Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



Goya's Demons

The Sleep of Reason
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Goya's Demons




The Sleep of Reason


Francisco de Goya
Capricho N. 1


During the final years of the century, Goya created one of his most important works: the Caprichos, a series of grotesque, satirical, enigmatic prints.

The self-portrait on the title page shows him coolly distant, disillusioned, and a little morose.

The Caprichos, a savage critique of social evils and human weakness, are a channel for Goya's personal experience and fantasies. They are also, above all, a reflection of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Goya was well acquainted with the leading proponents of the new ideas.

Although the meaning of individual pages in the
Caprichos is often unclear, they still address the observer directly, even today, and have lost nothing of their expressive power. Only a few copies were circulated publicly in Goya's lifetime.

It was not until after his death that they became known abroad, and were to exercise a strong influence on the art of the 19th and 20th centuries.


Goya and the Enlightenment



Goya came into contact with the ideas of the Enlightenment through his friendships with liberal intellectuals. In the period after his illness, the ilustrados (the "enlightened") introduced him to a new, critical view of the world. Men like Jovellanos, Bermudez, and Moratin, who were among the leaders of society in Spain, brought him inspiration for his Caprichos, a work rich in references, some of them highly ambiguous.
The aim of the Enlightenment, which spread throughout Europe towards the end of the i 8th century, was to establish reason as the sole guide to thought and action. Freedom of the press and impartial justice were demanded, and the latest discoveries in science and technology were discussed, as were the current works of literature. In Spain the Church, supported by the Inquisition, strenuously resisted the spread of Enlightenment ideas and so liberalization took longer there than in other countries. Conditions became more critical after the French Revolution. Studying abroad was forbidden, and Enlightenment publications, including works by Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot, were placed on the Index, the Church's list of banned books. During a temporary period of greater freedom, Goya was able to think about publishing the Caprichos. But the intrigues of the court were unpredictable. Barely had reformist politicians taken up influential posts when they were threatened with dismissal, imprisonment, or banishment. Goya's friend Jovellanos, a brilliant legal mind, was banished. In a series of impressive portraits of friends, Goya now portrays the representatives of the Spanish Enlightenment. These, unlike his earlier formal portraits, seek to grasp the individual personality beneath the sitter's rank.






Francisco de Goya
Back to his ancestors
Capricho No. 39
Etching and aquatint 21.5x15 cm

The meaning of this print is that anyone who uses their family tree and coat of arms to prove their fine ancestry is an ass - like Queen Maria Luisa, who created genealogical testimonials for her favorite, Godoy. Goya caricatured the behavior of the aristocracy more than once. In doing so, he was continuing an old tradition of satire.

In the perfume and liquor stores in the Calle del Desengano, very close to Goya's home, you could buy the Caprichos for 320 reales in February 1799. An edition contained 80 large-format prints, numbered and with captions. The title Caprichos means whims — astonishing, fantastical ideas. Tiepolo and Giovanni Battista Piranesi had already created a series of such capricci. Under this title artists could permit themselves creative freedom, escaping the conventional themes and rules of art. Sense and nonsense, gravity and satire were all possible. Goya took out an advertisement in a Madrid newspaper and announced that in the Caprichos he was depicting human folly, prejudice, and deception. Obviously, he added, any similarity with living people was purely coincidental. Nevertheless, his contemporaries immediately recognized specific references in many prints. Biting social satire and demonic fantasy combine in the Caprichos to create a nightmare from which there is no escape. Goya had envisaged good sales and had printed 300 copies. However, he was very quickly forced to stop sales; a few years later, to protect his work from the Inquisition, he gave the rest of the edition, together with the plates, to the Royal Institute of Printing and in return requested a bursary for his son Javier.

Francisco de Goya
They carried her away!
Capricho No. 8
Etching and aquatint

Two faceless men are assaulting a woman who is screaming in despair; the huddled figures give the impression more of a rape than a kidnapping. Set against a completely dark background, the scene suggests nameless horrors being carried out under the cloak of darkness.

