Goya’s paintings are often traumatizing and very very dark. It’s because his activity coincided with the last period of the Enlightenment and the rule of the Inquisition, as well as the trauma of the Napoleonic Wars. Let’s trace the development of his style and iconography to see whether we can say that he made a career:
Early works 1760s-1790s
He began working in Catholic Spain as a portrait painter to the aristocracy, and the royal family. Born near Saragossa to a family of craftsmen, he trained in Madrid and, briefly, in Rome. From c.1775 he was producing tapestry cartoons for the Royal factory which were usually genre scenes of peasant fetes and carnivals.
1795 Director of the San Fernando Academy; 1799 First Painter to the King
He was a liberal figure much influenced by the republicanism, anti-clericism and radicalism of French Enlightenment philosophy. Initially he was a supporter of Napoleon, yet as the Napoleonic Wars in Spain resulted in massacres, the trauma of the contradictions between his ideals and reality, coupled with the illness which left him deaf, produced personal crises for the artist and was the source of his rich creativity.
Peninsular war & Spanish uprising
Having reconciled himself with the restored Spanish monarchy he began a series of etchings The Disasters of War 1810-1820 that examined the atrocities of the Peninsula War and present a profound indictment of the horrors of warfare.In 1815 Goya was summoned before the Inquisition. He had to account for his tacit support for the French, and, for the ‘pornographic’ image of The Naked Maja (you can read more about it there).
His late works 1819-23
In 1819 Goya suffered a severe physical/mental breakdown and in 1824 he applied to the Spanish King for leave to retire. He left for Bordeaux, in France, where he died in 1828. His late works, so-called Black Paintings,were filled with demonic and grotesque images, expressive of his torment. He painted them on the walls of his house, yet the murals are now transferred onto canvas for all to see.
If you would like to know more about Goya, have a look at the article “Francisco Goya: The First Modernist?“.
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