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2 The work of Goya

Goya developed from a decorator of churches to a court artist, accomplished portraitist, satirical graphic artist and a painter of dark, nightmare visions. His work at court, for Carlos III and Carlos IV, involved both decorative work and a series of portraits of key figures who moved in court circles. As his official, public work became more sought after, however, he developed a parallel career as a graphic artist that seemed to express more freely a private view of the injustices, vices, follies and inhumanity of contemporary society. This shift coincided with his own increasing deafness. It also intensified as Spain was wracked by the grief and suffering of war provoked by the Napoleonic invasion. Some of the art that emerged from the Peninsular War and its aftermath suggested a shift of interest away from Enlightenment reform and towards more troubled, private fantasies and preoccupations. And yet the public at large perhaps was not ready for this. Although Goya's first major engraved series, Los Caprichos, went briefly on sale before being withdrawn, his later series, Disasters of War, was not published during his lifetime.

Exercise 1

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  1. How is the influence of the Enlightenment evident in Goya's early career?

  2. How were the effects of the Napoleonic invasion reflected in his art?

  3. In what ways did Goya's art move towards a Romantic concern with the darker forces of unreason, mystery and suffering?

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In 1814, when Napoleon was struggling to hold on to power, Goya painted this image of Napoleonic repression - the events in Madrid, of the 3rd of May 1808. Napoleon's troops executed Spaniards who had resisted French occupation of their city. The French firing squad, were responding to an uprising of the previous day the 2nd of May…
…when Napoleon's imperial guard, had been attacked by the people of Madrid. Goya said that he wanted to record in these scenes ‘ “Spain’s glorious insurrection against the tyrant of Europe”. Napoleon had actually projected himself as the bearer of Enlightenment reason, law and morals, and yet he had invaded Spain by devious means.
The Spanish people never accepted French occupation of their country, and made Napoleon pay dearly through uprisings that had led to heavily military losses.
Goya's overt anti-Napoleonic propaganda raises important issues about his art, that we'll be exploring in this video. How did he respond as an artist, to the power struggles within his country, and what does his work express, about the fate of enlightenment ideals in Spain?
On the face of it Goya would seem to represent Spain's heartland. He was born in its central province Aragon, a place of almost lunar emptiness. This is his birth village, Fuendetodos.
This is the house in which the artist was born, its now the centre of a small birthplace industry.
But perhaps his real spiritual home, was the ancient city, and capital of Aragon, Zaragossa, fifty five kilometres away. Here his father worked as a gilder. Zaragossa is not a cosmopolitan city, though strong traces remain, of the centuries of occupation by the Moors. Zaragossa's principal cathedral, El Pilar, was built by Spain's leading Baroque architect Herrera and would have been nearly built in Gaya’s day..
Commissions for artists in eighteenth century Zaragossa came overwhelming from the church.
Having set up his first studio nearby in 1771, this is Goya’s earliest major commission. The barrel vault that the small choir, at the east end of the cathedral of El Pilar. The theme, The Adoration of the Name of God, and the medium, the traditionally heroic technique of fresco, in which the paint is applied to wet plaster.
What do we know about his life ? We really don't know very much. For his early life we have his correspondence to his home town friend Martin Sabater but it's very cut and dried correspondence. It's often about, you know, going hunting, about the good times they used to have. Sometimes he'll refer to how much he was paid for a painting, sometimes he'll refer to investments. Once in a while he refers to a specific commission, such as The Meadow of Saint Isidir, a small tapestry sketch in Prado, and he says in the letter of 1788, that he is busy working on this theme. Other than that, there's not a lot we have to go on.
We do know that Goya went to Italy, staying in Pama and Rome, and in doing so availed himself of the ideal grounding for an eighteenth century artist.
This kind of training would serve as a n ideal preparation for work in the Royal Palaces, whose staff he was trying to join through a network of family connections.
The Spanish royal family was based here in Madrid at the Royal Palace. The palace had been built by Philip V and was intended to rival the great French palace of Versailles, and be counted amongst the most prestigious courts in Europe.
Goya had established a good reputation as a portrait painter and these skills were appreciated at the Courts of Carlos III and Carlos IV who employed him as an official court artist..
There's an eighteenth century informality in some of Goya's portraits, which fits in with the Spanish monarchy's wish to come closer to European style.
The presence of an opera house, as part of the palace complex, is symptomatic of an eighteenth century interest in the arts, culture, and science
The Spanish court took a number of initiatives in the scientific spirit of the Enlightenment. Here for example we're in the Royal Botanical Gardens, where plants from the Philippines and South America were introduced.
Carlos III established these gardens, so that plant species could be protected, classified and studied. The gardens were laid out, so that they provided an orderly rational display, of a wide range of plants trees and shrubs. In the late eighteenth century, the Spanish court was keen to display its enlightenment credentials and its national accomplishments in both arts and sciences.
