Religious and Social Ideologies of 18th Century Europe and the Spanish Enlightenment
Ripa’s emblem books were commonly circulated for artistic reference throughout the eighteenth century. The sexual immorality, superstition, and the impoverished and uneducated population within late eighteenth-century Spanish society would have allowed Goya to draw correlations between the emblems and societal problems (Tomlinson 4). Although Charles III partially resuscitated Spain from economic and social ruin with the Spanish Enlightenment, eighteenth-century Spain inherited great economic debt accrued by the Hapsburg King Charles. The country was also split by the extensive monetary wealth of the church and the poverty of the lower nobility and peasants (Klingender 4-14). Combined with the enlightened absolutist monarchy of Charles III, the Catholic Church remained a prominent authority and economic force. The Spanish people maintained intense religious fervor even though society was marked by degradation, vice, and superstition (Klingender 69). For example, prostitution was prevalent in eighteenth-century Spanish society, and uneducated rural populations also combined Christian tenets with superstitions and witchcraft which were forbidden by the Inquisition (Goya 11).
Unlike the Enlightenment experienced in England and France, Spain’s Enlightenment was a nationalist agenda that adopted reason through a Christian lens. Although much reduced in power, the Inquisition still exercised censorship of art and literature as well as intolerance towards Jews and Muslims. Their efforts to reform by Enlightenment thinkers were not approved by the monarchy (Tomlinson 18-19). Spanish reformers were interested in education, injustice, and the hypocrisy of the church, but Spain’s former debts, the number of reform agendas, and the absolutist regime created obstacles and prevented reforms within the century. Charles IV’s reign, which began after Charles III’s death in 1788, was characterized by sexual scandals, political injustice, and intellectual repression (Dowling 344-345). His reign marked the end of the Spanish Enlightenment. Goya’s connections to notable enlightened reformers, such as Jovellanos, Zapater, and Moratin, suggests he was aware of and interested in nuances of enlightenment ideals. His employment as court painter also implies he bore witness to the declining moralities of Spain.