by Bart Sedgebear
A Four-Part Series
The Disasters of War series is traditionally divided into four parts: one introductory print, forty six portraying the horrors of war, seventeen with scenes of hunger in Madrid (though the city is not clearly alluded to in the images), and sixteen prints at the end of the series called Los caprichos enfáticos, “The Emphatic Follies.”
Goya’s introductory print to this series succinctly sums up what is to follow, both in his series of etchings and in world history. It depicts an imploring kneeling figure of a defenseless man who finds himself caught in the crossroads of the paths of glory trampled by psychotic politicians, generals and businessmen.
The fact that Goya’s images for The Disasters of War series depict both victims and perpetrators not so much as men and women, rather as humankind, lends an eerie universality to the work. Goya’s close-up literal treatment of the horrific themes of war obviates all hints of glamor, nobility or heroism. He returned war to its proper sphere, that of murder, rape, pillage and injustice.
The last sixteen prints, the “caprichos enfáticos,” are symbolic and quite open to interpretation. The first three of them (plates 66, 67 and 68) reflect the anticlerical vein which has been a constant in Spanish critical thought over the centuries. Print number 69 entitled, “Nada. Ella dirá,” is an image of a skeleton emerging from a tomb. He bears a message in his hand: “Nada…” (“Nothing…”) Is Goya saying that all the destruction, suffering, humiliation, and hope for eternal life have been in vain? It seems so.
Parodies of Fernando VII and his coterie are the themes of plates 70-79, where Goya portrays them alternately as vampires, cats, asses and ghouls.The last two plates, 79 and 80, form a diptych and are what the Spanish would call “Una de cal y otra de arena.” The first one, “La verdad ha muerto,” is deadly pessimistic and the last conveys a note of optimism.
Goya Part III – La tauromaquia
There may be an element of opportunism in Goya’s choice of theme for his next series of etchings, as his fellow Madrid artist, Antonio Carnicero, had already popularized the bullfight in drawings and prints, both in Spain and in Europe. Goya’s ambitious bullfight series, “La Tauromaquia,” consisted originally of thirty three etchings executed with typical Goyesque vigor. All the images are framed by thick lines and include busy, realistic scenes of activity both in the bull ring and behind the barriers.
As usual in Goya’s prints, some of the most engaging characters lurk in the semi-shade of the background. Again in La taurmaquia the maestro has resorted to etching on the back sides of some previously-etched-but-unsuccessful plates. It’s not quite clear when Goya began this series, which was published in 1816. Some authors place the date as early as “the first of the 19th century,” others as late as 1814. Most of the preliminary sketches for the series are preserved in the Prado Museum in Madrid, some of them including red washes with which Goya simulated aquatint effects.
The history of the editions of La tauromaquia series and the rocambolesque changes of ownership of the plates extends down to our own times. By the middle of the 19th century the plates, still property of Goya’s heirs, yielded a second edition, printed in the workshops of La Calcografía Nacional in Madrid in 1855. Shortly afterwards the Spanish state declined to purchase the plates and they were acquired by the Paris editor, Loizelet, who pulled the third edition in 1876. This editor added seven new etchings to the series, images which he found on the back sides of some of the plates, designated by the letters “A” to “G.” Subsequent editions have all incorporated these seven additional images, making a total of forty.
The Spanish artist, Ricardo de los Ríos, bought the plates in Paris at the turn of the 20th century and brought them back to Spain. He ordered the fourth edition in 1905, again in the workshop of La Calcografía Nacional, after which the plates made their way back to Paris. Another Spaniard, Francisco Estévez Botey, bought them there in 1920, apparently in a speculative move, as he brought them back to Spain and sold them to La Calcografía Nacional.
It was during the siege of Madrid in the Spanish Civil War (1937) that the seventh and allegedly finest edition of La Tauromaquia was pulled. The plates then stayed in the Calcografía Nacional till 1979 when they were acquired by the parent organization, the Real Academia de San Fernando, which edited the eighth and last edition in 1984.
The State of the Bullfighter’s Art
Goya’s Tauromaquia prints portray the complete panoply of bullfighting stunts and techniques known up until his time: matadors on foot or mounted on horseback, sitting on chairs or standing on tables, or pole vaulting over the bull. The series includes scenes of bull baiting with dogs and of terrified spectators fleeing before the bull and, in plate 33, we find Goya’s contemporary, the bullfighter Pepe Illo, lying dead on the sand of the arena.
The combination Goya/bullfight remains a powerful attraction in today’s Spain. Every summer they celebrate the “corrida goyesca” (“Goyesque bullfight”) in the 17th-century bullring of the mountain town of Ronda with modern-day matadors outfitted in suits from Goya’s time. It’s a major social event where the cream of Spanish society turns out in all their finery for a day of necrofolly, an ambiente in which Goya, the court painter, master of highest-of-high and lowest-of-low folly, would have felt very much at home.