Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Disasters of War and the Napoleonic Empire during the Peninsular War [video]

Debbie Ridgard

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[warning: violent imagery]

 

Born in Zaragoza in 1746, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes was a renowned Spanish artist who, through his talent, gained a high status in Spain, and was appointed as a painter for the royal court in 1789. Even though he created many pieces of art through his profession, he is, more so, renowned for his work outside the royal circle. Through analysing both a collection that Goya never published and a painting that contains more than the eye can see, the discovery of Goya’s troubles with the surrounding conflict and the thrive for peace, is inevitable. This article will demonstrate the conflict that was inflicted upon Goya’s surroundings, and its repercussions seen throughout his collection, “Los Desastres de la Guerra”. In conjunction with conflict, Goya’s aspiration and desire for peace will also be represented through this collection and the painting of Don Ramón Satué.

In 1808, as Napoleon invaded Spanish soil and appointed his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, king of Spain, Goya remained as a painter for the royal court. It was this time period that sparked Goya’s initiative to depict the true effect of war in his collection, “Los Desastres de la Guerra”. Although Goya may have found some peace within himself through displaying the great vulgarity of the Peninsular war, the essence of these pieces of art were, unmistakably, derived from conflict. From 1808-1814, Spain was in a state of turmoil, with the control of the country in the hands of the Napoleon empire. In contrast to Goya himself, who pledged his allegiance to the French, Spaniards were not silenced easily. Many men and women, as depicted in plate 7, “Que valor”, took to the battlefield to claim back their homeland, whilst Goya privately recorded history through creating his collection.

“Los Desastres de la Guerra” depicts the terror that was inflicted upon Spanish soil by displaying the tactics of French soldiers to finish this war victorious, and the Spanish retaliation against the French. It is not certain as to how much of this violence Goya had seen personally, however his interpretations, regardless how vicious they may seem, were a quite realistic portrayal of these events. In both “Esto es peor”, and “Grande hazaña! Con muertos!”, Goya shows the consequences of taking up arms against the French occupation, by exposing the terrible actions that were implemented by Napoleon armies. Men were left dismembered, castrated, and impaled on a tree as a warning to the Spanish to obey French rule or be condemned to the same ill-fate as these Spanish revolutionaries. This depiction of torture and death, expressed the dire circumstances in which Spanish citizens were trapped in, and subsequently conveyed the conflict that surrounded Goya, and the people of Spain.

Goya painting, photo credit: Javi Colon (Flickr)
Goya painting, photo credit: Javi Colon (Flickr)

Although, the issues raised in the collection “Los Desastres de la Guerra” are the principal evidence of conflict, within Goya’s collection, the contrast between the paintings he revealed to the public, give another layer to his work. During the creation of this collection, Goya, as a painter for the royal court, painted portraits for the French and their associates. Beyond doubt, there is clear evidence of self-struggle within Goya himself, due to the fact that, whilst he created this collection full of hatred and disgust against the nature of war, he also painted for the French colony, which Spaniards blamed for the horrific scenes that spread across Spain. In fact, in 1810, the same year in which Goya began “Los Desastres de la Guerra”, he created the portrait of French General Guye, the governor of Seville, at that time. This was a complete contradiction to his private paintings and due to this kind portrayal of the French general, Guye then asked for another portrait, but this time of his nephew.
Contrary to the majority of the plates in “Los Desastres de la Guerra”, the final plate “Murió, la verdad”, asks will truth rise again? This plate, adverse to the others, represents hope of the restoration, to some degree, of humanity and peace to his country. Through finishing his despair-filled collection, with a symbol of hope, suggests that Goya could see a light at the end of this very dark tunnel in Spain’s history.
The collapse of the French regime in Spain, in 1814, not only brought King Ferdinand VII to power in Spain, but also arose the issue of Goya’s pledge to the French crown. In order to prove his loyalty to Spain, Goya painted two of his most famous paintings, “El Dos de Mayo de 1808” and “El Tres de Mayo”, to immortalise the revolt against the French. Goya never gave a reason as to why he never published “Los Desastres de la Guerra” collection, however it can be speculated that he did not want to further antagonise the surviving Spanish citizens by publishing another set of images on this sensitive subject.

El Tres de Mayo 1808, photo credit: Nathan Hughes Hamilton
El Tres de Mayo 1808, photo credit: Nathan Hughes Hamilton

Goya’s previous loyalty to the French, brought about much doubt as to whom he supported, which in turn, could have influenced the portrait of Don Ramón Satué, a judge in Castile. Before 2011, this painting was seen to be another fantastic portrait, created by Goya, however, with recent technology, an underlying painting was discovered. Believed to be Joseph Bonaparte, due to the specific medals worn by the man beneath the “Don Ramón Satué” painting, it reveals yet another story of survival for Goya. The painting, which is considered to have been created between 1809 and 1813, explains the absence of Bonaparte in Goya’s art, and demonstrates how Goya, for the sake of unanimity, painted over one of his paintings and simultaneously conveys his loyalty to the Spanish crown.

By means of analysing Goya’s un-published works, with the use of comparison to his published works, there is clear evidence which reveals the importance of both peace and conflict to Goya, as an artist and Spaniard. He showed that in order to maintain a tranquil state he kept the collection private and painted over the painting of the French general. The hidden elements of these pictures evidently show that Goya was extremely conflicted about the strife that his country was going through but also did not want to incite any further issues. In order to keep the peace he continued to keep these private for the remainder of his life.

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Debbie Ridgard