Written by Francesca Urpi

This year the Prado Museum celebrates the 203 years of its existence. A great achievement for a collection of works that hosts among the best artists of all Europe. But there is one remarkable artist who makes this place rich in culture even more famous, and it is Goya. Francisco Goya, the famous artist, echoes in many corners of this place full of works, as the museum houses 311 of his paintings. An impressive number that allows us to review for a good part the stage of the artistic evolution of this Spanish painter. But first let’s analyze the life of this brilliant mind. 

Life of a great artist

Francisco Goya fits into a historical framework that is placed between Neoclassicism and Romanticism. First of all he was born in 1746 in Fuendentos, Spain. His great desire for success and glory will accompany him throughout his life. Thirsty for the painting techniques most used in his time, he had the opportunity to study as an apprentice in a laboratory in Zaragoza and then in Madrid, then traveling. The intention was to learn and hone his art. Italy was among the first destinations that allowed him to identify the art of Tiepolo, for example, around 1769. Then came the opportunity that allowed him to work in Spain for the frescoes for the basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, work that engages him in alternating stages for the next ten years with a Baroque style.

His style was much appreciated by the royal court of Spain who wanted to hire him, giving him numerous times the opportunity to portray the family. In 1785 he approached portraiture, creating conventional full-length poses but also with considerable psychological introspection and very little regard for the physical defects of the people portrayed. An ominous event that will mark him for life was the hearing loss. As often happens for those who lose a sense of perception, they are able to improve and increase another. Therefore this episode does not stop Goya, on the contrary. In step with this event, he slowly reworked his artistic and philosophical thinking, slowly changing his style and the subjects represented. If initially he was close to painting with soft and delicate tones, with vivid representations but placed in environments or noble or totally framed in a bucolic and relaxed, now his art changes. In fact, 1797 is a year of great changes because the work of the socalled “capricci” that is works with the use of etchings and aquatints begins. The novelty emerges from the moment in which monstrous characters are depicted, linked to witchcraft, a symbol of social protest against the prevailing society of the time. What is deduced is that as much as a personal event in the life of the artist may seem a pure accident, you then advance a deeper, vivid and rebellious thought towards the well-thinking noble class. His new look is projected directly towards not only unreal characters but above all real. If before then the Spanish royalty were shown in their best form, now they are sincerely true, authentic, in their authentic forms and at times ugly but still sincere. In conclusion, suffering from the historical and social situation of the time, he will give birth to the famous The shootings on 3 May, 1808, a symbol of the brutal French occupation of the Spanish population. His feeling, ever closer to the Enlightenment current, brought him closer to a thought aimed at reason, reason and science. This ideal embodied by him will never coincide with the court and especially with the return of the Bourbons and therefore of the monarchy that never willingly saw intellectual and artistic individualism as worthy of voice. A period, the latter, around 1819 will push him to self-execution and to prefer a life in the suburbs of Madrid. In this phase he created a series of works called “black paintings” created by oil in the muses of his home. Although there had been an attempt in 1824 for a fresh, liberal and progressive government, Spain did not undergo any changes, so Goya requested permission to move to France. In this new environment he portrays his loved ones and family, using the technique of lithography and then died in 1828 in Bordeaux.

