Article by Carley McCready, University of Mary Washington, April 2011
Goyas’s series of etchings, Desastres de la guerra (Disasters of the War), begun in 1810, are snapshots of the horrors of the Peninsular War, waged by France upon its former ally, Spain. A total of 82 engravings, it was originally titled by Goya, Fatales consecuencias de la sangrienta guerra en España con Buonaparte, y otros caprichos enfáticos, or” The Fatal Consequences of Spain’s Bloody War with Bonaparte, and Other Emphatic Caprices.” The themes presented in the Desastres, as it is commonly known, encompass the futility of the war, the brutality of the French soldier, and the effects of war that ravaged Goya’s country (Vallentin 263), as seen in Plate 27, “La caridad” .
Plate 49, entitled Caridad de una mujer (Charity of a Woman, seen in the featured image here), depicts a common scene during the Peninsular war. The subject of this etching is the charity of a woman, located in the left foreground of the artwork, giving food to those dying of starvation on the streets of Spain. She is depicted in all white, yet her back is turned from the viewer. This etching is based on el año de hambre, the year of hunger, when famine struck Madrid from 1811 to 1812 and more than 20,000 citizens died on the streets.
While it is hard to be sure about what Goya was trying to say in his enigmatic “La caridad de una muger,” it is definite that Goya’s social commentary of the Peninsular War is negative. In his series Desastres de la guerra, there is no doubt that he is “attacking the senselessness of the war itself, the futility of the carnage, [and] the crime committed against mankind’s primordial right, the right to live” (Vallentin 263). His ironic take on the subject, from the scenes he represented to the captions he wrote, allow the viewer to see that Goya viewed the war as tragically pointless.
“Gentes de color, gentes de placer y otras rarezas: Una aproximación a su estudio en la pintura europea y americana de los siglos XVII y XVIII.” Cabildo Insular de Fuerteventura. Comisión de Cultura (Islas Canarias, España), n.d. Internet resource.
Goya, Francisco, Janis A. Tomlinson, and Serraller F. Calvo. Goya: Images of Women. Washington, D.C: National Gallery of Art, 2002. Print.
Museo del Prado, Desastres de la guerra, http://www.museodelprado.es/goya-en-el-prado/obras/lista/?tx_gbgonline_pi1%5Bgocollectionids%5D=27
Vallentin, Antonina. This I Saw: The Life and Times of Goya. New York: Random House, 1949. Print.