FRANCISCO JOSE DE GOYA Y LUCIENTES
El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos
This is plate number 43 of Los Caprichos (The Whims), a series of eighty etchings, privately published by Goya in Madrid in 1799. The artist described the collection as an exposé of "the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual." This plate was intended to be the frontispiece of the series, but apparently Goya thought this might associate him to closely with the contemporary work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France, which was banned in Spain. He chose instead to conceal this dramatic self-portrait from a cursory view by placing it deep in the folio.
At the time he produced this etching, Goya was recovering from an illness, possibly caused by lead paints, that left him deaf and melancholy. During his recuperation he had been reading the humanistic French philosophies that had led to the popular revolution in that country. Goya was beginning to sympathize with the suffering of peasants under the monarchical political and religious structure of Spanish society, and increasingly became devoted to their cause. While he continued to be the (highly paid) court painter for Carlos IV, King of Spain, he was feeling understandably conflicted.
This etching with aquatint depicts the artist himself, along with the nightmarish creatures that attend his sleep in the dream of reason. At the time Goya created this image, people were beginning to question their reliance on -- and obedience to -- kings, priests and "Nobles," and consider the value of human reason. Now, after a couple of centuries of reliance on human reason, perhaps we can begin to question that, also. Perhaps we can begin to consider what is next for Human Being.