Origin and development
of Goya's political ideals

Goya evolved from reformist to fully fledge liberal positions

St. Peter, penitent

Goya's ideological development, according to Roberto Alcalá, was identical to that of many Enlightenment Spaniards. In the second half of the 18th century, he supported Bourbon reformism, and at the end of the century he had become a fully fledged liberal. He watched the violent events of the French Revolution, perhaps with grave doubts as to its implications. Around this period Goya clearly revealed himself as being in favour of the Enlightenment and an opponent of the obscurantism of the Ancien Regime. He also showed himself to be full of the contradictions of an Enlightenment Spaniard of the time.

The French invasion dragged Goya (as it did many of his compatriots) into an abyss of bitterness and loss of faith in the political beliefs that he had held. This change took some time to become apparent in Goya, forced as he was to keep quiet to avoid the unwelcome attention of the reactionary elements in Fernando VII's court.

Towards the end of his life, Goya sought refuge in, amongst other things, an intense, private religiosity, which can be seen in the work St Peter at Prayer, painted in 1820. The depth of his religious feelings did not, however, affect his liberal ideals on subjects such as social conditions and customs, a point of view he maintained up to the moment of his death, and which can be seen in the magnificent drawings of the last productive period of his life.

Some writers have overemphasised the pro-liberal and pro-Enlightenment features of Goya's thinking, to the point of making him out to be a revolutionary, ruthlessly anti-clerical pictorial pamphleteer.

Perhaps on many occasions, this ruthless criticism was simply the result of an ironic way of looking at the world, especially at the contradictions inherent in life. This could be interpreted as a key to his loss of political faith, and as a consequence of his search for authenticity.

At other times the criticism was perhaps the fruit of Goya's commitment to his middle-class clientele (never called into doubt, opportunistic though it may have been) and the scaled-down dimensions required by the technique of etching.

These critical tendencies were also highly likely to be the result of the close relationship that Goya maintained at court with the Enlightenment party, who were in favour of education and the setting up of productive industries, and who were against the vices and traditionalism that acted as obstacles to necessary reform

Thus, Goya gives the impression of being a bourgeois of his times in every aspect of his life and habits, including his social and political ideals.


Canellas, Ángel (ed.). Francisco de Goya : Diplomatario. Zaragoza, 1981.

Canellas, Ángel (ed.). Francisco de Goya : Diplomatario : Addenda. Zaragoza, 1991.

Javier García Marco

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