Goya’s ‘Pinturas negras’

Spanish romantic painter and printmaker Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) is known as the last of “the old masters” (a painter of skill operating in Europe prior to 1800) and the first of “the moderns”.

An intensely private man, he was deafened by a severe illness in 1793, after which his work became particularly pessimistic. The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and widespread social and political corruption in Spain further embittered his attitude towards life and humankind.

File:Self-portrait at 69 Years by Francisco de Goya.jpg
Goya, Self-portrait, Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid, Wikimedia Commons

In 1819, he purchased a house coincidentally named ‘Quinta del Sordo’ or ‘Villa of the Deaf’ where, living in isolation, he produced his ‘Pinturas negras’ or ‘Black Paintings’ – originally a set of 14 murals depicting his disillusioned and bleak outlook. Never intended for public viewing, the paintings have been transferred to canvas and are now held at the Prado in Madrid. (Arthur Lubow, “The Secret of the Black Paintings”, NY Times Magazine, 2003).

According to the Netherlands-born art historian Fred Licht, one of these 14 paintings Saturn Devouring his Son is “as essential to our understanding of the human condition in modern times” as Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling is to our understanding of the sixteenth century (Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art, 1979).

Quinta del Sordo, c. 1900, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

The paintings:

He eats his young.
1. Saturn Devouring his Son, Wikimedia Commons [From the Greek myth of the Titan Cronus – Romanised as Saturn – who, fearing that one of his children would overthrow him, swallowed each upon birth.]
2. The Dog, Wikimedia Commons


3. Two Old Men, Wikimedia Commons


4. Men Reading, Wikimedia Commons


5. Judith and Holofernes, Wikimedia Commons [From the Biblical book of Judith (Old Testament)]
6. Women Laughing, Wikimedia Commons


7. Leocadia, Wikimedia Commons [Leocadia was Goya’s maid and perhaps lover too]
8. Atropos/The Fates, Wikimedia Commons [From Greek mythology. The Fates are incarnations of Destiny. Atropos cuts the thread of life – she is here with a pair of scissors. Clotho, who spins the thread of new life, is seen here with a newborn child in place of her usual distaff. And Lachesis, the spinning one who is responsible for measuring the length of the fibre, here looks into a mirror or lens and symbolises time. The fourth captive-like figure in the foreground is quite possibly a man whose destiny is being decided by the three Fates.]

Like wraiths.
9. Fight with Cudgels, Wikimedia Commons


10. Two Old Men Eating Soup, Wikimedia Commons


Two men fight each other.
11. Fantastic Vision, Wikimedia Commons


Two figures at a table.
12. Procession of the Holy Office, Wikimedia Commons


13. Witches’ Sabbath, Wikimedia Commons


14. A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, Wikimedia Commons


Heads in a Landscape, Wikimedia Commons. Now in a private collection in New York , might be the fifteenth Black Painting.


The Positions of the Black Paintings in the Villa of the Deaf by User “I, Chabacano”, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons



2 thoughts on “Goya’s ‘Pinturas negras’

  1. Great article!
    Goya is so fascinating. The Black Paintings are certainly amongst his darkest works. Although Disasters Of War contains more graphic images, these are just so desolate & SO bizarre. I do keep coming back to them; they have a depth & mystery about them.
    I think there are 13 Black Paintings & that Leocadia was there to appease her, rather than part of what appears to be a series (the rest all seem very similar in mood & content).
    I hope this comment finds you in good health & fair spirits my fellow travellers in the dark…


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