Goya. In the labyrinth of folly

The series "Los Disparates"


Los Disparates also known as Los Proverbios

Goya created the 22 enigmatic prints of the series Los Disparates (Follies, Absurdities) between 1815 and 1824. Executed in aquatint and etching, they constitute a high-water mark in his own work and in the history of printmaking overall. In today’s exhibition at the Kupferstichkabinett of the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, the series can be seen in particularly fine impressions. Goya’s reputation as a “prophet of modernism” is largely based on this mature work. The exhibition features the first edition of 1864 (originally published as Los Proverbios) and further prints from the series published in 1877. They are complemented by a rare trial proof as well as individual sheets from Goya’s earlier graphic series.

Plain Folly, Lurid Darkness

The series confronts us with unsettling existential truths. In fantastical, nightmarish scenes full of acerbic wit, and, at times, gross cruelty, Goya conjures a vision – or reality? – of a world that has succumbed to irrationality. Leitmotifs of the series are the fluidity of the boundaries between opposites – man and animal, bondage and dance, masking and unveiling – and exaggerated, even ‘toxic’, gender roles.

Goya’s Life and Time

Goya was born near Zaragoza in 1746. He traveled to Italy in 1770/71. Back in Madrid, from 1774 onwards, he pursued a career that would see him become a member of the Royal Academy and court painter to no fewer than three kings. Completely deaf from 1793, he gradually withdrew from official duties. In 1824, he fled the reactionary anti-liberalism of Ferdinand VII’s regime and went into exile in Bordeaux, where he died in 1828.

The Painter as an Etcher

A keen and innovative etcher, Goya used the intaglio technique of aquatint, which had been developed in France in the 1760s. It allowed him to create dramatic compositions with painterly tonality, set against an evocative backdrop of seemingly eternal blackness. The presentation of Goya’s printmaking technique in this exhibition and the investigation of its significance as a source of inspiration for contemporary art is the result of a collaboration with the Etching Studio at the Braunschweig University of Art (HBK).