La Loca (?)

IMG_1307I’m always considering self presentation in my sculptures, but this is a case where the subject’s identity has been largely formulated by outside forces, both during her lifetime and after her death. Juana of Castile was the 16th Century Spanish Queen who never actually ruled. The biggest question surrounding her persona is whether or not she was ‘mad’. She’s commonly referred to as ‘Juana La Loca’. She caught my attention when I saw an 11’ x 16’ history painting of her (at the Prado) staring dejectedly at her husband’s coffin in the middle of a bleak landscape, surrounded by a procession of bewildered supporters. You forget there is a crowd in this painting because Juana is so commanding of your attention. Francisco Pradilla Ortiz depicts her slump shouldered, eyes wide and unfocused, clothing blowing about her body. I visited her several times but waited until I came home to look into her story.


Doña Juana La Loca, Francisco Pradilla, 1877

Historians have been fascinated with Juana of Castile for centuries. Among the many claims to her personality traits are, madness, post partum depression, nymphomania, necrophilia, and excessive femininity (Fitts 7). Juana was married to Filipe (“The Fair”) of Austria for political reasons. Despite the arranged marriage, Juana and Filipe were reportedly quite attracted to each other, which led to 6 children, along with criticism of Juana’s ‘excessive’ sexual appetite. She was also quite expressive of her jealousy towards Filipe’s serial infidelity throughout their marriage. Juana unexpectedly became Queen of Castile when a series of events led to the death of her brother, then older sister and nephew, and finally, her mother. At this point, Juana’s father and husband co-conspired to declare her incompetent to rule (based on aforementioned behavior which was claimed as evidence of her madness). Filipe became the King of Castile, but died unexpectedly 6 months later at the age of 28. Juana intensely grieved her husband, refusing to leave his corpse and interacting with it in ways which led to claims of her possessing necrophiliac tendencies. Pradilla’s painting captures a moment on her pilgrimage with Filipe’s body to his final resting place in Granada. Juana’s father grasped this opportunity to declare her incompetent to rule once more and sequestered her to a castle in Tordesilles for the remaining 46 years of her life. Her son Carlos also came to benefit from this situation and took the Spanish crown during her continued confinement (Fitts 4).

There are many cases argued for Juana, including: sanity, insanity inherited through family genetics, and insanity imposed by abuse/confinement (Poeta 166-167). She’s been pushed and pulled in both directions, depicted as a weak and helpless woman prisoner to her own femaleness, and alternately as a completely self-aware feminist who embraces and amplifies her female attributes. Her life, for sure, was not an easy one, and there’s no way of knowing who she really was, let alone, how she wanted to be seen. I think that the many versions of her that have been presented throughout history both academically and fictionally tell us more about ourselves, and how we want to see her, than who she might have been.

Fitts, Alexandra. “The Seductive Narrative Appeal of a Madwoman Juana ‘la loca’ and Excessive Femininity.” Hypertexto 17. Winter (2013): 3-15. Print.

Poeta, Salvatore. “From Mad Queen to Martyred Saint: The Case of Juana la Loca  Revisited in History and Art on the Occasion of the 450th Anniversary of Her   Death.” Hispania 90.1 (2007): 165-172. Print.