Francisco de Goya
Capricho N. 1
Sense and Nonsense
Francisco de Goya
Etching and aquatint
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
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
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
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.
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.