The Prado opened as a museum in 1819, to display the court's art collection
The astronomical observatory opened in 1790, one of only four of its kind in Europe.
Goya was not an intellectual, but his portraiture of the 1790's, often shows the props and facial expressions, of what has been termed ‘The Light of Reason’. Was he sympathetic to these people ? His portrait of Antonio Melendez Valdez, the francophile poet and professor is marked prominently as “by his friend Goya”.
I think part of the biography that has been invented for Goya, is ‘Goya the Enlightened Man’ . Enlightened in the sense of attending Tertullas ( the Spanish equivalent of the French Salons ) where people would talk about political ideas. Invented in the fact of saying, you know, claiming as his close friends, proponents of the Enlightenment whom he painted. Such as Gaspar de Jovellanos or Juan Melendez.
I don't think we should do that. Goya clearly painted these people, he knew these people. To suggest that he had regular discussions with them, I think is highly unlikely. I think there was a social divide between the painter and his close patrons. I think however Goya was a sponge for new ideas.
I think that Goya as with all great geniuses, had no problem following orders. I think that great geniuses grow in response to their commissions, they don't see them as a humiliation. Goya was able to do both types of work, and keep a dialogue going on between them. This was an exceptional period, but we have to remember that he was surrounded by extraordinary people, and not just intellectuals.
At the court, the Infante Don Luis, the brother of Carlos III, with an undeniably important character. A refined person, and a great musicologist, a man who understood about art.
And there was the duchess of Osuna - she was an extraordinary woman, whom he painted several times - and she was also the first person who promoted his career. He met extraordinary men and women, and knew how to learn from those people.
Goya’s first duties in the Royal Household were relatively workaday. He had already built a reputation for his tapestry cartoons, the paintings used as the basis for weavers’ designs. He produced oversixty cartoons for royal residencies, including El Pardo, where the royal family spent their winters, and El Escorial, where they spent their summers.
Tapestry was the highest status wall covering in Spain at this period, so royal palaces needed a lot of them. Such extraordinary profusion, necessitated imagery that was easy on the eye.
These bright sunny images, were meant to be decorative. Because these designs were for private rooms, Goya could move away from the grand mythological subjects demanded for state rooms. These are light hearted scenes of Madrid's citizens at play: dancing, picnicking, brawling, blowing balloons, and flying kites.
By the 1790's, Goya had become the first choice artist for the ruling elite.
Ambitious politicians would seek him out to validate their status.
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Manuel Godoy, became first minister in 1792, and remained the royal favourite until the French invasion. This portrait by Goya, celebrates his success in a military campaign against Portugal. Godoy was a flagrant opportunist and patron of the arts. He was protector of The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and he commissioned many paintings… from Goya.
Godoy was an important conduit at court for Enlightened reform, although his reputation suffered through his rumoured liaison with the Queen. He said that what he wanted for the people was ‘ bread and Enlightenment, that produces bread’. Like other members of the court however, Godoy befriended Napoleon, allegedly as an enlightened ally. Napoleon tried to gain his favour, by promising him his own kingdom in the Algarve.
Napoleon’s intervention introduced into Sapin not only a turbulent and romantic 19th century Revolutionary but also an Enlightenment inspired French systematiser, convinced that superior French standards and institutions could be readily applied in Spain.
Goya’s personal imagery is similarly on the cusp of these two worlds.
There is a side of Goya's creativity that we can equate with, the sort of creative freedom of Romanticism, particularly the works that he did without a commission. I think it's important to make that distinction in Goya's career. After an illness in 1793, he worked on a small series of cabinet paintings - a variety of subjects - he delivered these to the Royal Academy, so that they could be seen by his colleagues. And in the letter that accompanies them, he talks about how these uncommissioned works have sort of him more breadth of creativity, then any of his works before.
Goya’s graphic series los Caprichos, was published in 1799, he explained his satirical and enlightment intentions in a newspaper advertisement saying that his subjects were chosen from among the multitude of extravagancies and follies which are common among civilised society.
I mean in a way, all his prints, and particularly in this set, are about light and darkness, the struggle between the light and the dark. And this print for example is called Nanny's Little Boy. It's number 4 in the series, and it shows a sort of horribly overgrown child, still in leading strings, a spoilt noble, who has learnt nothing, who is useless, who will be in leading strings for the rest of his life.
There's this quite biting social criticism then isn't it?
The Caprichos are very very biting social criticisms. There's some wonderful ones in the donkey series. I mean for example this is one of the most famous...
…the ass who is, all he can think about is his genealogy, his noble ascent, and of course what he shows you is his genealogical tree, which is one ass, after another, after another, after another. This set of prints was actually rather a hot potato. He’d been making it over a couple, two or three years from 1796 and it was a period when his friends were all in power in government and there was a great sort of feeling that this was going to be take-off, a new age for Spain, of liberalism, a proper government. As luck would have it, it came to a very abrupt end and his friends were sent packing from the ministries and set into exile.
