Goya: Transition into the Dark

Artlytics Org
3 min readJul 13, 2020


In 1792, Goya was deaf due to illness, coupled with the government’s incompetence and social turmoil at this time, Goya’s heart also changed dramatically. He began to create satire prints, using various strange characters to satirize the church and the country.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters(El sueño de la razón produce monstruos), Francisco Goya, 1799, Etching/Aquatint/Drypoint/Burin, 21.5cm x 15cm

这幅《理性沉睡,心魔生焉》为戈雅《狂想曲》(Los Caprichos)系列80幅铜版画中的第43幅。画面主人公(即戈雅)埋头沉睡,象征愚蠢的猫头鹰和象征无知的蝙蝠围绕周围、伺机攻击。作品极富盛名,标题亦被经常引用。

This “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” is the 43rd in the 80 copperplate prints of Goya’s “Los Caprichos” series. The protagonist of the picture (that is, Goya) is buried in a deep sleep, symbolizing a stupid owl and a bat symbolizing ignorance, attacking around and waiting for opportunities. The work is very famous, often quoted and referenced by others.


Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 and the Peninsular War broke out. Goya painted two oil paintings “The Second of May 1808” and “The Third of May 1808” to commemorate Spain’s tenacious resistance in the Peninsular War. Goya no longer uses the harmonious and soft colors in the past, but uses dark colors. The picture depicts the tragic war, the terrible death, and unabashedly shows the conflict, violence, and blood.

The Second of May 1808, Francisco Goya, 1814, Oil on canvas, 266cm x 345cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid
The Third of May 1808, Francisco Goya, 1814, Oil on canvas, 268cm x 347cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid


The two works are very different from traditional Christian art and the conventional paintings depicting wars, so they are considered to be the earliest modern paintings and have revolutionary significance.

戈雅晚年搬入了一幢两层小楼 — — “聋人之家”(Quinta del Sordo)。在经历了政府的腐败、战争的残忍、社会的动荡之后,戈雅彻底对世界失望了。他在房间内绘制了一系列壁画(被后世称为“黑色绘画”),以阴森可怖的题材为主,用暗色调(黑色、白色、灰色、深红色等)进行描绘,以此来表现他内心的孤独、寂寞,表达对社会的厌恶,对人类的绝望。在他离世后,他的朋友安东尼奥布鲁加达(Antonio Brugada)对这些作品进行了分类,学者们将画作从墙壁上“移”到了画布上,目前展出于普拉多博物馆中。

In his later years, Goya moved into a two-story building — — “Quinta del Sordo”. After experiencing government corruption, cruel war, and social unrest, Goya was utterly disappointed in the world. He drew a series of murals (called “black paintings” in later generations) in the room, focusing on eerie subjects and depicting them in dark tones (black, white, gray, crimson, etc.). The loneliness in his heart expresses his aversion to society and despair of mankind. After his death, his friend Antonio Brugada classified these works, and scholars “moved” the painting from the wall to the canvas, which is currently on display in the Prado Museum.

黑色绘画由14幅作品组成 (“black paintings ” consists of 14 pieces):Atropos (The Fates), Two Old Men, Two Old Men Eating Soup, Fight with Cudgels, Witches’ Sabbath, Men Reading, Judith and Holofernes, A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, Women Laughing, Procession of the Holy Office, The Dog, Saturn Devouring His Son, La Leocadia, and Fantastic Vision.

Saturn Devouring His Son, Francisco Goya,1819–1823, Oil mural transferred to canvas, 143cm x 81cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid


This “Saturn Devouring His Son” is the darkest and most horrifying one in the “black painting” series. It depicts Saturnus, the goddess of agriculture in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, to prevent the sons from seizing power and usurping the throne, so they ate all the children. Goya may want to use this work to mention the darkness of the government. The power-holders squeeze the people for power and wealth, and Saturnous devours his son.


From “The Parasol” to “Saturn Devouring His Son”, Goya has experienced too much and has changed too much. His influence traversed the twentieth century and still resonates today. He never established his own school, but his works greatly influenced realism paintings, romantic paintings, and even impressionism.

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