First Use of Mirror in Hasta La Muerta
Goya’s intention to offend suggests an underlying objective of the series. In fact, the whole series is a kind of truthful mirror held up to Spanish society. This is most clearly demonstrated in pl. 55: Hasta La Muerte (1794-1799) (Figure 1), of the Los Caprichos series. The viewer witnesses an old woman contentedly gazing in the mirror at her own reflection, as she primps with meticulous attention to detail. In the meantime, her spectators laugh and whisper about the absurdity of this self-interest. Goya intended the woman’s audience to communicate in the background, but what is he suggesting about her? Despite the ridiculing laughs of her spectators the old woman seems quite satisfied with her appearance. At first glance, this etching seems to deal solely with the idea of female vanity. Goya’s careful choice in the title, “Hasta la muerte” (Until death), implies the old woman illustrated in the etching, will likely be obsessed with her outward appearance until the day she dies. It can be assumed that Goya insinuates an alternative explanation for this etching. Goya represents a bridge between an ideal state of being and reality by using the mirror. Within this ideal state, the old woman, as she sees herself reflected, is no longer an aging beauty but a young beautiful girl untouched by the ravages of time. The mirror reveals in beautiful form the true nature of its subject. This true nature can only imply the old woman is beautiful inside, despite her contrary outward appearance.
Goya’s use of the mirror is explained in Anna Maria Coderch and Victor I. Stoichita’s Goya: The Last Carnival, as the harmonization of the subject with its ideal true self. The authors draw upon the period’s use of physiognomy to make their case. Physiognomy is the judging of one’s temperament through perceived physical characteristics. These characteristics are usually in facial expressions and their similarity to define physical traits, in order to identify certain personalities in human beings. Through the Enlightenment’s determination to escape ignorance in pursuit of reason, physiognomy perceives these actualities as divinely acquired knowledge. In effect, this guarantees the visualization of true self (Hartley 1-3). Due to the success of Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy in Spain, Goya most certainly was affected by the study of this subject. As physiognomy suggests, this implies that Goya intended to create a relationship between physical being and state of mind (Coderch 62). Having witnessed the onset of the Enlightenment, Goya essentially attempts to understand the true relationship of man and inner-self (Coderch 60).
The use of a mirror allowed Goya to draw the object as allegory of man. Moreover, the mirror acts as a relationship between one’s self and reality (Werness 171). For centuries, reflections have been used to signify the physical being of one’s soul, which is invisible except in the mirror. The ancient Egyptians strongly believed the mirror contained of the soul and were known to bury engraved eyes on mirrors in tombs of the deceased as a refuge from darkness (Werness 4). Therefore, the soul resides within this tangible object and is a reflection of past, present and future. A number of cultures believe that mirrors are sacred objects, if broken all of one’s self is lost forever. In this series, the mirror acts as a bridge between an ideal state of being and reality, suggesting a parallel universe independent of its subject (Werness 3). The mirror’s reflection is thus a distortion of actuality in the physical sense but a true manifestation of the subject’s own ideal feelings of self.
The feeling of self calls to mind Jacques Lacan’s Mirror Stage, in which the formation of the “I” as self-identification is witnessed through the recognition of one’s physical reflection in a mirror. Essentially, what is observed during this initial identification will be crucial to later identifications of the self (Gallop 119). As has been suggested, the mirror is a significant form of identification for all human beings in their attempt to create meaning behind their own reflection. Lacan’s mirror stage is the “turning point” when a subject recognizes the existence of an ideal self (Gallop 121). This bridge created by the mirror as a gateway from reality to an ideal state of being assists Goya in mocking Spanish society in the Los Caprichos series but more specifically in Hasta La Muerte. In Goya’s etching the old woman defines herself with the reflection she sees in the mirror. Although the subject sees her physical likeness, Goya uses the mirror to symbolize the harmonization of the old woman with her true self; this “true self” is her soul reflecting inner beauty. Despite the spectators ridicule, Goya’s etching suggests she sees beyond outward appearance and into her soul. Consequently, through this ideal recognition of one’s self the subject is thought, by the viewer, to be delusional.