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Indepth Arts News:

2000-12-20 until 2001-03-01
Prado Museum
Madrid, , ES Spain

The Disaster of the War An outstanding aspect in Goyas oeuvre is violence in its different manifestations as expression of nonsense. The events that took place during the Independence War (1808-1814) provoked that Goya made a very critical and innovating reflection on war, its causes, its brutal demonstrations and its consequences. The impressive series of the Desastres, as well as the paintings he made on this subject during those years and the subsequent on the events of the 2nd and 3rd of May in Madrid, show a view radically different from the rest of his contemporaries. The later sided with one or another of the opposing factions and their works had clear propagandistic and commemorative purposes.

Misera humanidad. La culpa es tuya (Miserable humanity. The fault is thine!) writes a wolf in Desastre 74 Esto es lo peor (That is the worst of it). The source for this sentence is the poem Gli animali parlanti - The talking animals- by Giambattista Casti, Goyas contemporary. It reflects quite accurately the artists spirits during the Independence War - that entailed Spains material and moral ruin - and during the years that followed led by Ferdinand VIIs absolutist reaction - that brought about the lost of great part of the progresses attained, with great effort, by the liberals who drew 1812 Constitution up.

Goyas sensitivity to these events resulted in his best print series and furthermore in a monumental scream against different forms of violence which does not acknowledge any kind of justification. The masterful technical, formal and conceptual handling of the work allows the viewer to contemplate images inherent in every war.

The genius of Goyas oeuvre, so long repeated, lies not only in its evident quality but in the enormous distance that keeps it away from the rest of the artistic production of the moment. If there is someone who thinks about the use of technical resources, composition and ethical importance of the figures, this is Goya. Opposed to heroic and flattering images, Goya presents violence and death in their purest expressions. His war themes do not depict military or popular heroes who fought against French troops, well known through publications and prints of their portraits. They nor present particular events that took place in specific places. Starting from true events Goya depicts the very core of them, the universal representation of heroism, brutality, hunger, despair, destruction and, above all, death. And the main characters of this play are anonymous common people, real war victims; people who attack the mamelukes in the painting The 2nd of May in Madrid, or who die victims of French repression during the executions of the 3rdof May.

The 2nd of May of 1808 the people of Madrid, instigated by some sectors of aristocracy and church, rose up in arms against Napoleonic army that, since the beginning of the year, was occupying the main Spanish cities. As a consequence of it, the French troops carried out a brutal repression that caused the generalization of popular uprising to the rest of peninsular cities; but these were soon submitted to the imperial army. Saragossa endured one of the fiercest sieges and carried out the most heroic of resistances. Between the 14th of June and the 14th of August 1808 the town, commanded by General Palafox, endured the first siege, bloody and perhaps unnecessary judging from its terrible consequences for population. In October of the same year Palafox called for Goya with other artists and asked them to see and examine the ruins of that city, with the aim of painting the glories of its inhabitants. Ruin and grief that Goya perceived during his stay in Saragossa made a deep impression on the painter. Many of the first Desastres show a subject coincidence with the printed accounts of the episode as well as with prints inspired at the same events; this states Goyas interest on the disaster not so much in recording actual facts as in capturing the core of them. It happens that the first plates of the Desastres are dated 1810, as engraved in three of them; that was only one year after his visit to Saragossa.

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