Francisco de Goya was born in Fuendetodos, a small village in Northern Spain on March 30, 1746. At the time of his birth, Spain was not the wealthy country it had been in the past; its financial stability wavered as King Ferdinand VI continued to support the War of Austrian Succession and line the pockets of his greedy friends. To see Spain’s royalty and the men and women who surrounded them, one would never know that the rest of the country was battling poverty.
The Spanish countryside was home to bandits and murderers, roads were often impassable, and many Spanish cities were buried under the refuse that was piled in their streets. When Francisco was twelve years old, his parents made a decision that would be life changing for the young boy. An opportunity for employment in the bustling city of Saragossa led to the family’s relocation. Francisco’s father worked as a gilder (someone who covers objects in a thin layer of gold), and Francisco, he discovered the world of art.
Saragossa’s churches were filled with beautiful paintings and sculptures, and Francisco drank in their beauty like fine wine on a summer day. Shortly after beginning school, his teachers’ realized that their new student had a gift; one story tells that Goya was discovered by a priest after drawing a hog on the wall………… well, so the story goes. At the age of fourteen Goya was apprenticed to the local painter, Jose Luzan.
Like so many other painters before him, Goya learned to draw by copying the masters. He learned how to prepare a canvas for painting, and how to mix his own paints, things that all true artists need to learn. Under Luzan’s tutelage Goya became adept in the art of drawing, engraving, oils, and fresco. Four years later, when he had learned all that Luzan had to teach him, Goya traveled to Italy in order to finish his education. Art, like everything else, is a journey. Once everyone else has given you everything they have to offer; you have to learn for yourself.
While traveling through Italy, Goya became entranced by the art of bullfighting. It is even rumored that he himself engaged in the sport to earn extra money during his travels. Regardless of whether he actually ever found himself eye to eye with a raging bull in the ring matters not; his depictions reflect his true love of the fight.
While Goya was away in Italy, major changes were taking place in Spain. King Ferdinand VI had died, and the throne had passed to King Charles III. King Charles, anxious to make improvements to his kingdom, began with the capital of Madrid.
Madrid soon became safe enough that its citizens could stroll through its streets after sunset. Lights were installed that added both ambiance and yet another measure of insurance; garbage disappeared, hauled away to dumps far away from the city limits, and King Charles got just what he wanted……….. the world took notice.
Palaces and buildings were refurbished, not to mention the new constructions all over the city. The only thing missing was the beauty of great art, and even that was soon to be realized as master artists from all over the world flocked to Madrid to leave their marks.
Francisco Goya returned to Saragossa in 1771, he’d come full circle. The cathedrals he’d so admired for their beautiful artwork, now held frescoes of his own. Decorative and intricate, they were done in the Rococo tradition. But these frescoes did more than simply beautify the church; they cemented his reputation as an artist.
The most important period of Goya’s artistic development took place during the years 1775-1792. Having moved his family to Madrid, Goya took work at the royal tapestry factory painting the designs for wall hangings (tapestries) that would hang in the royal households.
His designs focused on the mundane activities of everyday life, and as his work progressed he gained keen insight and finely tuned observational skills. Once completed, the paintings would be sent to factories where they would be woven into fine cloth and assembled. Tapestries were fashioned to be hung over windows or on the walls………. they were paintings woven in finely dyed threads. The same picture in two distinctly different mediums; each created with the same motive in mind……….. their purpose? Beauty.
Originally preferring the Rococo style, Goya later dabbled in neoclassicism (distinct movement). But the years he spent in Madrid had other influences. Access to the royal collection, led to his study and appreciation of the great Diego Velazquez. Goya’s appreciation becomes evident when you look at the timeline of his works; you can see him evolve as an artist; he began to work with a much looser stroke and a far more spontaneous sense of creation. His new technique and style sometimes mirrored that of the aritst he studied, but eventually, that style was fine tuned and became his own.
In order to make more money, Goya began to paint portraits of the Spanish aristocracy. Establishing himself as a premiere portrait painter, he found himself more and more in demand. Eventually, he was named painter to the King (1786) and court painter (1789).
Goya was a gifted artist. His portraits were far more than simple depictions of the people who hired him; they were character studies. By looking at his paintings you see more than their physical attributes; you see who they were. Look at the difference between his portraits of King Charles III and his predecessor King Charles IV. On one hand you have the happy, wise, and kind eyed Charles III, and on the other a very staid, boring, and inanimate Charles IV with his wife and children.
Goya’s painting of children are beautiful; he loved them, and he showed the life in them. In the portrait of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, the young boy looks almost alive. As one of his most famous paintings, it’s bright and happy; the cats look as if they’re going to eat the bird, and the bird………. he holds the artist’s signature on a calling card; he holds it in his beak.
Goya would remain in Saragossa for another four years working at his craft. And in 1773, he married the sister of his mentor, friend, and fellow artist Francisco Bayeu. Her name was Josefa.
Life at court was exhilarating, and Goya enjoyed it to the fullest. One of Spain’s most desired artists, he commanded large commissions for his work. He lived in luxury and he walked among kings, and then it all changed…….. just when he thought he had it all.
The year was 1792, and a serious illness changed Goya’s life forever. He would never be the same man, and he would never paint in the same way. His world turned upside down, and the way he saw himself, the people around him, and the things he believed in took on a clearer, more vivid light.
That he was alive was a miracle, but he did live. The ultimate loss of what might have been a fatal illness was not his life; it was his hearing. Goya would never hear again; he was completely deaf.
Goya became obsessed with fantasy and magical happenings. Little things started to appear in his paintings; they were strange and mysterious. His brushstrokes became even looser, resulting in a feeling of movement and enhanced expression. His perspective shifted, giving life to his subjects. In essence, his thoughts became paintings, and although it is rumored that many of these images were born in a fevered delirium, who is to say?
That his subjects and paintings had found a new objectivity, that they were more critical, that they were caste in darker hues is obvious. If they could speak, I think they’d ooze sarcasm, but that’s just me.
My favorite of Goya’s work was produced during this time. I find his religious works to be haunting………. and beautiful. They are earthy and real; they exude real people, real expressions, and true feelings.
In 1808, Spain was attacked by the soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte’s mission for world conquest tore Spain apart. Goya, appalled by acts of war and bloody assaults decided to paint the atrocities. One of these paintings, Third of May, shows the defenseless citizens of Spain being gunned down by merciless soldiers. The faces of Goya’s subjects exude the fear they felt; some raise their eyes towards Heaven in appeal, others hang their heads in despair.
While Napoleon controlled Spain, Goya continued as court painter, something he would later be both charged with and pardoned for when the Spanish regained the throne. During the war, Goya had produced a series of etchings on the horrific realities of battle and conquest. The etchings were later published as The Disasters of War, long after his death.
In 1819, Goya moved into seclusion. He resided in a home not far from Madrid. The house was large, and the walls spacious. Those walls became the canvas for some of Goya’s Black Paintings. Mysterious and powerful, Goya never shared their meaning or his purpose in creating them. Witches, strange otherworldly creatures, violence, fear. What did they mean? Were they a result of nightmares, monsters under the bed unleashed through his loss of hearing, or simply the fear of not being able to hear. Or maybe something else? Could they have been the fear of getting older and age’s eventual journey towards death? I guess we’ll never know.
Francisco Goya died in the year 1828 at the age of 82. Self exiled in France, because of his disfavor in the new Spanish court, Goya made his home in Bordeaux. He continued working until his death.
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists; Francisco Goya, Venezia, Michael, Children’s Press. @ 1991