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Francisco José de Goya Y Lucientes - Biography
Francisco José de Goya Y Lucientes, known as Goya, was one of the earliest artists to see beneath the façade of rationality and expose the mind as the seat of irrationality. Active in Spain and employed for much of his career by the corrupt court of the Spanish king Charles IV, Goya rejected the light-hearted fantasies of his great predecessor at court Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (who had died working for the king of Spain when Goya was twenty-four). Instead, Goya looked penetratingly at the characters of the decaying monarchy who employed him, experienced the brutality of Napoleon's forces on the Spanish people, and distilled from these and other events a view of humanity as often bestial.

Goya was one of the first artists to make human madness a major theme in his work. See The Conjuration for a good example of this. Many of Goya's paintings and etchings depict madness, and even his portraits often emphasised the neurotic and decadent nature of his subjects.

Man as victim was another of Goya's great themes. He was in Madrid when Napoleon's troops occupied the city, and he may have witnessed the execution of Spanish loyalists on 3 May, 1808. Six years later, in 1814, Goya commemorated the episode, which had taken place just outside the royal palace. The Third of May, 1808 is both specific and elemental. French troops are shown lined up at the right, efficiently and remorselessly dispatching their prisoners. Goya exposed these victim's hideous plight, illuminating their desperation, fear, and helplessness by the lamplight needed in the early dawn for the soldiers to hit their marks. Despite its origins in a historic event, Goya's painting goes beyond the specific references and is a stark portrayal of man's inhumanity to man.

Goya's understanding of human limitations extended across all boundaries of class and nationality. He exposed the evils of ignorance, stupidity, arrogance, and sadism. More than once he turned to the concept of sleep as a metaphor for the abandonment of reason. Struck deaf in 1793 after an illness, he became increasingly pessimistic in his later years. In 1819 he bought a house that he decorated with his "black paintings", which concentrated on themes of death, destruction, and cruelty, and included his horrifying depiction of the god Saturn devouring his own children. In Goya's world, the illumination of the Enlightenment had been dimmed by the atrocities of his age. When the liberal Spanish government he supported was overthrown in 1823, he sought refuge in France, settling in Bordeaux in 1824. His last years were spent in isolation and anguish, and he poured his torment into his work.

Goya deeply influenced later artists, particularly Géricault, Delacroix, Manet and Picasso.

Contributed by Gifford, Katya


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