Viva Espana: Day 19 – Goya of Zaragoza

While I was at the Prado, the most popular exhibits were easily the work of Goya and particularly an exhibition called “The Black Paintings”.

Goya’s paintings, drawings, and engravings reflected contemporary historical upheavals and influenced important 19th- and 20th-century painters.

From what I had previously seen and, do bear in mind that I am no art critic, but his early work seemed to be the usual type of work from this period: portraits (of patrons) and religious (bear in mind the power of the Church in Spain). It’s all a bit ‘chocolate box illustration’. (I do not have any art appreciation qualifications).

Goya became a court painter to the Spanish Crown in 1786 and this early portion of his career is marked by portraits of the aristocracy and royalty, with Rococo-style tapestry designed for the royal palace.

It’s his later work that gets more interesting because of what was going on his life and in Spain.

After a visit to the castle this morning…

…I headed to Zaragoza’s Goya Museum.

Goya was a private man, and although letters and writings survive, little is known about his thoughts. He had a severe and undiagnosed illness in 1793, which left him deaf, after which his work became progressively darker and pessimistic. He associated with a number of (pre) Enlightenment era thinkers who were heavily criticial of the power of the Spanish Inquisition, the power of the aristocracy, and the social norms of the time (e.g. superstition and marriages of convenience).

His later easel and mural paintings, prints, and drawings appear to reflect a bleak outlook on personal, social, and political levels, and contrast with his earlier social climbing – perhaps as a result of experience?

He was appointed Director of the Royal Academy in 1795, the year Manuel Godoy made an unfavourable treaty with France. In 1799, Goya became Primer Pintor de Cámara (Prime Court Painter), the highest rank for a Spanish court painter.

In 1807, Napoleon led the French army into the Peninsular War against Spain. Goya remained in Madrid during the war, which seems to have affected him deeply. Although he did not speak his thoughts in public, they can be inferred from his Disasters of War series of prints (although published 35 years after his death, hidden for being contentious at the time) and his 1814 paintings The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808. Other works from his mid-period include the Caprichos and Los Disparates etching series, and a wide variety of paintings concerned with insanity, mental asylums, witches, fantastical creatures along with religious and political corruption, all of which suggest that he feared for both his country’s fate and his own mental and physical health.

At this point, he was publishing his work as prints. For me, there are real parallels with Hogarth – similar techniques and critiques of society.

His late period culminates with the Black Paintings of 1819–1823, applied on oil on the plaster walls of his house the Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man) where, disillusioned by political and social developments in Spain, he lived in near isolation. Goya eventually abandoned Spain in 1824 to retire to the French city of Bordeaux, accompanied by his much younger maid and companion, Leocadia Weiss, who may or may not have been his lover. There, he completed his La Tauromaquia series and a number of other, major, canvases.

Following a stroke which left him paralyzed on his right side, and with failing eyesight and poor access to painting materials, he died and was buried on 16 April 1828 aged 82. His body was later re-interred in the Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid. Famously, the skull was missing, a detail the Spanish consul immediately communicated to his superiors in Madrid, who wired back, “Send Goya, with or without head”.

The other remarkable aspect of Zaragoza’s history is the volume of Roman artefacts to be dug up.

It’s a remarkable city to visit.

Categories: Spain, Travel, Viva Espana, ZaragozaTags: , , , , , , , , ,
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