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Art Review: Editorial etchings

Life-threatening illness inspired Goya to pursue truth and commentary in his works.

May 19, 2010|By Terri Martin
(Raul Roa/Leader )

The art of Francisco Goya is not something to love or hate. It is something to decipher. The Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale presents "The Caprichos Etchings and Aquatints (1799)," 80 of the artist's cutting edge copper plate prints, in a rational, eye-level format, to soften the impact of the emotive and chaotic imagery.

The walls of the gallery are lined with etchings along with three centralized pillars containing significant works. This suite of prints is encrypted with moralistic, allegorical, satirical and political messaging that is delivered in a style that prefigures photojournalism. Goya's Caprichos are populated with freakish characters behaving monstrously.

The set was a propagandistic tool to inspire critical thinking during the Age of Enlightenment. Reason was the platform for enlightenment but hypocrisy reigned in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the church and monarchy conspired on the notorious Spanish inquisition. Goya unmasks society for turning a blind eye to abominations that had become customary. Viewers should not judge these grotesque images on sight but analyze, put them in context, comprehend Goya's warnings, and see Goya's truths. They were his quest for human rights.

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Goya (1746 to 1828) lived a modest life and aspired to become court painter to the kings of Spain. Amid the burgeoning revolutionary enlightenment movement, a life-threatening illness left him deaf. Having faced mortality, Goya was struck with urgency to produce his Caprichos etchings. He was emboldened with notions of truth and conscience, which resulted in severe imagery, presented as a dream sequence. He hated the inquisition and felt shame for serving those who perpetrated it.

The etching titled "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" is identified as a self-portrait. He dreams, draped across a cube, haunted by dark hovering demons that are not quite in focus. It is self-indicting and a commentary on the absence of reason in Spanish society.

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