Through his art, Francisco Goya relayed his feelings toward the political unrest that plagued Spain during his lifetime. As an artist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Goya lived through a time of political and social upheaval, especially throughout Europe. At the time, the ideas of the Enlightenment had captivated the minds of Spain’s most influential citizens and soon, that of Goya’s. Born in Fuendetodos, Spain, in 1746, Francisco Goya came from very humble beginnings.
As the son of a gilder, Goya grew up in the lower class of society, and even after his amazing success as court painter to Spanish royalty, he highly identified himself with the everyday Spaniard or majo. It is this very bond to the people that followed him throughout his life and career. Later, Goya’s portraits, drawings, etchings, and paintings would reflect an internal division that overcame him as his fame and fortune increased. Despite his future camaraderie with the Spanish elite, Goya’s early works often depicted the upper class as somewhat artificial or masked.
In fact, this masked-ness is a motif in many of Goya’s works. The contrast between classes is illustrated throughout his tapestry cartoons. These cartoons accurately depict Spanish men and women doing a range of things from enjoying leisurely activities, working, and carrying out very Spanish traditions. Although Goya had a profound connection to his majos and majas, he also shared the beliefs of enlightened thinkers of the times. Figures like Jovellanos, minister to king Charles III, appealed to the other side of Goya.
Jovellanos and other Spanish reformers would later be his patrons and comrades and they certainly did not advocate a traditional Spain or for the traditional views of the majevos. Goya’s artistic talents catapulted him to the top of his craft, however he did not forget his origins. Through his art alone, he illustrated the lives of Spaniards both rich and poor in a and time of struggle and democratic revolution, and captured the utter brutality and stupidity of war. Goya’s tapestry cartoons, executed in the late 1780’s and early 1790’s, were highly praised for their candid views of everyday Spanish life.
At the time, Goya had not yet begun moving in the circles of royal patronage, instead, his attention was on the average men and women of Spain and their lifestyles. This was the most important period in his artistic development. As a tapestry designer, Goya found his style as an artist and learned to paint freely. The experience helped him become a keen observer of human behavior. His study of the works of his predecessor, Velazquez, in the royal collection, would later result in a looser, more spontaneous painting technique. In 1778, Goya painted his popular piece, The Blind Guitarist.
This cartoon depicts class separation with the light illuminating on the aristocrats and the villagers cast off to the side and illustrated as shadows. By the mid-1780’s, Goya had begun painting the world around him. In his collection, The Four Seasons, bucolic scenes of spring, summer and fall along with peasants trudging through a winter snowstorm, depict a monumental style with fewer figures more clearly delineated compared to the earlier cartoons. Spring and fall have clearly aristocratic overtones. In Spring, a woman of noble demeanor accepts flowers offered by a kneeling woman whose figure is derived from one of the maids.
In Autumn, a man and a woman hold a bunch of grapes; a symbol of fertility and fidelity, confirmed by the young child. The child is clearly the offspring of the noble couple rather than the peasant woman because of his attire, a one-piece suit that recalls the one depicted in Goya’s portrait of Don Manuel Oserio in 1788. The women at the center of both these pieces seem to have more in common with the aristocrats in Goya’s portraits of these years than with the stereotypical women who populated the cartoons he executed before 1780.
The harsher seasons are occupied by the labors of peasants. Summer, the largest cartoon ever executed by Goya, shows a scene of rest and festivities after the harvesting of hay by peasants whose coarseness is apparent in their impolite gestures and postures as well as their inebriation. In Winter, peasants trudge through the storm with a slaughtered pig. The bright pink used in the color of the pig is symbolic of the Rococo style. A fierce wind blows the tree to near breaking, further communicating the harshness of the weather.
Among the colorful scenes that make up this set, it is undoubtedly in those dedicated to winter that Goya manifests, for the first time in this cartoon, a social awareness of the everyday reality around him, the same consciousness that would evolve toward the more extreme and dramatic works characteristic of his maturity. The social commentary of this painting lead to its rejection by the Royal Tapestry Factory. Francisco Goya’s questioning and irreverent attitude toward life was graphically conveyed in his works.
His success with the Royal Tapestry Workshop brought his artistic talents to the attention of the Spanish monarchs who would later give him access to the royal court. As court painter (1789), he created realistic, penetrating portraits of his patrons. Perhaps the most notable portrait painted during this time, is that of The Family of Charles IV. In this piece, Goya does not emphasize on any particular member of the family. No significant focus is placed on the king, whom one would assume the portrait should predominantly be about.
He and the queen have very little domination of the portrait. The domesticity of the scene is palpable. It is summation of the Court, but it is, above all, a picture of a model family according to the ideas of the Enlightenment. This portrait clearly relays Goya’s internal tension. As a proponent of reform, Goya’s portrait could have served as an inspiration to the people of Spain, and perhaps help the notion of change become more popular amongst them. However, with his portrayal of the royal family who were avid supporters of the Enlightenment, he did not project it as a worthy cause.
