The battle between
Light and Darkness

From the end of the 18th century Goya was an enthusiastic supporter of the Enlightenment and of the liberalisation of the economy and society

The dreams of reason bring forth monsters (Caprichos)

From the end of the 18th century Goya was an enthusiastic supporter of the Enlightenment and of the liberalisation of the economy and society. He depicted the intellectual and political revolution that was spreading across Europe as a brilliant, omnipotent light that would illuminate humanity's destiny, the evangelical lux ex tenebris (drawing C. 117. A light that would, at long last, cast the demons that brutalised human existence into the fiery pit from which they would never again arise (Capricho no. 59). This light would, with scarcely a pause (drawing C.122), restore the sisters, Truth and Justice, to their rightful places on the throne (drawing C. 118).

The print that is most emblematic of his faith in progress and the Enlightenment is Capricho no. 43. In this etching one sees Goya overcome by sleep and resting on the table where he works. A cloud of nocturnal birds swoop and hover around the sleeping figure. One reads the affirmation The sleep of reason brings forth monsters. This print is a declaration of intent. No longer will the artist paint for corrupt politicians and the power mongers of the ancien regime, depicted in the print as ugly looking birds who lay out the brushes with which he works. This time he will take the brushes and use them to support the liberal, Enlightenment bourgeoisie, to whom the future of Europe belongs.

But, despite his rationalist declarations, his drawings and prints reveal his most intimate doubts. In Capricho no. 59 he regrets that the ghosts of the past still haven't gone. In the famous Capricho no. 43, it is the night birds that offer him his brushes and pencils. What does one do when the very darkness uses its creatures as the source of so much life, imagery and passion? Perhaps unconsciously Goya reveals himself as a classicist. He proposes the control of the darkness by reason, but he doubts whether the darkness will ever truly disappear. He goes further and appears to wonder if its complete disappearance is even desirable. This debate, set up within his various works, sets forth his capacity for profound observation of humans and human nature.

This classicism, which was not a notable feature of his more outspoken and hard-headed compatriots, led him to draw parallels once again between the forces of good and evil (drawing F. 45). When this cold war becomes an open and bloody struggle, the first victim is Truth (DG79). But Truth neither achieves complete victory nor is she utterly defeated, as is the case with all her sisters. The struggle is eternal, cyclical, and in one etching Goya drops the ironical aside And what If she were to resuscitate? (Disaster 80).

At the end of his life, Goya depicted his final discovery. He recognised that many monsters had disguised themselves with the finery of liberty, reason and justice. In one of his final drawings Goya pitilessly portrays the once luminous figure of Reason as The mad woman who sells pleasures; pleasures such as knowledge, dreams, happiness and liberty.


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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