Style of painting

Defining the style of Francisco Goya is like comparing it to a ring composition. His early works represent tonal colors, elegant and well-weighed. Models such as Velasquez and Rembrandt accompanied him in the early stages of painting. Sinuous and light lines, a harmonious feature that suited well to the style of the time. One work that embodies these traits is the Parasol of 1777. Elegant figures, placed in a warm and measured environment. Even full-figure representations of the reals are calibrated in the movements and arrangement of the characters but never in a random manner. The opera Carlo IV and his family of 1800 is of a marked genius. Although there may seem a simple real portrait, it is necessary to carefully observe all the characters and their story. The family represented in fact presents, as it were, numerous flaws. First of all because the figures are not placed in a homogeneous way inside the picture, but seem to be placed almost like a puzzle. A choice dictated by many aspects. For example, the woman on the right of Charles IV does not seem to be represented in a clear and decisive way and not by chance, because the noblewoman, at the time of the creation of the opera, was already dead. Even the king is depicted as an almost banal man, lacking in the arrogance and strength of a normal king. An innovative portrait, in short. A further detail is given by the self-portrait of the painter himself on the left, in half-light. This clarifies how much Goya, while being placed in a corner, almost hidden in the room, is instead a careful observer. Having had to give a portrait of the nobility, he managed to deceive his commission because he showed its flaws, revealing its flaws and desecrating it, elegantly. After years of influences and studies, he switched to a more accentuated, marked and well vibrant painting. The historical episodes, as already mentioned, have marked his life and of course his technique. He embraces a dark, gloomy painting that reflects his present as the clashes and brutality of war. Paintings related to the French subduction by Napoleonic troops such as 2 and 3 May 1808. To sketch characters as monstrous characters, linked to darkness. Think of Saturn devouring its children of 1823. A scene that already only from the mythical literary puts the chills and that in this almost animalistic representation, shows us a Saturn that voraciously swallows one of his sons, acephalous moreover, as to devour an inanimate figure. Only with the end of his career did he notice a return to the clear and sinuous compositions typical of the beginning of his career, such as the well-known Lactian of Bordeaux of 1827-28. 

El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid

This is the original title, in Spanish, because precisely of Spanish history, it comes. The historical event represented by the artist is a cross-section of one of the most tragic events occurred during the 1808 during the civil war. The Napoleonic troops had besieged the city and the rioters, that is, the population of Madrid is implacable invasion and so, rebels. The scene is completely immersed in a dark environment, from which only from a corner emerges a glimmer of light that allows us to admire the entire scene, as if it were a theatrical light that shows the pain of the rioters. The scenario seems to be summed up in the capitulated arms of the condemned to death who, in a pitiful and disillusioned expression, awaits his death. Note a great metaphor in crucified Jesus that in the same way, in many depiction waits for death with arms outstretched. The tragedy emerges from the very dark colors and the brushstrokes little meticolous, which enhance more the drama. The protagonist in fact is in perfect color contrast, since he wears a white shirt and bright yellow pants. The rather hispanic traits of the man are highlighed further by his frowny face mixed with pietism that create a greater emoziona climax. The characters that revolve around the central figure, however marginal, also express their allusions and metaphors of the feeling lived by the Spaniards of the time. The man who stands on the left with his fist clenched is the symbol of the anger of the people, the man who instead is on his knees, represents the total surrender to the enemy and the man who covers his face with his hands, shows without too many periphs the shame and discomfort experienced. In front of them a firing squad that awaits them, admirable the intention of the artist in wanting to represent the soldiers from behind, with only a bayonet in his arms. A reasoned choice almost to mean the anonymity of those who carry out the death sentence, we can not recognize the faces, but they embody the cruelty of oppression, which has never faced. Many artists have given shape to historical episodes of their time, representing revolutions, massacres and riots. Goya, however, deviates from a neoclassical choice, harmonious and calibrated, because through the dark colors and the little delineated trait, wants to increase the pathos experienced by the community of the time. A remarkable similarity can be found, as well as a good thematic parallelism with another work very close historically and ideally to the shooting. This is the Asesinato de cinco monjes en Valencia of 1813 by miguel Gambrino who proposed a composition in the same way rich in drama and pain, unlike Goya, he proposed a host of angels on the right in the sky and also a monk as a key character, almost a symbol of the decay of the church in time, but not only. Because even in the shooting of Goya the religious figures are not lacking, in fact on the right with hands joined in prayer, there is a monk who requires salvation. A work like this later became a model and expression for other artists who wanted to revive the theme of the shooting as even Manet, up to more recent times to Picasso. A composition therefore that remains inexorably framed in time and that still makes us reflect on the bestiality of violence and the cruelty of abuse to the detriment of those who demanded only freedom.


