A few weeks ago, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which is my favorite museum because the building itself is gorgeous and their permanent collection is incredible. They have a fantastic American wing with Eakins, Homer, and Sargent, to name a few. Currently on display is a Goya exhibit. For those of you unfamiliar, Francisco Goya is a Spanish painter who was born March 30, 1746 and died April 16, 1828. He was famously the court painter to Charles III and Charles IV. He also was commissioned to paint for much of Spain’s nobility, which is a testament to his popularity and well-regard. When Goya became ill and deaf, his work took a darker turn. It was at this time when he made his famous print series, Los Caprichos. These prints portray nightmarish and fantastical scenes that reflect the introspective of Goya. The turn of the 19th century brought the Peninsular War, which started when French forces invaded Spain in 1808. Goya became active by representing the war in his work.
The exhibit is titled Order and Disorder to represent the extreme variation of Goya’s work and how it moves from commissioned portraits to genre drawings to representations of the war. Instead of breaking up his works chronologically, the exhibit was organized by themes, which included nurturing and abuse of children; hunting as sport and metaphor; religious devotion and superstition; equilibrium and loss of balance; justice gone awry; and the symbolism of the giant. This was incredibly interesting because it allowed me to think critically about the subject as opposed to a timeline. A sub-category of many of these themes was age and time. Many of the portraits of youths were sick children who were in the process of dying, his most famous being of Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga, a wealthy young boy who died at the age of 12. The birds represent the fleeting soul, which may mean that Goya painted this portrait after the boy’s death (Goya never dated his work, so it’s impossible to know when it was actually executed). The child is also quite small for a boy of 12, which is proof of his sickly nature.
Another painting that especially intrigued me was titled Las Viejas or Time of the Old Women, as it is often called in English. The old women are incredibly sallow and decrepit looking. They are elaborately dressed, likely in an effort to ignore their sickness and age and hold onto their youth. This fact cannot be ignored, however, because father time hovers above them. The contrast between Father Time and the women is interesting to note, as all three subjects are old, but Father Time possesses a strength that the women do not. This inspires us to consider beauty and age in different forms. Most art historians believe that Goya painted this after his own illness that left him deaf; therefore, this can act as a reflection of Goya’s own grappling of age and the inevitability of his own death.
Having spent so much time in class discussing portraiture, this exhibit was very relevant. We’ve focused only on English and Irish portraits, so I enjoyed exploring Spanish portraiture. Spanish portraiture seems to possess more movement and emotion than English portraiture, which I found could be very rigid and formal. Goya often infuses his portraits with satire, which added a lighter element to his pieces. One of my favorite of Goya’s is his painting of The Duchess of Alba. The Duchess is pictured in mourning clothes, as her husband died the year prior; yet, she does not appear to have the sentiment of mourning. She points to the ground, where the words “Solo Goya” are drawn in the dirt. This provides some evidence of an intimate relationship between the Duchess and Goya, which could explain her lack of sorrow. The inscription was covered up and was not discovered until later when the piece was being cleaned; but, it still shows the naughty nature of Goya’s work.
This exhibit will remain open through January 19th, so you should all try and make it into Boston during the break to see it! Here’s the link if you want to see videos of the curators explaining their process: http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/goya.