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The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



Goya's Demons

Sense and Nonsense   "DISPARATES"




Francisco de Goya
Capricho N. 1


Sense and Nonsense



Francisco de Goya
Ridiculous folly
Etching and aquatint 24.5x35 cm

Wrapped in blankets, people perch on a dead branch. Anyone who moves will fall into the bottomless depths below.
In spite of their absurdity, the scene has a realistic effect. There is no firm indication of whether Goya intended a political meaning.
These could be refugees, or people who have lost all contact with their environment.
Others see here a symbol of the immobility of the antiquated social structures of Spain.
Or, quite generally, a symbol of people alienated by the modern world.



The last of Goya's series of prints is also the most enigmatic. He probably worked on them over a fairly long period, completing them about 1824. The prints were known under the title Disparates, which, loosely translated, means examples of nonsense, absurdities; a lot of the inscriptions to the pictures include the word disparate. Goya never published them, though they were undoubtedly designed with an eye to publication. When the first edition was printed from the plates in 1864, the series was given the title Los Proverbios (Proverbs), though no unequivocal equivalent of a proverb was ever identified.
The prints contain more or less absurd, Surrealistic images: bulls flying through the air, an elephant staring motionless at a group of men, people crouching like frozen birds on a branch, a horse catapulting a woman into the air, distorted faces screaming silently, and people fleeing from phantoms. Like the Caprichos, the Disparates could be described as a series of dreams. For, just like nocturnal dreams, they are both strange and familiar. Whoever tries to decipher them is groping in the dark. This enigmatic quality is precisely what endows the series with modernity. These subjects are no longer drawn from the traditional language of artistic images, but from a private world.
In many pictures political references can he surmised, but they are so deeply encoded that nowadays they can no longer be clearly deciphered. To some extent the images reveal human passions, superstition, and blindness. Many images seem no more than the whim of the moment. On some prints, Goya revisits motifs from his earlier works and stretches them to the point of absurdity. So, from the tapestry designs, we have the motif of the dancer or of the women playing with a man-sized straw doll. But the charming images of the young Goya have become coarse caricatures. The Disparates are not exactly amusing prints: the laughter at these absurd images is hollow and accompanied by a slight shiver of horror. The dark, empty background of the Disparates reinforces the observer's question regarding their meaning.


Francisco de Goya
Disparate de bobo
(Blockhead folly)
Etching and aquatint 24.5x35 cm

With a broad grimace, the clumsy blockhead, a traditional Spanish clown, is parading about and playing the castanets as
though taking a demonic pleasure in terrifying the other figure. The latter is taking refuge behind the figure of a
woman who turns out to be a life-size figure of the Virgin Mary.
Goya's criticism of the Church becomes even clearer in a study for this print, where a monk is hiding behind the figure of the Madonna.
Goya sets religious belief and superstition face to face: they are nothing more than phantoms.


Tio Paquete

c. 1820
Oil on canvas, 39,1 x 31,1 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

This image is said to be the portrait of a well-known beggar who always sat in front of a church in Madrid and sang to the guitar.
With his sardonic, featureless laugh the painting matches the dark humor of the Disparates.




Francisco de Goya




Feminine Folly


Folly of Fear


Folly on the Wing


Foolish Fury


Matrimonial Extravagance


People in Sacks


Universal Folly


Young Woman on a Bucking Horse


Folly of Poverty



Three Gentlemen and Three Dancing Ladies


One Way to Fly


Foolishness at the Carnival


Pure Folly



Old Man Wandering Among Phantoms

A Familiar Folly



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