Criticism of bad marriages

Goya portrays suffering produced by the understanding of marriages as tools of the familial policies

What a sacrifice! (Caprichos)
In traditional societies the family is a fundamental institution, and marriage is clearly just another instrument of family policy. Thus, it was seen as being far too important to be left to the judgement of the son or daughter, and marriages were arranged by their parents.

Young people, especially women, who dared to challenge the established order had to face discredit and the emotional rejection of their family. They could even suffer severe physical punishment. This brute reality can be seen in drawing 93, Album C. In this work one sees the tormented face of a woman being tortured in a cell, which violently contrasts with the triviality of her crime, which is given in the title For marrying whom she wanted.

Goya, who supported the new spirit of the age, and whose values were close to the ideas that the best of the Catholic moralists had been trying with difficulty to propagate, attacked the causes of the suffering that people went through as a result of the mode of understanding the function of marriage simply as a way of furthering the family's fortunes.

Goya paid special attention to those marriages between old men and young women (Capricho 14) that left the women dissatisfied (DB58) and a prey to depression (Capricho 9) and adultery. However, Goya was not slow to criticise those women who abandoned their home (They say yes and give their hand to the first comer (Capricho 2)).

If one thing emerges clearly from these works, it is the force with which Goya deplores the situation in which women in the 18th century women lived, caught up as they were between the dual tyrannies of their fathers and husbands.

Men are also depicted as victims of deceit and exploitation, fooled by their families' vanity and desire to marry noble stock (Capricho 57), or they are victims of their own sexual desires. In some drawings like no. 59 from Album B or the Dream no.11, several men look with distrust at their masked future wives. To Alcalá Flecha it is a representation of men about to be tied to an adulterous marriage, while Lafuente Ferrari regards it as a picture of men dragged into matrimony because of their fiancee's pregnancy, surely caused by another man. Whatever the meaning, these women's masks, as in the drawing They say yes ..., are an allegory of women's capacity for pretence, their ability to manipulate men, and the incapacity of primitive, desire-driven men to comprehend the inner life of women.

Goya believed, as did the Cortes de Cádiz, that young people should be allowed to choose their partner without pressure. The Capricho no. 84 clearly shows Goya's feelings on the matter- Nothing matters.

However, experience shows that not even freedom to choose one's partner frees couples from the difficulties that many of them face: fights (drawing F. 18), the exploitation of the wife (drawing G. 13), ill treatment and loss of love. In situations such as those, marriage becomes a life sentence in which couples turn their back on each other and wonder, as does Goya: Is there no one to untie us? (Capricho 75).

Goya shows in drawing no. 15 from Album C his final opinion about marriage, not so very different from many ill-tempered clerics of the time. The work entitled A secure and natural union, shows a happy hermaphroditic (!!) couple. Although this work has been described by some writers as a sublimation of the ideal union, the evangelical 'one flesh' (ref: Alcalá Flecha), to others it is once again an example of the artist's acid humour that states that the only condition in which two people can live a harmonious life is by not being two separate, different beings.

Almost twenty years later, Goya prepared a ferocious etching (Disparate matrimonial) of a pain-racked, hermaphroditic figure surrounded by a hallucinatory chorus of old men and women. The male part of the monstrous form cringes under the exhausted female. The man makes an accusing gesture at a priest who is praying and howling with fingers entwined 'it's not this, it's not this.' This work is part of his final period when he no longer distinguished between the guilty and the innocent. At this stage of his life he appears to think that the cause of our ills is based in the alliance between the demons "out there" and the worst aspects of human nature that all of us have inside ourselves. An alliance which, when dominant, creates obstacles to the building of a happier, better world.


Alcalá Flecha, Roberto. Literatura e ideología en el arte de Goya. Zaragoza: Diputación General de Aragón, 1988.

Francisco Javier García Marco

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