Fernando VII in Spain
Twenty-two years after the execution of Louis XVI, Fernando VII came to the throne of Spain. Fernando VII spent six years in Valençay as the prisoner of Napoleon Bonaparte. The citizens saw the return of Fernando VII as a sign that Spain would return to the glory of the pre-war years. In turn, Fernando VII stated three days after his release that he would do everything in his power to benefit his people (Bergamini 165). The French revolution had turned many Spanish citizens against any sign of liberalism. The return of Fernando VII and an absolute monarchy was refreshing for the Spanish people, who had lived as little more than slaves during the French occupancy.
Unfortunately, the reign of Fernando VII did not fulfill its promise. He found refuge in narrow-minded piety and was mistrusting of those who were smarter than he. The inquisition was of great interest to Fernando VII, and he showed great cruelty to those who were thought to be against the empire. In 1812, two years before Fernando returned, a new liberal constitution was drafted and waited for the return of the king to enact the changes (Bergamini 163). When Fernando returned, he proceeded to hunt down all the liberals who drafted and signed the constitution. He additionally nullified some of the reforms made by eighteenth-century enlightened kings before the French invasion of Spain. The initiatives taken by Fernando VII during his rule showed brutality above all else, and until 1820 Fernando VII answered to no one.
A call for revolt on the first day of 1820 marked a turn in Fernando VII’s rule. By March, after small rebellions in the Spanish providences, the crown finally attempted to meet with the rebels. Fernando declared that he would observe the constitution of 1812 by stating, “Let us step out boldly, I at your head, along the constitutional path” (Bergamini 174). His words would later be shown in vain.
Goya recognized the viciousness shown by Fernando VII. The work of Goya between 1820 and 1823 reflects Fernando VII viciousness. Goya’s paintings depict a very different interpretation of beheadings. Goya’s “black” frescos on the wall of Quinta del Sordo use chiaroscuro to create an eerie atmosphere. Two of these paintings Saturn and Judith (Figure 3 and Figure 4) share a wall and are, this research argues, representations of Goya’s thoughts of Fernando VII.
Goya’s black paintings, like those of the cannibals, use decapitation as a metaphor for reform, but unlike the cannibals the black paintings call for it. Saturn and Judith depict decapitation in two different phases. Saturn has already decapitated his victim and has started to consume the rest of the body, while Judith is raising her sword, preparing to strike at the neck of Holofernes. These two scenes from Greek mythology and the Old Testament show Goya’s changing views on the decapitation of Kings.
Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Children is a metaphor for Fernando VII’s treatment of his citizens. Saturn is a Roman God whose mythology is very similar to the rule of Fernando. Saturn was born from Terra and Caelus. Caelus hated his children and began to lock them in the center of the earth. Terra became angered and asked her children to fight their father. Saturn, the only one to comply, defeated his father; and became the ruler of the universe. It was prophesized that someday one of Saturn’s sons would rise up against and kill Saturn. Saturn became paranoid and devoured every child his wife had. The prophecy comes true when his wife smuggles a child to Earth, Zeus, who returns to defeat his father.
In comparison Fernando VII was believed to be the great savior; he was to come back from imprisonment and bring back the formal glory of Spain. He received a warm welcome back to Spain, which quickly faded when he started taking away liberties citizens had enjoyed before the French invasion. Fernando VII stated on several occasions that he wished to do what was best for Spain, but he would raise a group up only to send the army after them a week later. Fernando VII, like Saturn, ate his children for fear of what they could do to him.
The black painting of Saturn describes what Goya perceived as Fernando VII’s true nature. Saturn stands in the middle of the picture frame with a limp body in his right hand. He holds the body so tightly that blood can be seen seeping from his grip. Saturn’s body is drawn back and is cast in shadow while his head and arms hold his victim out in front of him. Saturn’s head, though not in direct light, is the main focus of the painting. His facial expression is that of a scared child, eyes wide open, staring past the viewer at some unknown entity. His mouth is wide opened about to take another bite. Saturn’s, or should I say Fernando VII’s face is that of uncertainty and fear. As king, Fernando VII frequently changed his mind, calling for the death of those he had just raised to power for fear of being overtaken.
Goya compares Fernando VII to Saturn to show the corruption of Fernando VII, who, like Louis XVI, had lost sight of his body. He could no longer keep the balance between his natural body and the body of the king. Fearing for his natural body above the political, so he ate it, he sought to stay in the good graces of the group. He thought to hold power to save his mortal head but would then use his political power to get rid of the group. Fernando VII’s selfishness of body is not what a king should be. Kingship is an effigy of God. The king is the animate law and is a deity on Earth (Kantorowicz 499-500) Fernando VII held none of these values and his virtue was in question.
If the cannibalizing, decapitating Saturn represented Fernando VII, Goya’s Judith slaying Holofernes painted a different picture. The book of Judith is from the Old Testament and speaks of virtue’s conquest of vice. Judith was a widow of Bethulia who took it upon herself to save the city from the Assyrian Captain Holofernes. Judith and her maid gained entrance to the Assyrian camp and into Holofernes tent. After Holofernes had fallen asleep, Judith took his sword into her hands and hacked off his head. Holofernes’s head was presented to the governors of Bethulia and placed on the gates as a sign of the Assyrian captain’s defeat (Ploeg).
Judith is the epitome of virtue and her defeat of Holofernes is, this research argues, a metaphor for the destruction of Fernando VII and his vices. Judith is the focus of the painting. She is fully illuminated while her maid who is praying is in shadow. Judith holds Holofernes sword in her right hand, while her left hand (not in the picture frame) grasps the hair of Holofernes. Judith, as a representation of virtue, is raising the sword to decapitate Holofernes, or vice. The action is the main point of this painting. Goya uses light and dark to add emphasis to Judith’s actions. Judith, fully illuminated, is placed in a dark background. Her upper body, arm, and sword create directional cues from the sword from Judith to Holofernes head. The sword through virtue conquers vice. Goya here advocates that Holofernes or Fernando VII’s vice be conquered by virtue.
In 1824, Goya left Spain for Bordeaux, where he continued to paint about the Spanish monarch. Goya created a miniature on ivory of Judith (Figure 5). Goya’s depiction of Judith on ivory is very different from the black painting of Judith from two years earlier. Goya had gone into voluntarily exile in France because he had had enough of Fernando VII tyrannical rule (Bergamini 182). Goya gave up on the idea of reform for Fernando VII and believed that it was time for strong action.
Judith on ivory is no longer about the action of vice over virtue but about the decapitation of the “head.” The same Judith from the black paintings is depicted in the miniature. The women share a similar dress pattern with bare shoulders. The sword remains in her right hand but this time she has struck the neck of Holofernes once. The overcoming of vice is no longer important, but the destruction of it is the new goal. The slight blue of Judith’s dress separates her from the background and Holofernes. The use of red for the sword draws the eye from Judith in the center of the image to Holofernes. The slight blurring of Judith’s right arm denotes movement; this eludes the lifting of the sword from the neck only to be brought back down again. Goya’s strong lines add the feeling of restlessness and urgency. Goya’s image shows lack of patience for reform and a call for action.