Goya confronted this subject as he did so many others, without blindfolds or rose tinted spectacles

Nice advice (Caprichos)
The spread of venereal diseases after the conquest of the Americas finally brought about the closure of brothels in the 17th century. Before then, brothels had been regulated and controlled by the town councils, who received a share of the income.

As can be imagined, the measures did little to put an end to prostitution. In reality, the reverse was the case. Immigration to the rapidly growing cities in Spain, especially Madrid, meant that the oldest profession was the also fastest growing one in the 18th century. This all went on without the sanitary control that had previously been exercised by local authorities.

Goya confronted this subject as he did so many others, without blindfolds or rose tinted spectacles. He studied the spirit of the period and one sees that his sharp vision contained conflicting emotions, mirroring life's contradictions:

  • Fascination for the plump, docile beauty of the majas.
  • A certain degree of pity for the victims, which in some cases is countered by the depiction of them not as innocents, but as passive accomplices (Capricho 15, 17).
  • Caustic caricatures of the madames, those who keep the profession alive. In them the contradictions of the human condition, which delighted Goya so much, are made evident. Here one finds the exploiter and the victim combined. Contradictory characters whose faith, symbolized by the rosary they carry, and wickedness are inseparably linked (Capricho 31). Even when they are depicted thus, they are still worthy of pity because the only pleasures left to them are deceit, the weapon of the weak - and wine.
  • Laughter at those men who are driven by their desires to become the blind toys of these women (Caprichos 19, 20, 35), and who are prepared to lose their fortunes for them.
  • Denunciation of public officials, military men, lawyers and other representatives of the establishment who instead of attempting to find solutions to so much misery, took advantage of it. The commonest victims of this exploitation were those from the lowest classes (Caprichos 34, 21, 22, Drawings B. 82, F. 81, F. 86).
Goya again demonstrates his incisive, mature vision of life, a vision of the crudity of human existence, a contradiction of beauty and misery. There is no good and bad, there is only the struggle of each individual to survive and bear the load that he/she carries. The bawds, old, dependent, exploitative, religious and worn out, and the majas, young, beautiful, ripe and apparently innocent, combine to create a fascinating metaphor for humanity's fate. The metaphor is resolved in the paradox: the bawd was once a maja, and the maja will become a bawd, the convicted will become the executioner and the executioner was once the convicted. The customer, a toy of his desires is as much inquisitor as sinner. And money, the impersonal creature that allows one to camouflage one's responsibilities is in reality the skilfully directed scalpel that is guided by our worst feelings and that will finish us all off.


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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