Romanticism developed during a revolutionary time as an antithesis to classical values. Opposites such as: liberalism versus conservatism, tradition versus progress, monarchy versus democracy, and reason versus madness exemplify the tensions of the era. In contrast to the earlier Classical period, Romanticism’s less rigid definitions, especially of beauty, surfaced in the arts. The value of art as self-expression of a unique individual also arose during the late eighteenth century due to the increasing parallel cultural value placed on passions (Jensen 45). Foucault says, “were it not for passion, madness would not be possible, because through passion, madness entered the realm of classical reason during the eighteenth-century.” Therefore, a causal relationship exists between passion and madness (Foucault 88-99).
Art critic Charles Baudelaire bases Romanticism on feeling (Athanassoglou 18). Goya reveals his ability to encapsulate pure intensity of feeling, a hallmark of Romanticism, in his painting, The Third of May (1808) (Figure 7) (Krauss 152), which is seen partly in the depiction of imminent violence, the tenebristic handling of the paint, and the central figure’s gesticulation and facial expression. Romanticism links the artist and the insane, bridging the gap between normalcy and anomaly and blurring the line of distinction between the two. The Romantic emphasis on feeling thrusts both artist and madman into the same camp since both experience a more intense dose of feeling than the average person (Miller 161).
In this environment, Goya asserts his own creative genius by focusing on the internal workings, illusions, and dreams of his own mind rather than upon the external world. Goya’s oeuvre communicates an unusual level of self, a break with academic styles of painting. His art reflects more of madness since one of the initial signals of it, according to Michel Foucault, is an excessive attention to one’s self (Foucault 25-26). For example, Goya did not intend the Quinto del Sordo murals to be viewed by the public; they were created at his whim for his own private consumption. Fifty years after Goya’s death (1828), the French publicly exhibited the Black Paintings in Paris before giving them back to the Prado Museum (Moffit 186). Goya also displays self-attachment through his numerous self-portraits. Almost sixteen different self-portraits from different periods in Goya’s life can be found on artstor.org.
Goya is not impervious to the stereotype of a crazy genius. It is unclear whether Goya’s illnesses caused delusions of madness or whether this is a myth created by historians and scholars. In Foucault’s estimation, unreason gets closer to illness via the realm of the fantastic (Foucault 205). Goya suffered several prolonged illnesses of unknown origin, the first occurring in 1792, and leaving him completely deaf by 1793 (Park 1475). After successfully treating another bout of Goya’s illness, Dr. Arrieta was memorialized in one of Goya’s self-portraits (Figure 3) in 1820.
Many of Goya’s paintings and prints deal explicitly with madness and insanity, including etchings and drawings from: Album G (1824-28), Asylum (1794), Interior of a Prison (1793-94), A Man Mocked (Disparates) (Figure 8), and Plague Hospital (Figure 6). Goya’s French contemporary, Théodore Géricault, also attempted to express ideas about insanity. His portrait of an insane woman (Figure 5) bears testimony to the Romantic fascination with madness and emotion (“Romanticism…” 19). The art of Henry Fuseli is an English counterpart to Goya, also highlights the influence of the Romantic era (Myrone 289). Fuseli’s painting of Odysseus Between Scylla and Charybdis (1794-96) (Figure 9), demonstrates a break with Classical artistic techniques and themes as he delves into the grotesque, shown in the depiction of the strange monsters assailing Odysseus.
Goya masters the depiction of the crossover between grotesque and fantastic, a further division within the Romantic period’s dueling themes of reason and insanity. The grotesque is a shocking or bizarre combination of subject matter and a congruent medium. An ideal example is Goya’s Saturn Devouring One of His Children (Figure 13), from the Quinto del Sordo (Fingesten 419-426). The realm of the fantastic contains more palatable versions of the grotesque. The vacillation between grotesque and fantastic is akin to the quandary between reason and madness. Foucault asserts that a “quasi-resemblance” exists between reason and unreason (Foucault 201). Likewise, the scholar Fingesten calls the “quasi-grotesque” a blend of grotesque and fantastic (Fingesten 420).
Goya absorbed Romanticism and sought to apply imagination and reason in producing art as a way of transcending the ordinary and entering the realm of the fantastic. In this respect, he was a visionary. Goya’s artistic clairvoyance is not something novel to Spanish history. A Spanish literary example is Miguel Cervantes’ half-crazed character, Don Quixote (Ciofalo 421-436). In the 1830s, Bartolomé José Gallardo reported for the periodical, El Criticón, that Goya’s intention had been to make a set of Caprichos, or whimsical drawings, entitled “Don Quixote’s Visions,” since he wanted to reinterpret artistically the mad knight’s fantasies (Glendinning 67). Because images impact more viscerally and immediately than words, art is a more expressive medium than literature (Sandblom 17). Through his prints and paintings, Goya conveyed ideas of reason and madness in a similar way to Cervantes, but perhaps more effectively.