Francisco de Goya

Francisco de Goya (1746 – 1828) was a Spanish painter working in the style of Romanticism. He is probably best known for his paintings Saturn Devouring His Son and The Third of May 1808. Some of his other paintings have an eerie and even disturbing feel to them. The somewhat satirical paintings below portray one central figure that catches the eye and unsettles. Witches’ Sabbath is held in the Museo Lazaro Galdiano in Madrid; The Straw Manikin is held in the Prado Museum in Madrid; and Time and the Old Women resides in the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, France.

witches' gathering with a he-goat at the centre.I. Witches’ Sabbath [1798]

This painting, which is part of Goya’s “Black Paintings”, shows a coven of witches. In the centre sits the Devil represented by a he-goat, with women around him being either in awe or scared of him, some offering him their children. The he-goat is motionless, his expression is neutral, eyes wide open, betraying nothing, while women around him fuss, causing a commotion. The goat’s human-like sitting posture hints at him being endowed with human qualities.

It is possible that Francisco de Goya tried to satirise through this painting the prevalence of superstition and the belief in witches in rural parts of Spain (Francisco de Goya wanted to denounce any mass worshiping based on ignorance). This is so especially since the witches in his painting appear to be deformed and seem to be completely blinded by their belief in the entity before them (even though the he-goat appears almost like a dummy), offering their most precious “possessions” to the Devil – their children. Also, if a witches’ sabbath is usually held on a full moon at night, the painting purposefully depicts neither the full moon nor the darkness of a night (but a new moon, with the meeting taking place at dusk). 

Four women playing with a straw dummyII. The Straw Manikin [1792]

This painting by de Goya is part of “tapestry cartoons” made for Charles IV. At first glance, this composition seems to merely depict four women having fun by tossing in the air the straw manikin. However, there is still something unsettling about the whole painting – perhaps it is the fact that the women look similar to the straw dummy or that the grown-up women are engaged in such a childish play, with a manikin having a full make-up on, bordering on something grotesque. The eerie feeling also comes from the knowledge that these four women have this “man” under their total control. The man, being a doll, may not be real, but their pleasure of him “jumping” in the air is, and, thus, somehow unnerving.

Albert Boime writes in A Social History of Modern Art [at page 225] that the puppet in the picture represents an afrancesado, “a Spanish supporter of the Enlightenment, Liberalism, French Revolution”. This means that women in the picture are majas, female representatives of the lower classes of the Spanish society, that laugh at their hand-made and stuffed afrancesado (Frenchified) (majos (m) and majas (f) often clashed with people whom they viewed as being afrancesados).

Two skeletal women with the God of Time in de Goya painting.III. Time and the Old Women [1810]

In this satirical painting by Francisco de Goya, a rich old woman of supposedly noble birth and her aged servant are seen seated, viewing a book or a mirror, with the inscription of “How are you?” on the other side. Both women look skeletal and death-like despite their beautiful dresses. Behind them is the God of Time with a broom in his hands. However, the two women do not notice him, being completely absorbed in the objects before them.

One interpretation is that the women are so taken by a gossip column in the book or their mirror image that they do not notice the time approaching them from behind, moving closer to them. Despite being old, they are so taken by their immediate concerns, their image and present news that they lost track of time, and it will be too late for them when they realise that their time is up. The God of Time situated behind the women does not even have a real weapon or something more fitting to his image in his hand, and it is as though the painter is mocking the women’s ignorance of time and their vanity by having the God of Time brandishing such an everyday object as a broom. Since this painting is both an allegory and a satire, it is particularly thought-provoking. 


14 thoughts on “Francisco de Goya

  1. Thank you for sharing this with everyone. I have to say that I myself finf Goya very distitbung, but he is, withouy any doubt, one of the best Spanish paitings that we had. May I ask you how did you discover him?
    Kind regards!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I cannot remember when I first discovered him, maybe in an art book time ago now? I am interested in allegorical, symbolic and yes, slightly disturbing artworks. I have great admiration for Spanish painters and Spanish culture in general, too. Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 2 people

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