Goya: Prints of Darkness

The sleep of reason
The twenty-two aquatints presented here belong to Los Caprichos, an eighty-print series satirizing human follies first published in 1799 by the Spanish Romantic painter and printmaker Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Goya’s compelling scenes of grotesque, vacuous, and monstrous figures rapidly proved controversial—and successful on an international scale. The Mead’s set, donated by Edward C. Crossett (Class of 1905), dates to 1803, the year in which the artist gave his printing plates to Carlos IV, King of Spain, in exchange for funds to support the education of Goya’s son.

Goya developed the Caprichos’ designs from drawings made in 1796 and 1797 in the so-called Sanlúcar Album, also known as Album A, and in the larger Madrid Album, or Album B (both of which are now dispersed). To make the prints, Goya employed subtle combinations of etched lines and aquatint tones, intaglio printmaking techniques using acid to incise the metal printing plate and create the grooves that hold the ink in printing.  

Then, as now, the Caprichos struck viewers as both polysemous and enigmatic. Visitors to the Mead’s display may take additional clues to the prints’ meanings from the captions inscribed beneath each image and the transcriptions of Goya’s manuscript commentaries (preserved in the Museo del Prado, Madrid). The English translations offered here derive from Tomás Harris’s 1964 catalogue raisonné of the artist’s prints. As a glimpse through the magnifying glasses reveals, Goya’s resonant Caprichos reward close looking.

The Mead is indebted to Natasha Staller, Professor of the History of Art at Amherst College, for proposing the present display and selecting the prints on view.

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The exhibition is supported by the Collins Print Fund, the David W. Mesker (Class of 1953) Fund, and the Hall and Kate Peterson Fund.