Art of Goya
Francisco de Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828)) was one of the most influential figures in Spanish art. He was also extremely important in the development of modern aesthetic sensibility, a forerunner of Romanticism, both in the content of his paintings, with their in-depth exploration of reality and references to the dream world, and in his very original technique. His work embodies his personal imaginative visions, defying traditional academicism and conventional subjects.
Goya described himself as a pupil of Velazquez, Rembrandt, and nature: from Velazquez, he acquired a feeling for softly shaded colour, applied in layers: from Rembrandt, his predilection for dark and mysterious background settings; and from nature, he took an endless variety of forms, some beautiful, some not. Goya was a keen observer of contemporary society and recorded the sense of unease caused by Spain's moral and political crisis in the closing years of the 18th century: he also portrayed with dexterity the picturesque quality and gaiety of the life of Madrid's majas; the religious life of the people and the enthusiasm for progress and technology (The Air Balloon, 1818-19).
Goya was liberal minded, a man of the Enlightenment, and his social circle was made Lip of progressive intellectuals. He turned his attention to the world of the dispossessed - in The Wounded Mason and Winter (1786-87), for example - and later to the mysterious world of sorcery and witchcraft, which was already popular among writers of the time. lie also strongly and graphically denounced injustice and cruelty, and the false morality and bigotry of religious hypocrites. In his Los Caprichos series (1797-99). Goya highlighted the evils of ignorance and superstition, attempting to exorcise them with his mercilessly lucid portrayals.
As chief Court painter, he painted superb portraits of the Spanish nobility and royalty, often influenced by Velazquez; echoes of the famous Las Meninas are evident in The Family of Charles IV. Using extraordinarily skilful pictorial effects, he accurately portrayed the Rococo opulence of furnishings and fashions, the aristocratic assurance of his subjects' poses, while subtly recording the pettiness and vanity of a corrupt and complacent ruling class.
The French invasion, the subsequent popular uprising, the horrors of war. and disillusion at the realization that the supposed liberators were merely new oppressors, all prompted Goya to bear witness to events either in a realistic or an allegorical manner; his series of etchings The Disasters of War (1810-20) brings to mind Callot's earlier series. In 1819, he became seriously ill, and grew more introspective. He embarked on the strange and brilliant "black paintings'' cycle, which combined a very personal vision with his persistent religious themes. His preoccupation with human folly lasted right up until his death in 1828.
The two chief aspects of Romanticism are combined in the work of Goya: the exploration of the frontiers of a deeper life and the integration of historical fact. In The Colossus, Goya portrays the giant as bestial and strangely still. He stands against the dark and misty skies, hovering above a land populated by fleeing people. The painting represents the looming catastrophe of war, and the abandonment of humanity to the destructive force of instinct.
Other key Goya works include Saturn Devouring His Own Son (1821-23), an allegory of Spain destroying her own people, and a "reportage" of 65 etchings. The Disasters of War, executed between 1810 and 1820. In these, the artist illustrates the massacres, rapes, violence, assassinations, profanities, and crimes committed by both the French and Spanish armies during the Napoleonic occupation. An obscure, curious, and irrational element was apparent in Goya's work. In his series of etchings Los Caprichos (published in 1799), there is none of the gaiety often dominant in similarly titled works by Tiepolo, Fragonard, or Guardi.
The artist also questioned the excesses of his imagination in Capricho No. 43, a self-portrait. His head lies against a solid base, a metaphor for order within the world, while he is in the middle of a nightmare. He entitled the piece "The sleep of reason produces monsters", adding, "imagination abandoned by reason generates monstrosity; together they form the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels." This phrase sums up the aesthetic ideal of Romanticism, for which art does not "redeem" sickness, irrationality, or death but actually emanates from the same source.
Goya's work was extremely advanced for its time, demonstrating an astonishing technical skill in both etching and painting. His works are characterized by problems and conflicts, unknown in 18th-century iconography, and a sparse, bleak treatment of landscape. Goya's portraits often reveal the extraordinary inner complexities of the human soul - they can illustrate at once arrogance, authority, and a sense of emptiness. Even when he was painting official canvases such as the celebrated group portrait The Family of Charles IV (1800-01), the human frailty of the subjects was made apparent.
Goya's technique for painting nudes was to have a decisive influence on late Romantic and even Impressionist painting. His The Maja Nude (1800) is probably one of the most famous nudes in the history of art. He was also master of fresco painting, as is clear from the terrifying "black paintings" (1820-22) from the "House of the Deaf Man'', his country home, which were transferred to canvas in 1873. Unique for his time, Goya prefigured many of the themes of modern art in a wide-ranging body of work that displayed an unrivalled intensity of expression.
The Importance of Goya
Goya's original technique of slashing brushstrokes made him a forerunner of anguished twentieth-century art. He was a great transitional figure who changed the tradition while he manifested the resent and prophesied the future. In his long life, he produced masterworks in a variety of artistic styles and he often depicted subjects in unsparing revelation.
Goya was a multifaceted artist who was interested in painting, drawing and in any other techniques that would lead to a more general diffusion of his work, as was the case with etching on metal or stone. Goya is not only remarkable for his command of the styles of the period, but also for the wide variety of genres and subject matters that he explored. He achieved the highest standards in religious paintings, portraiture, political and social satire, and studies of scenes from daily life. He also studied such diverse subjects as witchcraft, reports on contemporary events and the effects of war.
The influences on Goya's artistic development are clearly recognizable, although they did not stultify his own vision, and they acted as inspiration for his style of painting and the subject matter he dealt with. His influence on the history of painting and etching has been great, despite the fact that the number of direct disciples of his work have been small.
Goya's stylistic development was not a conventional one. Goya was an artist ahead of his time, who created works full of personality, both in painting and in engraving without ever conforming to the conventional. In effect, he predicted the predominant movements of the 19th and 20th century. Romanticism, Impressionism, Expressionism and Surrealism were the principal movements to be influenced by his work.
Francisco de Goya Art