Instead, Charles IV and his family appear inept and incapable of successfully carrying out their roles as Spanish dignitaries. The disharmonious image of many in the portrait, looking in different directions further illustrates the family’s incompetence. Upon seeing the portrait, Charles IV neither a liked or disliked the piece. This reaction or lack thereof, can be attributed the king’ unawareness of the evident unflattering sarcasm. The family portrait led a later critic to summarize the subject as the, “grocer and his family who have just won the lottery prize. Goya himself can be seen behind his canvas and is barely noticeable at the left and cast off in the shadows; his features are dryly sarcastic as he gazes beyond his subjects to the viewer.
Under the rule of the weak Charles IV, Spain fell into political and social corruption, which culminated with the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in April 1808. In 1799, in response to the social repression and economic crisis, Goya published Los Caprichos. Influenced by Enlightenment thinking, Goya set out to analyze the human condition and condemn social abuses and superstitions. Los Caprichos was his passionate declaration that social ackwardness had to be eliminated if humanity was to progress. The series attests to the artist’s political liberalism and his revulsion towards ignorance and intellectual oppression; at the same time it reflects Goya’s ambivalence toward authority and the church, the antithesis of the Enlightenment. Los Caprichos includes motifs of the Spanish Inquisition, the abuses of the church and the nobility, witchcraft, and the frivolity of young women. The often bestial cast of Los Caprichos includes goblins, monks, clergymen, prostitutes, witches, animals acting like human fools, and aristocrats.
These public figures inhabit the world on the margins of reason, where no clear boundaries distinguish reality from fantasy. In addition to being a response to national difficulties, Los Caprichos was also a response to personal difficulties faced by Goya. In 1792, he fell gravely ill and went completely deaf. This, coupled with the turmoil unfolding before him in Spain, produced the nightmarish images seen in Los Caprichos and later in his Black Paintings. In 1814, six years after it’s occurrence, Goya created The Third of May 1808 painting. This scene commemorates Spanish opposition to French occupation.
By this point in history, Charles IV had abdicated the throne to his son Ferdinand VII and Napoleon’s efforts to relinquish him of his position resulted in the tragedy depicted in The Third of May. In this masterful piece, a French firing squad is seen executing a number of civilians in Madrid in retaliation for the murder of some of Napoleon’s troops by Spanish troops. Goya was in Madrid at the time the execution took place and made visits to the site later to make sketches of it to ensure the accuracy of his depiction of the dismal hillside and distant city.
His main concern, however, was not the accurate recording of fact, but the expression of empathetic horror for the agonies of his fellow Spanish men facing execution. He uses light on the images of the peasants to manifest his sympathy. Irony is also expressed through the use of this light. France is the country of Enlightenment and liberal and progressive change, but on this unfortunate day, it brings death and chaos rather then the reform Goya had come to admire. Unlike the realism of The Family of Charles IV portrait, Goya’s method here is coarse and extreme in its departure from optical fact.
The postures and gestures of the figures are distorted to illustrate defiance and terror. The peasant in focus bears a stigmata depicting him as a martyr. The French firing squad, a representation of modern warfare, are depersonalized. They become an anonymous, murderous wall, while the victims are portrayed as separate individuals, each facing the moment of death in his own way. The intense reality in it stress on the experience of the individual as one among many. During the Napoleonic usurpation of the Spanish throne and the consequent War of Independence (1808-1813), Goya had an enigmatic record.
Despite his appall to the war, Goya along with several other heads of families in Madrid on December of 1808, swore allegiance to the invader. In 1810 he attended the Academy to greet its new protector appointed by Joseph Bonaparte, but that same year he began work on his series of 80 etchings, The Disasters of War, which, in many cases, is an unambiguous condemnation of the Napoleonic war, although the expressionistic rendering makes the series a universal protest against the horrors of war.
Goya applauded, understandably, the French suppression of the Inquisition and the secularization of religious orders. Goya was the champion of Spanish people in their struggle against oppression and the recorder of their life and sufferings during war. For the techniques of his paintings, the satire of his etchings, and his belief that the artist’s vision is more important than tradition, Goya is often regarded as “the first of the moderns. ” His adamant portrayal of his times marks the beginning of 19th century realism.
His sympathy for those struggling to free themselves from French military domination of Spain was brought to the attention of the world through his work, and reflects his commitment to his roots and the extent of his talent. Although he could have ignored the cries of his people in a time of turmoil, like many high ranking people often do, Goya did not. Instead, he relates to them through art and illustrates their endeavors as though he too were being affected. His dedication to the cause has earned him the title as one of Spain’s greatest artists.