It is to do with Goya realising that the period of classical art has already disappeared, how the potency of imagination cannot be controlled and how dreams are bother the fount of creativity and the fount of monstrosity and this is found not only in art but in contemporary life. The idea that really man can’t control himself although he may try to subdue nature.
Print making gave Goya an outlet for challenging and subversive ideas. He also rebelled against the convention of art imposed by the Royal Academy.
I will give a proof to demonstrate with facts that there are not rules in painting and that the oppression or servile obligation of making all study or follow the same path is a great impediment for the young, who profess this very difficult art. I do not see any other means of advancing the arts nor do I believe there is one, than to reward and protect he who excels in them. To hold in esteem the true artist, to allow free reign to the genius of students, who wish to learn them without oppression nor imposition of methods that twist the inclination they show to this or that style of painting.
In his role as court artist, however, Goya fulfilled official expectations. In important public commissions, such as this portrait of the family of Carlos the fourth, Goya reflected the glory and the splendour of the spanish monarchy.
Here we can see King Carlos IV, and Queen Maria Luisa, surrounded by members of their family, including here, a future Ferdinand VII. Some have seen this group portrait with it’s worn faces an ungainly poses as unflattering.
The general composition was based loosely on Velasquez’ Las Meninas a famous image by a Spanish master, guaranteed to arouse national pride. Velasquez had the status, and the confidence, to put himself into the picture, all be it respectfully in the middle distance…
…in his royal group, Goya also avails himself of this privilege.
I think that as patrons, the king and queen had very good taste, they cou ld immediately see Goya's talent. And Goya was very grateful that the king and queen appreciated him. I don't think that the painting of The Family of Carlos IV contains a hidden satirical meaning. I think that Goya painted the royal family many times, and that they were very knowledgeable about art. And they liked to be painted in the style that was fashionable at that time, and that style was a naturalistic one.
He painted that wonderful portrait of the family of Carlos IV, right after he was promoted to the long awaited position of First Court Painter. The portrait was painted in 1800, he had received that title of First Court Painter in 1799. And the last thing he was about to do was to satirise his patrons.
Goya’s attitudes towards contemporary events were expressed most frankly, perhaps, in his engravings. This is the original title page to his graphic series “The Disasters of War”. It refers to the fatal consequences of the bloody war in Spain with Bonaparte.
He got involved immediately, and he went off to Zaragossa which was his, almost his home town, with the idea that he would paint and draw after a seige, to see what had happened to this city.
And it opens with this kind of vision of the scenes that are going to come, and as you go through, you see these extraordinary scenes of this common people taking up pitchforks knives, anything they could get hold of, and fighting the heavily armed troops. Here are the women coming in to attack, with their babies. This is a kind of, ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ scene isn't it ? He uses of course, he uses all the traditional Raphaelesque kind of motifs, but he turns them into these extraordinary modern images.
This is a hero of the seige of Saragossa, who when all the men had been shot and fell at the feet of the guns, as she climbed over their dead bodies and fired the cannon against the French, it was a well known, and very real story.
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The majority of the Spanish Enlightenment figures - even those who had supported the French during the peninsula war - were supporters of the fight against the French invasion. What I think happened, is that Goya, when the Independence War began, had an ability to separate the horrors of war from the national struggle, and the proof is in The Disasters of War. I don't think that Goya sees the participants any more as French, Spanish or British, he sees them as subject and object of the horror. And that I think is to a certain extent the normal evolution for an acceptable sensibility. I think that in the end, Goya is humanitarian, more than he is political.
It's a fearsome scene, guerilla fighters who've been stripped of their clothes, and are being given a rather unchristian burial just by being tossed into a pit, and the title which he writes onto the proof, ‘Caridad ‘ - Charity.
Says it all. And in the background, this figure here, is, I think generally accepted as a self portrait of the artist, with a rather grim expression on his face.
What you bear in mind with an image like this, which is overwhelming really, is that, in effect what he's done is he's gone back to his youth in Italy, he's used his little notebook that he made in Italy, in which he copied classical antique statues. And these are like fragments of classical statues. I mean, you can hardly imagine a more formally extraordinary, perfect conception, as a graphic image. That's the image that came to him when he heard that people were being butchered, and had their body parts strung up on trees.
It's important to say that even if the Enlightenment per se didn't happen, those little rays of hope that might have illuminated Spain - the Enlightenment ideas that might have arrived there - were cut short with Napoleonic invasion. And I'd say not cut short so much because of the the invasion itself, but because of the Spanish reaction to it. They saw the invasion of the French, they saw the French indeed as an evil society, that embodied all those nasty ideas of the Enlightenment, even if they hadn't come to know the ideas of the Enlightenment.