Francisco Goya, was a man very sensitive to the events of his time. It is framed between two artistic currents such as Romanticism and Enlightenment. This last current will be for him a wind of changes and reflections. Above all it will lead him to represent a series of representations that reveal the irreverent and sagacious nature, satirical at times that illuminated him to the point of being dismissive and exceptionally fine. The series is the de Caprichos of the early nineteenth century. The engravings were made with the etching and aquatint technique and are about eighty. When the works were published, the artist claimed that they were only representations of pure fantasy, drawn only from his imagination, a somewhat questionable ruling. We must first refer to the style of the series. The influence of Flemish painting by Bosch and also Durer, was a master of these products, as the style used and the metaphors expressed gave an extra inspiration to the Spanish painter. Caprichos represents a series of images depicting vices and defects of society. His will was to expose, stripping in a veiled way, but not excessively, what were the serious problems of society. This is meant to be enlightened, ie open your eyes and unmask the problems of the time, whether they are social vices, personal portrayed through mythical characters, bizarre and sometimes grotesque. Caprice number 55 shows the appropriate example to which it refers. The engraving shows precisely an elderly woman who is terribly depicted and who reflects her horrible image in the mirror: her features, however, reminded those of Queen Maria Luisa of Bourbon Parma, with the description that reads «until death!». Or the engravings 23, 78, 80 and others that although depicted as goblins and therefore fictional characters, actually show the vices of the friars. So there are many themes represented starting from vices, defects and even relationships of couples that actually conceal the custom of the time of arranged marriages as in Engraving 14, which states “what a sacrifice!” The impressive force of these images marked the period and decreed the absolute scandal. At a time when the Spanish Inquisition could not allow such metaphorical and realistic drawings to pass, it decided to immediately stop the circulation of engravings. It was thus that the artist was forced to donate the remaining copies to the king in 1803. 

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters is a work dating from 1797, part of the series de i caprichos. I think there is no more emblematic work of satire contemptuous artist. A work that combines not only quality in the use of the technique of etching and aquatint but embodies by themes and metaphors the Enlightenment thought of Goya. What does it actually represent? In the scene we notice a man, whose face is covered because his arms are folded and resting on a desk, as if he had fallen asleep. Around him fly many birds, such as bats and on the right a feline vigil, with wide-eyed. Why is it a dream, a dream that produces monsters? Goya as always in his career you never left anything to chance. Specifically, in the work here it expresses the desire to understand that if you let reason subside, ratiocinium, your god of reason, you can create monsters. That is, to lead an existence that follows reason, the ratio, as the enlightenment current wanted, identifies a life marked by light, discovery and truth. The protagonist of the opera is asleep so that his reason is completely relaxed and abandoned. Art, as Goya well stated, if it is not accompanied by reason, generates impossible monsters. This is the underlying message, we must wake up and open towards paths marked by truth, a common thread very close to what was the ideological thought of the philosopher Kant. And even if you want to dream, imagine and fantasize, you must always do it with the company of reason. 

Personal Comment about Prado’s Museum

During my stay in Madrid he had the great opportunity to visit with pleasure the prado museum. To be able to claim to have seen one of the best art collections in Europe is not a small thing. The amazement I felt as soon as I saw the meninas of Velasquez was immediate. Immerse yourself in a place that hosts works that have marked, scandalized and impressed generations of people, is priceless. But surely Goya is an artist that I have been able to appreciate more. First of all, I am fascinated by the idea of a man who had a remarkable career before he could work under the royal court of Spain. I was able to appreciate the first works that have such a harmonious and almost dreamlike look, there is a space of brightness and total serenity as in the parasol. Geometric definitions are never well expressed, and this is a mark I consider typical of Goya’s hand. In the same way they kidnapped me the desnuda maya, because in addition to the scandolo, there was no other reason to paint a woman without clothes, except for the beauty of representing a bold and confident woman, lying on a bed. In Spain, tolerance towards the nude was justified by themes related to myth and that could therefore give a moral message. In addition, the famous shooting of 1808 gave me a sense of drama but at the same time a feeling of conquest of their rights. Sabbath of witches I think is among the works that I was most worried about. The colors so dark, the characters that revolve around the goat with frightened faces and others almost enchanted, gave me an immense sense of perdition and anguish. I was especially impressed by the way in which characters are depicted as if they had animal features, grotesque, somewhat bizarre.i thought I was witnessing a continuous vortex, without stopping. Incredible as centuries have passed, what still leads us to admire and observe the paintings is determined by a deep sense of need not only of beauty, but of emotion. This, I think, is ultimately a determining aspect from the point of view of the user. Walking through museums reminds us how important is the memory of memory that can never be erased because thanks to art it continues to live.