Francisco de Goya
What a golden beak!
Capricho No.53
Etching and aquatint 21.7x15.1 cm

With open mouths and closed eyes, the gathering of learned men listens attentively to a lecture from a parrot, which is gesticulating with its claw as if in learned disputation. Their spiritual inertia and their passive submission to authority prevent those listening from appreciating how ridiculous the speaker and his words are. A contemporary commentator was just as critical as Goya; writing of doctors he observed: "They can recite a complete list of diseases, but cannot heal them. They deceive the patients and stuff the cemeteries with skulls."
For Goya it was clear that Church and Inquisition were inhibiting progress in Spain. From their robes the figures in the foreground are clearly identifiable as monks. Goya often criticized the Church in his Caprrichos, and generally attacked the mendacious double-dealing of monks and clerics.


Francisco de Goya
They Say Yes and Give Their
Hand To the First Comer
Capricho No. 2

Francisco de Goya
Till death
Capricho No. 55
Etching and aquatint 21.8 x 16.2 cm

The Caprichos give a pitiless image of social and moral standards. No matter who they are, no one escapes criticism -dignitaries, doctors, lawyers, women, old people. Here a little
old lady preens herself vainly in front of the mirror and does not notice how ugly she is, nor the laughter of those present. This could be regarded as a swipe at the queen, Maria Luisa, and her affairs with young men. But Goya was aiming higher than this. One of the basic themes of his Caprichos is the
inability of people to see beyond self-delusion and deceit. The glance into the mirror in this Capricho is clearly not a moment of self-awareness, but the continuation of an illusion.



The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters



The ugly, ambiguous winged beast
The vexatious companion of the night
Is swarming out and fluttering
About my head.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Tasso, 1790


Reason and nightmare

The most famous print of the Caprichos series is No. 43. While working, the artist has fallen asleep. Charcoal drawing sticks and unfinished drawings are lying on the table and he has buried his head in his arms. Fluttering towards him from the dark background the flying creatures of the night are harrying him, their staring eyes wide open. An owl has already taken hold of his drawing materials. A nightmare, realistic and yet unreal. We see both the sleeping form and what he is dreaming. The title is written in pale letters on the table, El sueno de la razon produce monstruos: "the sleep of reason produces monsters." As soon as the artist sleeps, and his fantasy is no longer controlled by reason, he finds that he is exposed to horrifying beings that threaten to overcome him. In the Caprichos, both forces are at work: clear reason and a dark, uncontrolled fantasy. Goya found the inspiration for this motif in an exchange with friends, who were closely involved with the ideas of the Enlightenment. For them, reason was the central concept: the power of reason would reveal social injustice, banish superstition, and subdue destructive passions.


Francisco de Goya
The sleep of reason produces monsters
Capricho N. 43

Francisco de Goya
The sleep of reason produces monsters

The emergence of the theme

Originally, Goya had planned a series entitled Suenos (dreams). A sheet showing a dreaming author was intended as the title page. He conceived these prints as a series of satirical images inspired by Suehos, short prose pieces by the Spanish poet Francisco Gomez de Quevedo (1580-1645). However, Goya then decided to place the page with the dreaming artist among the other prints in the cycle, as print No.43, where it forms the basis of a series of images of demons and witches. A study shows how Goya developed the dream apparitions from a jumble of sketches. There in the upper half of the drawing appears his self-portrait wreathed in beams of light, but surrounded by shadowy masks. Violent, dark hatching marks the region of night's winged shadows. In a second study, he added to the table an inscription clearly describing his intentions. It reads: "Ydioma universal" meaning a generally understood universal language. Beneath this is added: "The dreaming author. His sole intention is to banish destructive banalities and, through this work of fantasy [caprichos], to lend permanence to the reliable testament of truth." Instead of this, the final version shows only the evocative final title of the print, Goya's most widely quoted words.

