Francisco Goya Information

Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). Goya's first etchings were copies after the paintings of Diago De Velázquez. These etchings made by Goya were first published in 1778. During that time, etchings and engravings in Spain were primarily used for religious illustration and reproduction.

At the age of forty-seven, in 1793, Goya suffered a near-fatal illness that left him permanently deaf. While convalescing he occupied himself with painting, drawing and etching scenes of 'fantasy and invention', and for the rest of his life he produced imaginative graphic works in parallel to his commissioned paintings. For Goya, the etching was the medium through which he expressed his own ideas.

Goya's first series of satirical etchings, The Caprichos, (caprices or fantasies,) an album of eighty prints satirising 'follies and errors' of society, was published in 1799, but was quickly withdrawn from sale, probably because of threats from the Spanish Inquisition. The series attests to the artist's political liberalism and his revulsion towards ignorance and intellectual oppression; at the same time it mirrors Goya's ambivalence toward authority and the church. Los Caprichos deals with specific themes such as the Spanish Inquisition, the abuses of the church and the nobility, witchcraft, child rearing and avarice. The subhuman cast of Los Caprichos includes goblins, monks, procuresses, prostitutes, witches, animals acting like human fools, and aristocrats; these personages populate the world on the margins of reason, where no clear boundaries distinguish reality from fantasy.

During the bloody war against the French occupation Francisco Goya etched The Disasters of War, (1810-14), his second series of etchings. The Disasters of War series depicts detailed horrifying scenes of violence and destruction, such as he himself must have witnessed. To the original sixty-one prints Goya later added a further twenty 'allegorical caprichos', and these provide an important link to the later Disparates. The Disasters of War were never published in Goya's lifetime, although two sets of proofs were bound, numbered and captioned in the artist's hand.

La Tauromaquia, (bullfight), is one of Goya's greatest series of etchings. It is different from the others, however, because it was published under his direct supervision in 1816. Goya's other series, Los Caprichos, The Disasters of War, and Los Disparates, were all controversial in nature, and were not finished in his lifetime. La Tauromaquia, a series of thirty-three etchings, was based upon a national pastime of Spain, the bullfight, and was less of a threat to the established institutions.

This series depicts 'different maneuvres and actions in the art of bullfighting' (of which Goya was an aficionado). Goya's prints on the subject were not the traditional view of the bullfighter. For example, the bull is often the heroic and noble figure. The humans are depicted in many instances at the moment of death or defeat, whereas the bull is the more intelligent and the more triumphant of the two participants. The few human figures who are represented as heroic are not typical either. Most of them exhibit unusual feats of skill and grace.

Goya's prints for La Touromaquia were arranged chronologically as a complete documentary on the bullfight throughout Spanish history. The series begins with the fight's origins in Spain, brought by the Moors. The six plates dedicated to the Moorish contribution relate how they performed the sport on foot in the arena, as it would later be done. The series then turns to represent the Spanish Christians, who took over the sport from the Muslims around the twelfth or thirteenth century. They performed the sport on horseback, and it became a tournament of the nobility. Finally, at the turn of the eighteenth century, the bullfight returned to the commoners, who on foot, brought the bullfight to the artistic and beautiful level that Francisco Goya found most appealing.

Because Goya concentrated on the history of bullfighting, even through its more archaic past, La Touromaquia, presumably intended to help relieve Goya's financial problems, were not a commercial success. The Disparates (1816-23) were etched on the same batch of large-scale English copper plates as The Tauromaquia.

Goya was in his seventies when he made his last great series of etchings, The Disparates, between 1816 and 1823. With the 'black paintings' they are his most private and enigmatic works, and their meaning remains obscure to this day. The plates and a few working proofs were stored with his son when Goya went into exile in 1824, and they were not discovered until after his death. The series was left incomplete: the only certain clue to Goya's intentions are the captions on fourteen of the proofs, written in his hand, thirteen of which begin with the word 'disparate' - meaning 'folly' or 'absurdity'. The Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid published the first edition of eighteen of the prints in 1864, under the title 'Los Proverbios', on the (unproven) assumption that they illustrate popular Spanish proverbs. The Disparates include many themes familiar from Goya's earlier works: satanic rituals, war, carnival festivities, clerics, aristocrats, giants and monstrously deformed creatures. Social satire and fantasy are combined in profound, despairing indictments of human folly and cruelty.

Goya always seems to have made drawings for his etchings. The drawings which exist for most of The Disparates, in red chalk and sanguine wash, are wild and expressive - quite different from the prints, indicating that he improvised more than usual while working directly on the etching plate.

Goya left Spain for exile in France in 1824 and died in Bordeaux at the age of eighty four in 1828. In his final years, with his health and eyesight failing, Francisco Goya continued to work on etchings and lithographs (Bulls of Bordeaux) using a magnifying glass.


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