Goya's illnesses began in 1792, and may have been lead poisoning. The most significant effect was a loss of hearing which, many have speculated, may have had an effect on his art.
In 1793 a second attack left him deaf for life. And what that might have meant, well we'll never really know. The question one asks is, what happens to how you see when you no longer hear ? Suddenly you become much more aware of expression, of faces, and I think that might have played a major role in Goya's work of the 1790's when you look at the drawings, when you look at the interest in caricature, when you look at the expressions.
Curiously, when he became successful, Goya bought a country house outside Madrid, which was already known as ‘The House of the Deaf Man’.
For the principle rooms, he painted the walls in consciously constructed schemes of classical and personal references. These so called Black Paintings, were subsequently chipped from the walls when the house was demolished in the mid nineteenth century, suffering enormously in the process. Hung in the Prado, they have been construed as signifying the artist's increasing pessimism about himself, and perhaps about Spain. But the precise meaning of much of the imagery, remains elusive and certainly doesn’t demonstrate Enlightenment rationality.
When Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne he repressed all earlier attempts to give Spain a liberal Constitution and reinstated the Inquisition. His Rule was not sympathetic to Enlightenment ideas.
Which brings us to the genesis of Goya's most famous image, and its less famous prequel. As with so many of Goya's works, the notion of ‘the national artist documenting a national tragedy’ is only part of the story.
He wrote a letter to the interim government saying I would like your support to document the heroism of the Spanish people against the invaders. That’s the only document we have about those paintings. We don't know anything about them after that. What were they used for ? When were they finished ? When were they painted ? Probably, certainly around 1813 1814. There has been some speculation that they might have decorated a triumphal arch erected for the occasion of Ferdinand VII’s re-entry into Madrid. But you know it's speculation - possibly - we don't know.
In Goya's art, Enlightenment ideals suffer a nightmare fate. The expressive horror of this image emerges from a context of dashed hopes of enlightened reform. The old monarchical regime had been overturned, and the new Napoleonic order had brought war and oppression before its collapse. Goya painted this work just before the tyrant Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne. and it's possible he wanted to prove his patriotism to this potential patron. He rarely expressed political views so openly, particularly in public works.
Goya perceived something that was emerging among the Spanish population. He understood how in the contemporary period, that moral victory would be for the vanquished and not for the victors. So when he depicts anonymous people just as they are, with arms forming a cross, and gives the executed man a bright white shirt, every viewer understands that the moral victory is for the one who is going to die, and not that anonymous killing machine, those grey faceless French troops.
The hero of this piece adopts the pose of a crucified Christ, and there are stigmata on his hands. To the left, a priest prays in desperation. These details would have made an impact on Goya's contemporaries, who had by now come to see Napoleon as the Antichrist. And Goya would have known of Ferdinand VII's allegiance to the Catholic church.
How did the people react to these works ? Did they think they were a wonderful sort of heroic production of the patriotism of the Spanish people ? Or alternatively - because I mean if one looks at 2nd of May, one sees, ‘rabble’… I mean lower classes sort of fighting, and they certainly are not heroes in any traditional sense - might that sort of commemoration of the masses have found favour with a royal patron who, like most royalty he always had to fear the masses ?
Or were these paintings you know put up, and then sort of, put away as quickly as possible ? From the last records, one might think they were put away as quickly as possible.
There are other allegories: there's a contemporary of Goya … …Jose Aparicio who did a very neoclassical allegory of the patriotism and the heros of May 2nd, in which, you know you have the neoclassical dying bodies, all centred on the bust of Ferdinand VII. You know, a very dry allegory, but one that was then engraved. So clearly since it was engraved, it was disseminated. Goya's painting - there’s no such record. So my guess would be that, if they were exhibited they were quickly taken down and stored away - where - we don't know at this point.
Goya’s Third of May 1808 sets the tone for the feelings of doubt, 14 disillusion and the terror that were to lie at the heart of Romanticism.
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  1. After beginning to work at the Spanish court Goya painted the portraits of many of Spain's leading Enlightenment figures. Madrid was at the time a centre of enlightened developments in science, astronomy and the arts. Although we cannot infer from this any clear allegiance by Goya to the ideals of the Enlightenment, he did frequent a milieu receptive to Enlightenment ideas, even if these ideas were not yet widespread in Spain as a whole. You may have noticed that they were largely restricted to court circles and to the ruling intelligentsia. His advertisement for the print series, Los Caprichos, also betrayed some sharing of the Enlightenment's aim to correct folly, injustice and vice. (You may also be interested to know that Godoy commissioned from Goya a series of allegorical paintings on the Enlightenment themes of science, industry, agriculture and commerce, thus suggesting his own Enlightenment credentials.)

