The range of themes, emotions, and techniques evidenced in the work of the Spanish painter Goya are unsurpassed by any other artist known to history. With an unflinching gaze toward war, human love, the deceit and providence of religion, and the nature of reality, Goya’s long and multi-dimensional career stands as a testament to the persistence of artistic vision despite personal turmoil and pessimism; Goya’s late work, specifically the “Black Paintings” also stands as a rare gesture in the art world: one of aesthetic integrity and urgency above concerns of fame, or monetary reward.
Goya’s vision reveals itself to have undergone radical shifts between his early works when his efforts can be judiciously described as inspired but rather usual conceptions of traditional artistic themes, and mediums. One of his early commissioned works: a series of cartoons for tapestries illustrates the unique aesthetic position Goya found himself in as a young man. While Goya’s imaginative facilties proved a boon to the design aspects of the tapestries, the tapestries themselves proved to be a medium incapable of fully supporting his visions and ideas.
The tapestry cartoons represent an ironic success for Goya in that “His cartoons are viable, perhaps even great, works of art. The finished tapestries are miserable failures (Licht, 1983, p. 24). so Goya’s genius, even at this early stage of his career, foreshadowed its ultimate break with artistic tradition even in this seemingly apprentice-level commission which turned out to produce a number of examples of brilliant work.
One reason that Goya’s artistic vision surpassed the technical capacities of tapestry weaving at that time in history is due to Goya’s feverishly personal impetus for creating works of art. Goya was “incapable of envisioning a work of art as being anything but a highly personal expression that cannot tolerate the kind of interchange between craftsman and artist on which fine tapestry weaving depends” (Licht, 1983, p. 25). due to this fact, the tapestry cartoons are, in fact, more fully successful than the tapestries themselves. The creation of the tapestry cartoons was a large-scale effort, Goya “He produced sixty-three and they occupied him for sixteen years.” (Julius, 1994); among the most notable (and traditional) of the tapestry cartoons is a work called “The Parasol” which reveals a lovely lady “carefully posed in an airy setting of feathery trees with a lightly ironic male servant holding a parasol to shade her, intimating that he understands the pretension of it all” (Julius, 1994).
If the gesture of irony in “The Parasol” is slight, it is also unmistakable. Goya’s tendency to wilfully “violate” a picturesque scene such as that presented in “The Parasol” is an early indication of his obsession with ambiguity and also with his persistent desire to infuse his work with honesty. What Goya wanted was “in a word, to paint the truth at a time when most artists were painting what was false and artificial.” (Gassier, 1955, p. 21); this revolutionary tendency in Goya’s work can be considered as almost subliminal in works like “The Parasol” and many of the other tapestry cartoons. Close insight into “The Parasol” reveals not a merely lovely and bucolic scene, but “and impudence of vision which ” derives from Goya’s irreverent, unconventional attitude[…] Even the coquettish smile of Goya’s girl has an impertinence that can make us slightly uncomfortable” (Licht, 1983, p. 30).
This kind of playful irony would later develop into a dismal, pessimistic vision which shrouded most of Goya’s late work, in particular, the “Black Paintings.” Although the shift in tone and aesthetic vision in Goya’s work is a radical shift from playful irony and social criticism to blatant desolation and a nightmarish interpretation of human myth and human civilization, the interim scope of works in Goya’s canon demonstrate that the evolution from the “Parasol” era tapestry cartoons to the “Black Paintings” followed a logical progression.
A good deal of the shift in Goya’s vision is attributed to the events of his life. After the tapestry cartoons, he experienced a life-altering even which changed, forever, his outlook on art adn on the world: the great caesura in Goya’s life came after his grave illness of 1792-93.
By the time of the “Black Paintings” the aesthetic at work in Goya’s mind might well be termed as “The best we can do is acknowledge the black truth.” (Danto, 1989). No longer prodding with gentle irony or with clever inversion of expected painterly elements, no longer describing the horrors of wart with the expectancy that society will listen to his message, Goya turned to a fiercely personal, almost anti-social stance in his art and began to create a series of painting on the walls of his own home where he started and completed an “ambitious cycle of paintings been painted with the intention of keeping the pictures an entirely private affair.” (Licht, 1983, p. 159).
Among the “Black Paintings,” perhaps the most famous is the painting entitled “Saturn Devouring One of His Sons” which — when contrasted with the earlier work of the tapestry cartoons such as “The Parasol” — reveals at first sight the full range of Goya’s evolution as both a technician and as a social satirist or social visionary. Many critics have proclaimed the “Black Paintings” to be, in fact, positivistic expressions of the individual spirit overcoming the bleakness and chaos of modern human society. Some see “nothing of dejection or defeat in these works; on the contrary, they proclaim an indomitable spirit,” (Gassier, 1955, p. 116). and yet the visceral impact of the painting is one of unadulterated horror and alienation.
Other critics have interpreted “Saturn” as a vision just as iconic as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The idea of mythic stature connecting with the interpersonal struggle for identity, power, and achievement permeates this kind of critical interpretation of the “Black Paintings.” Whether or not one personal experiences the “Black Paintings” as expressions of a deep pessimism or as joyous exclamations of the overcoming of human evil, one thing is certain: “Of all the pictures in the cycle, Saturn Devouring One of His Sons  has proved the most essential to our understanding of the human condition in modern times (Licht, 1983, p. 167), and the iconic impact of the painting ironically is much more intense than anything created by Goya for the earlier tapestry cartoon where an iconic image would have been much accepted and indicated by the commission.
While Goya’s painting shaped myth in an horrific fashion, he “makes no allowance for anything but madness and ferocity.” (Licht, 1983, p. 168) The contrast of “SDaturn” with “The Parasol” leaves as many questions in the viewer’s mind as answers. Did such an artistic evolution take place primarily from the depths of personal experience or did it emerge from the cold, calculated rational thoughts of an artist experimenting with technique and theme? The answer to these questions is not readily appareant, but the strongest possibility is that while the early tapestry cartoon works show an artist of revoltuinatry sensibilities, they also reveal an artist working for money and within a controlled context of expression. By his late life and with the “Black Paintings,” Goya had freed himself from money, from critics, from his audience and painted only the works he felt deeply enough they had to be made and expressed. The result is a darker vision, but one which due to the impetus of the paintings presents at least the allure of being more honest and representative of the depths of the artist’s soul.
Cite this Art History Goya
Art History Goya. (2016, Jul 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/art-history-goya/