Psychological Insights in Francisco de Goya's Art

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  • 00:00 Francisco de Goya
  • 1:02 Goya & the Wars of Spain
  • 2:18 Caprichos & Black Paintings
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the art of Francisco de Goya and discover how his art reflected his personal mental state and still reflected basic truths about humankind. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Francisco de Goya

Lay back and close your eyes. Now, think of the first memory that comes to your mind. Okay, that will be $80. Sorry to charge you so much, but to understand the link in psychology and art, you need to get the full psychoanalysis experience. Just like this guy did.

This is Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, more often just called Francisco Goya, a Spanish painter and printmaker of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Goya lived at an interesting time. Spain was invaded by France, new artistic styles and philosophies were emerging, and Goya was in the center of it all. He became especially identified with Romanticism, a movement devoted to freedom of imagination and artistic expression.

Goya's work in Romanticism captured the turbulence of this time period, but also documented his personal struggles with mental health issues. Some scholars think he may have suffered from lead poisoning as a result of lead-based paints, others believe he suffered from dementia late in life. Either way, his art captures the torment of the mind, yet the freedoms of imagination in a way that speaks to us all.

Goya & the Wars of Spain

Goya was the pintor del rey, or court painter, of the Spanish kings when the French invaded in the early 19th century. He continued making art, and the experiences of the war deeply influenced him. This is one of his famous paintings, entitled The Third of May 1808, created around 1814 to commemorate the Spanish resistance against the French. The scene shows peasants being executed by French soldiers, a faceless mob attacking the Christ-like figure of an emotional and terrified peasant. Showing the common people was actually pretty unusual at this time, but Goya demonstrated a clear respect of their sacrifices. The strong contrasts of light and dark give this a dramatic feel, being more symbolic than naturalistic, and hinting at the psychological trauma suffered by all of Spain.

Between 1810 and 1820, Goya also created a series of prints called Los Desastres de la Guerra, or Disasters of War. At the time, Goya was actually working as the court painter for the conquering French monarch, so these prints were made privately, as his own personal protest. They show scenes of devastation and brutality, and it's pretty easy to see how these are affecting his personal psyche.

Caprichos & Black Paintings

The wars of Spain had a tremendous impact on Goya, but it wasn't the first time that Goya had used art to protest against society or to help reconcile his own feelings about a subject. Between 1797 and 1798, Goya created and published Los Caprichos, a series of 80 prints critiquing Spanish society. Some parody vanity, lust, or ignorance. True to the ideals of Romanticism, many of these display an imaginative freedom.

The most famous of the Caprichos is The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, in which Goya himself is seen sleeping at his desk, tormented by owls and bats. In this, he has allowed his rational thinking, his reason, to nod off, after which he is harassed by bats, a symbol of ignorance, and owls, representing folly. This expresses his commitment to logic and reason, but also shows the Romantic fascination with the imagination, something that can easily turn into nightmares.

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