Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War)

Fatales consequencias de la sangrienta guerra en la Espana con Buonaparte, Y otros caprichos enfáticos

por una navaja (for a clasp knife), plate 34

Fatal consequences of Spain’s bloody war with Bonaparte, and other emphatic caprices

Between 1810 and 1820 Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya printed a series of etchings, drypoint and engravings in response to the Peninsular War of 1808-1814 (Spanish War of Independence). The first 47 plates focus on incidents from the war and show the consequences of the conflict on individual soldiers and civilians. 1

Instead of highlighting the heroic acts of soldiers as most wartime artists were known to do, Goya showed the horrors and effects of war on the Spanish people. 2 I think of  War, Literature, & the Arts Editor Donald Anderson’s words, “It is dishonest to create art that does not reflect the world that art exists in.” 3

Lo mismo (the same), plate 3

I chose Goya’s prints because I recently took an intaglio printmaking class and ran across his work as I searched for inspiration. Intaglio printmaking techniques (the same process used by Goya in this series) is a process of etching into a metal plate with various tools (and sometimes acid, as with aquatint) to create lines that catch ink. Then you print the ink onto paper through a press. It is a very physical process and the finished product can take on immense detail that would otherwise be hard to achieve with a pencil or paint brush.

Goya’s images of war in this series are filled with harsh lines and facial features that are hard to define. They are almost hard to look at. I think this was intended as a way to show the brutal realities of war. In the first picture (plate 34) a priest is tied up and looks like he has been executed for what is assumed to be possession of a knife (por una navaja). The man’s face is distorted and the lines are frenetic. You can tell he has been executed because his tongue is sticking out and eyes look closed. The lines show drooping eye lids. The crowd is a jumbled mass of faceless people, except for one face with eyes that appear to be squinting as if it’s too painful to look.  The anxiety of the crowd jumps out at you.

Goya was able to capture images from the front lines of war and present them through an artistic lens. Plate 3, lo mismo, is a print of a man about to cut the head off of a soldier with an axe. The images are macabre in nature. They are anything but stylized. Goya chose to use printing as a means of protest in a brilliant manner. I highly recommend further study of Fransisco Goya.