More Goya: “There Are No Rules in Painting”


Since the Greeks, representations of the human body in Western art have been as various and contradictory as our notions of the body itself. The body is central to the history of art for the simple reason that every spectator of a painting or drawing is also a person, which means that pictures of human bodies inevitably produce a mirroring effect. We are always looking at ourselves. It is also true that every body that appears on canvas or paper is imaginary—a trace left by another body, the artist’s, and what we see in front of us is the ghostly product of that absent being. In the work Goya produced after his illness in 1792, he was repeatedly drawn to depictions of the body in crisis. Not only did he feel close to death during his own sickness, but after his recovery he lived through years of turmoil, widespread suffering, and war in Spain. The etchings in Disasters of War are perhaps the most horrifying pictures of combat and its brutality on record. Among them are images I find nearly unbearable to look at. One of Goya’s most famous paintings, The Third of May, also includes portraits of slain bodies. The canvas tells the story of the execution of Spanish citizens who had rebelled against Napoleon’s invading army in 1808. Painted six years after the event, it has been generally recognized as a turning point in the genre known as history painting, a startlingly modern work that exploded the conventions of the form. But The Third of May can also be read as a further development of Goya’s vision of the body in art.


Black Painting Mirror Effect Holy Place Modern Painter Famous Painting 
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More Goya: “There are No Rules in Painting”

  1. 1.
    Quoted in Janis Tomlinson, Francisco Goya y Lucientes, 1746–1828 (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1994), 306. Author’s italics.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Janis Tomlinson, From El Greco to Goya: Painting in Spain, 1561–1828 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997), 141.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Quoted in Pierre Gassier, Juliet Wilson, and François Lachenal, Goya: Life and Work (Köln: Evergreen, Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1971), 307.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Robert Hughes, Goya (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2003), 307.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Quoted in Dorothy Johnson, Jacques-Louis David: Art in Metamorphosis (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 74.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 102.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Quoted in Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 43.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Gassier, Wilson, Lachenal, Goya, 51.Google Scholar
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    Fred Licht, Goya (New York, London: Abbeville Press, 2001), 170.Google Scholar
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    Hughes, Goya, 313.Google Scholar
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    Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon Rudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 11.Google Scholar
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    Françoise Davoine and Jean Max Gaudilliere, History Beyond Trauma: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one cannot stay silent, trans. Susan Fairfield (New York: Other Press, 2004), xxvii.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 115.Google Scholar
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    Cited by David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), 153.Google Scholar
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    Tomlinson, Francisco Goya y Lucientes, 252.Google Scholar
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    Licht, Goya, 207.Google Scholar
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    Arthur Lubov, “The Secret of the Black Paintings,” The New York Times Magazine. 27 July, 2003: 24–27.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 27.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 26.Google Scholar

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© Princeton Architectural Press 2005

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