Francisco de Goya's series, the Disasters of War, remains one of the strongest accusations against the horrors and tragedies of war to date. Reflecting the suffocating atmosphere of violence that surrounded Spain at the time, Disasters of War attacks the senselessness of war itself and makes a desperate appeal to all that is good in man. Although sources are unanimous in asserting that Goya was not physically in the midst of any actual violence, Goya acts as a witness to the series insofar as he was subjected to and deeply aware of the current violent events that characterized Spain during the Peninsular War. Disasters of War should be considered the true ancestor to all great visual war reporting because, like a new photographer, Goya successfully captured events of war in the instant they were committed, making visible what is often too difficult to capture with words. Goya's war does not appear noble or heroic like the majority of nineteenth century war depictions. Rather, it is full of killing, famine, and rape, confronting viewers with images similar to those seen in contemporary war documentaries.
Hostility between French troops and Spanish citizens increased violently between 1807 and 1808 leading up to the outbreak of the Peninsular War. During this time Goya remained in Madrid, continuing to serve as court painter to the Spanish Monarchy under Ferdinand VII. It was not until October of 1808, when the Napoleonic troops began their assault on the area of Saragossa and Fuendetodos, that the painter saw cause to become involved in the war. Fuendetodos, the city where Goya was born, had always remained close to the painter's heart and when he was invited to sketch the atrocities occurring in the region he accepted and began the journey from Madrid. Traveling through the Spanish countryside allowed Goya to see the horrors of warfare as they were being executed and upon reaching Fuendetodos in October, the painter was rightly appalled by the acts of violence destroying Spain. Spanish forces in Fuendetodos held out for seven heroic weeks against the Napoleonic troops, but eventually succumbed to the French and surrendered. Goya undoubtedly witnessed atrocities beyond description as the city lay in ruins churches collapsed, corpses overflowing the streets, the stench of death overpowering the air.
It was here in Fuendetodos that Goya was believed to have begun to sketch the Disasters of War , rediscovering his creativity through the suffering of his country. Retuning to Madrid in December 1808, Goya continued to submit to the rule imposed by the French, yet did not allow his spirit to be vanquished. In January of 1809, Joseph Bonaparte was instated as the new ruler of Spain and Goya, as official court painter, declared his loyalty to the new leader. Goya began to work under the new regime of King Joseph I, but became continuously withdrawn from the public sphere and devoted the majority of his energy to the atrocities he was witnessing in Spain - images of war, famine, and rape.
No better example exists of the inner turmoil consuming Goya than the comparison of iconography and themes from the commissioned Allegory of the City of Madrid to the Disasters of War series. Allegory of the City of Madrid was commissioned by King Joseph in February 1810 and represents the honor and traditions of Spain in their continuance under the Napoleonic Empire. The painting relies on academic stylistic elements to depict classically modeled figures of tradition allegory. The image is joyful and lighthearted, the subject matter glowing with illumination. Goya took great pains in creating this painting, regarding the commission as an obvious denial to the real state of Spain. The pressure to continue a normal lifestyle, despite living in a country torn by war, began to take its toll on Goya and reserves of indignation and revolt piled up inside the artist, turning into passion on the edge of explosion. Goya...
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