the proportions of the skull of Fierros painting to the very last, 1826 portrait of Goya painted by the Valencian artist Vicente López Portaña.

He concluded that the study of the skull to the portrait was a match.

He states, "They coincide perfectly. There is no doubt that Fierros went to the Prado and was inspired by López Portaña's painting "


There is no conclusion! The unsolved mystery of Goya's missing skull continues...