Art and history buffs have over two months to take in an exhibit at Instituto Cultural Cabañas of 80 scathing, book-size, aquatint etchings first published in 1799 by a preeminent artist of Spain during one of that country’s darkest eras.
Though the crowds of tapatios surging through “Los Caprichos [Caprices] de Goya” didn’t appear to be reaching Mona Lisa levels Tuesday (the Cabañas’ day of free entry), they did indicate near-rock-star standing for Francisco Goya among Guadalajara’s young intelligentsia. After all, Goya was Spanish and his groundbreaking painting, The Third of May 1808, showing the execution of Spaniards by Napoleon’s invading army, was the source for Manet’s equally famous work depicting the execution of Mexico’s short-lived Emperor Maximiliano.
But atrocities by authorities are only one of Goya’s dark themes that hit home in Mexico. Perhaps even more cogent here are the motifs chillingly depicted in “Los Caprichos” (Goya’s own title for the set of prints), which can all fit under the umbrella of abuse – from the monstrous to the silly – committed by priests and the powerful (including royalty, politicians, teachers and even matchmakers).
The prints are not easy in any way. Commentators have long noted that artistic vagueness was a virtue in many eras, especially the Inquisition (which, incidentally, was enthusiastically carried out in both Spain and Mexico – another probable reason for the popularity of Goya here). Thus, Goya’s critical prints are typically not easy to interpret. A few in the set, such as the most well known, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” are crystal clear critiques of superstition and the conservative religious forces that were arrayed against the Enlightenment, of which Goya was a fan. But most are not this clear. Indeed, in the prints that depict priests and monks, it is often hard to figure out exactly what is going on, although the leering expressions and ungainly physiques speak volumes.