  2. In the Second of May 1808, the Third of May 1808 and the engraved series, Disasters of War, the Napoleonic invasion is seen as an act of violent oppression that acted as a spur to patriotic fervour, heroism and courage. War is seen primarily as a crime against humanity.

  3. The Disasters of War and the so-called Black Paintings are among the later works of Goya that suggest indefinable, mysterious or irrational subjects and a unique, original artistic vision. War is seen mainly as an indiscriminate creator of victims and suffering. Goya's view on the Academy rebels against the tyranny of rules, and it might be argued that there is a parallel between the unleashing of the irrational forces of war and developments in his artistic outlook. There had, of course, been signs of the grotesque and the irrational in earlier works such as Los Caprichos. But there the grotesque, the superstitious and the unjust had been contained within an essentially moralising and satirical framework. In the later works the reforming powers of reason seem absent or irrelevant, and the balance between empirical observation and fantasy seems to shift towards the latter. The light of reason gives way to the dark recesses of the imagination.

In his 1792 address to the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Goya had stressed the importance to artists of studying nature, as opposed to the uninformed, servile copying of Greek statues or the following of rules proposed by those who have written about art:

It is impossible to express the pain that it causes me to see the flow of the perhaps licentious or eloquent pen (that so attracts the uninitiated) and fall into the weakness of not knowing in depth the material of which he writes; What a scandal to hear nature deprecated in comparison to Greek statues by one who knows neither the one, nor the other, without acknowledging that the smallest part of Nature confounds and amazes those who know most! What statue, or cast of it might there be, that is not copied from Divine Nature? As excellent as the artist may be who copied it, can he not but proclaim that placed at its side, one is the work of God, the other of our miserable hands? He who wishes to distance himself, to correct it [nature] without seeking the best of it, can he help but fall into a reprehensible and monotonous manner, of paintings, of plaster models, as has happened to all who have done this exactly?

(Quoted in Tomlinson, 1994, p. 306)

Figure 4
Figure 4 Francisco de Goya, Charity, Plate 27 of Disasters of War series, 1810–14, etching, 16.3 x 23.6 cm, private collection. Photo: Index/ Bridgeman Art Library.
Figure 5
Figure 5 Francisco de Goya, What Courage!, Plate 7 of Disasters of War series, 1810–14, etching, private collection. Photo: Index/Bridgeman Art Library.
Figure 6
Figure 6 Francisco de Goya, A Heroic Feat! With Dead Men!, Plate 39 of Disasters of War series, 1810–14, etching, 15.6x 20.8 cm, private collection. Photo: Index/Bridgeman Art Library.

Observation of nature, in the form of his contemporaries and their lives, certainly nourished Goya's own art. Increasingly, however, he engaged in a liberated form of artistry in which imitation became subservient to creativity: this was one of the key shifts inherent in the move from Enlightenment to Romanticism. His etching from the Los Caprichos series, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Plate V2.1) encapsulates this shift as a contest of truth and imagination. When first drawn and etched in 1797, this was envisaged as a frontispiece and was accompanied by the caption: ‘The Author Dreaming. His only intention is to banish those prejudicial vulgarities and to perpetuate with this work of caprichos the sound testimony of truth.’ Creatures of the night represent those ‘prejudices’. We see owls and bats (which then represented ignorance and the forces of darkness) and a lynx, emblem of the power of sight. It is an ‘ignorant’ owl that prompts the artist into action. The total effect is one of ambiguity. Will darkness predominate in the artist's mind, or will his vigilance and alertness help to expose and banish these creatures of the night, as befitted the satirical intention of the series?

Click to view Plate V2.1 The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .


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