Goya's technique

Goya was one of the first artists in Spain to use a new technique from France, the so-called aquatint process, for the Caprichos series. This made it possible to print not just lines, as with the conventional form of etching, but also areas in finely granulated tone. It was only with this process that the impenetrable gray of the backgrounds and areas of shade were achieved which lend the Caprichos their strange effect.




Goya's Demons



Goya's great contribution lies in the fact that he makes the monstrous believable. His monsters are credible, well-balanced creatures... All these contortions, these animal distortions and devilish grimaces are thoroughly human. One cannot reject them, even from the viewpoint of natural history... In a word, the line of suture, the boundary between the real and the fantastic is impossible to grasp ...

Charles Baudelaire


Francisco de Goya
They're preening themselves again
Capricho No. 51


Hieronymus Bosch
The Garden of Earthly Delights

In the first part of the Caprichos, Goya uses the art of the caricature to criticize specific social evils, such as prostitution, the deceptions of love, and the corruption of monks and of the aristocracy. In the next part, however, the figures in the Caprichos assume positively demonic features, and the transition between man and monster becomes uncertain. The denizens of the night had occupied Goya's fantasy long before he gave them shape in the Caprichos. He first painted devilish grimaces in 1783, in the dark background to an altar painting for the Dukes of Osuna. There, they embodied the power of death and the Devil, and a saint drives them away with the help of God. Goya's idea for this motif was thus as an element of traditional religious imagery. The threateningly monstrous,
which has occupied the minds of men since time immemorial, had its place in the world of Christian imagery as a representation of Hell. The most famous examples of this can be found in the paintings of the Netherlandish painter
Bosch Hieronymus (1450-1516).His pictures, overflowing with demonic grotesques, found early appreciation in Spain.
In Goya's day, over 30 paintings by "EI Bosco," as the Spanish called Bosch, were to be found in the Spanish royal collections, among them the famous Garden of Earthly Delights. The obscure symbolism of Bosch's vision of Hell, however, is still based on a Christian view of the world, where good and evil have their allotted place. In Goya's Caprichos, by contrast, there is no longer any positive force to counter the dark and the monstrous. In print after print we have new horrors bearing down on us, gathering for inexplicable rituals, rising into the air in combat, or simply cutting their huge claws. Goya's imagery resists any unambiguous interpretation, though it is clear that anticlerical and sexual references are hidden in many of the prints. Goya's Enlightenment contemporaries shared his morbid fascination for the demonic world. His close friend, the author Leandro Fernandez Moratin, took an interest in the subject and gave Goya a great deal of inspiration. Evenin the circles of the cultured aristocracy, who, unlike the uneducated populace, no longer believed in witches, the thrill of ghost stories remained as keen as ever. Goya painted a series of witch pictures for the Duchess of Osuna's Alameda country seat, which was itself called "El Capricho." The painting entitled The Devil's Lamp refers directly to a satirical play. The scene takes on a comic tone when it is realized that the principal character is not really bewitched, merely persuaded that he is by others.
In the Caprichos and in the late "Black Paintings," on the other hand, a nightmare reality is created from the macabre humor. In these pictures, Goya shows that the irrational. the demonic, and the monstrous reside in humanity itself.


Francisco de Goya
The Devil's Lamp



How They Pluck Her!

They Already have a Seat



Might Not the Pupil Know More?




Of What Ill Will He Die?

Neither More Nor Less



Thou Who Canst Not

There Is Plenty Tot Suck




A Gift for the Master



Tale-bearers - Blasts of Wind




The Chinchillas

What a Tailor Can Do!



To Rise and to Fall

The Filiation, i.e. Relationship



And Still they Don't Go!

Who would have thought it!



Look how solemn they are!

Bon Voyage



Where is mother going?

Wait until you have been anointed




Devout profession



When day breaks, we will be off

You will not escape



Can't anyone untie us ?

It is time


Francisco de Goya
The Madhouse

Oil on panel, 45 x 72 cm
Museo de la Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy