The NGV is open at NGV International and The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Fed Square.

Visitors over 12 years and two months of age must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a valid medical exemption, in line with the Chief Health Officer’s Directions.

Plan your visit

Goya’s Caprichos

In 1976 the Department of Prints and Drawings in the National Gallery of Victoria acquired a first edition set of Goya’s Los Caprichos.1 This complete set of Los Caprichos was acquired through the Felton Bequest. The etchings are printed in warm, light sepia ink on fine quality strong, but soft, laid paper. Each sheet measures 32 x 22 cm. This first edition of eighty etchings was published by Goya in book form in 1799. He announced the publication and sale of the series in the Diario de Madrid on 6 February 1799. He stressed in this public announcement that  

in none of the compositions that form this collection has the author proposed to ridicule the particular faults of one or another individual . . .Painting (like poetry) selects from the universal that which it judges most fitting to its ends; unites in a single fantastic person, circumstances and characters which nature presents distributed among many; and from this ingeniously arranged combination results that fortunate imitation through which a good craftsman acquires the title of inventor and not that of servile copyist.2 Diario de Madrid, 6 February 1799, pp. 149–50. 

The Caprichos certainly do have universal significance. Nevertheless, because of the Inquisition and the political situation in Spain, Goya had to disguise the true meanings of many of his prints. Therefore, his public statement and many of his hand-written comments contained in a manuscript now in the Prado Museum purposely conceal specific attacks and personal references. In fact, even the written titles for Los Caprichos are often ironically ambiguous. Other contemporary manuscripts, such as that which belonged to Adelardo López de Ayala or the anonymous manuscript in the Madrid National Library, identify individuals of the period and provide more  specific commentaries.3 The López de Ayala Manuscript appears in Cipriano Muñoz y Manzano, Conde de la Viñaza, Goya: su tiempo, su vida, sus obras, Madrid, 1887, pp. 327–59. The Madrid National Library Manuscript and López de Ayala Manuscript are both reproduced by Edith Helman, Trasmundo de Goya, Madrid, 1963, pp. 219–41. Goya’s contemporaries were obviously not fooled by his literary ambiguities. The references of the pictorial images themselves were usually all too clear. After only two days Goya withdrew the Caprichos from public sale. In a letter dated 20 December 1825 to his friend Joaquén Ferrer, Goya explained that he had been reported to the Inquisition.4 This letter is reproduced in Francisco Zapater y Gómez, Colección de cuatrocientas cuarenta y nueve reproducciones de cuadros dibujos y aguafuertes de Don Francisco de Goya, Madrid, 1924, p. 55. No records of any trial exist. Nevertheless, in 1803 Goya presented the copperplates for Los Caprichos and 240 unsold sets of the first edition to Charles IV for the Real Calcografía.5 Ibid., pp. 55–56. 

                                                                                                                                                          Goya’s first ideas for many of the Caprichos appear in two drawing albums that are known as the Sanlúcar Album and the Madrid Album. He began the Sanlúcar Album in the summer of 1796 during his stay with the Duchess of Alba at her residence in Sanlúcar de Barrameda near Cadiz. He drew with a brush and Indian ink wash on both sides of each album page to create his first unified drawing series. The Duchess of Alba appears in several of the drawings, while others represent various young girls who may be her servants. The intimate nature of several of the scenes suggests that Goya was allowed to observe the most private moments of the Alba household. His light, delicate brushstrokes and wash technique perfectly capture the lively poses of the figures and the spontaneous mood of each scene. He shows several of the young women enjoying a summer siesta or afternoon stroll, while others recline languidly in the nude. Two of the drawings anticipate the Caprichos. The young girl dressed as a ‘maja’ and seated on a chair (fig. 1) is the source for Capricho 15 ‘Bellos consejos’ (Fine advice) (fig. 2), while the girl who pulls up her stocking (fig. 3) becomes the model for Capricho 17 ‘Bien tirada està’ (It is well pulled up) (fig. 4).     


                                                                                                                                                     Goya’s Madrid Album was probably begun in Sanlúcar and finished in Madrid in 1797. These drawings, like those from the Sanlúcar Album, are sketched with brush and Indian ink on both sides of each page. However, the pages are larger, carefully numbered, and often retouched by Goya with pen and sepia ink. The first part of this album depicts ‘majas’ engaged in amorous encounters with various male suitors. These encounters  sometimes end in lovers’ quarrels or even death. In general, however, Goya shows us a light-hearted rococo world of concerts, swings, afternoon strolls, and ‘tertulias’. The compositions are more complex than those of the Sanlúcar Album, but the delicate style recalls the earlier drawings. However, the style and mood abruptly change with the sheet of drawings numbered 55 and 56.6 This sheet of drawings is in a private collection in Paris. It measures 23.7 x 15 cm. On one side of this sheet a woman resembling the Duchess of Alba appears dressed in a ‘maja’ costume (fig. 5). She holds a half-mask in her hand and is accompanied by two disguised carnival-like figures. The title ‘Mascaras crueles’ (Cruel masks) is written above this drawing. On the back witches make their first appearance in Goya’s art (fig. 6). They are shown celebrating a grotesque witches’ mass. At the bottom of the page, Goya has written the significant inscription ‘Brujas á bolar’ (Witches, about to fly). After this page, the album is dominated by masks, witches, and caricatures. The style becomes coarser and more angular, and the figures show less modelling and more broad definition. Terse captions such as ‘Confianza’ (Trust) and ‘Humildad contra soberbia’ (Humility versus Pride) are introduced to ironically underline the meanings of the drawings. All of these changes indicate a new satirical intention that will culminate in Los Caprichos. They also express a sense of growing disillusionment with man. This disillusionment seems to have been brought about by Goya’s lingering illness and deafness and by the Duchess of Alba’s rejection of him. This rejection led Goya to bitterly attack her in several of the Caprichos

While Goya was finishing the Madrid Album drawings, he gradually evolved the idea of creating a collection of satirical prints called ‘Sueños’ (Dreams). The preparatory drawings for this ‘Sueño’ series served as sources for the final Caprichos. All these drawings were executed in pen and sepia ink with the occasional addition of Indian ink wash cr, in one case, sanguine wash. Goya titled each drawing in pencil and, in some cases, corrected the title in pen and sepia ink. Twenty of the twenty-six ‘Sueño’ drawings in the Prado Museum are also numbered in pencil at the top of the page. Pierre Gassier has used these numbers to reconstruct the original ‘Sueño’ sequence.7 See Pierre Gassier, The Drawings of Goya, The Sketches, Studies and Individual Drawings, translated by James Emmons, London, 1975, pp. 73–103. The titles and subject matter of this series have much in common with the Madrid Album and, in fact, a number of the compositions are directly derived from that album. In contrast, the final preparatory drawings for most of Los Caprichos are different since they are executed in sanguine chalk or wash and never have inscriptions. 


One of the important ‘Sueño’ drawings in the Prado Museum is that which appears to be numbered 18 (fig. 7). It is executed in pen and sepia ink and contains an inscription in pencil that reads, ‘Miniature painter. In minutes he courts her upon crossing the Plaza de San Antonio in Cadiz.’ Across this pencilled inscription, Goya has written in ink, ‘Ancient and modern, origin of pride.’8 The complete inscription in Spanish is: ‘Pintor de miniatura. A minutos la corta [i.e. corteja] al cruzar la Plaza de San Antonio de Cadiz. Antiguo y moderno, Origen del orgullo.’ The two principal figures are derived from a drawing in the Madrid Album.9 This drawing is reproduced in Pierre Gassier, The Drawings of Goya, The Complete Albums, translated by Robert Allen and James Emmons, London, 1973, p. 80, pl. B.40. This ‘Sueño’ drawing in turn was the source for Capricho 27 ‘Quien mas rendido?’ (Which is the more overcome?) (fig. 8). In fact, the two major figures, the dogs, the woman at the left, the woman behind the main group, and the woman with the old Celestina at the right are very similar in both the ‘Sueño’ drawing and the etching. The drawing, however, has a detailed background that represents a bell-tower and city walls. The tower recalls that of the Church of San Antonio in Cadiz and was probably sketched by Goya during his stay in Cadiz in the summer of 1796. The man resembles Goya, and the woman in the ‘maja’ costume must certainly be the Duchess of Alba. The dog at the far left is the same as the one that appears in Goya’s 1795 Portrait of the Duchess of Alba (Alba Collection, Madrid). In the drawing and the etching the two dogs repeat the positions of the man and woman. One dog fawns before the other, just as the artist fawns before the Duchess. The López de Ayala Manuscript and the Madrid National Library Manuscript identify the two figures in Capricho 27 as Goya and the Duchess of Alba. The Prado Manuscript, however, is more generalised. In the final Capricho Goya has eliminated the specific references to Cadiz. Likewise, he gives the work a more universal meaning by commenting on the mutual amorous deceptions that exist between man and woman. He states: 

Which is the more overcome? Neither one nor the other. He is a charlatan of love who says the same thing to them all, and she is thinking about cancelling 5 dates that she has arranged between 8 and 9 and it is 7:30. 


Goya and the Duchess of Alba also appear in Capricho 19 ‘Todos Caerán’ (All will fall) (fig. 9). In this etching two buxom girls are plucking a bird-man, while a thick-lipped old procuress looks gleefully upward to where other winged men fly around a bird-woman perched on a tree as a decoy. In the red chalk preparatory drawing the bird-woman has a puffed-out bosom and the features of Queen María Luisa (fig. 10). The bird-man that flies in from the left with a military hat and sword resembles the Queen’s favourite, Manuel Godoy. His chin, sword, and hat are similar to those in Goya’s Portrait of Manuel Godoy (Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid). The bird-woman’s profile head recalls Goya’s Equestrian Portrait of María Luisa in the Prado Museum. Goya undoubtedly realised that this attack on the Queen was dangerously obvious, since he changed the final etching. He gave the bird-woman the features of the Duchess of Alba and placed a bird-man next to her with his own face. He thereby commented on his relationship with the Duchess of Alba. The overall meaning of the print, however, transcends this specific reference. It shows how beautiful women unfeelingly lure men on and then exploit them, but also reveals man as a victim of his own foolish sensuality. Goya’s commentary states: ‘And those who are about to fall won’t take warning from those who have fallen! But there is no remedy: all will fall.’ 


                                                                                                                                                              A figure with the Duchess of Alba’s features also appears in Capricho 61 ‘Volaverunt’ (fig. 11). The title is a Latin word used in Spanish in Goya’s age to refer good humouredly to something that had flown away or had gone for good.10 See Jose López-Rey. Goya’s Caprichos: Beauty, Reason and Caricature, Princeton, 1953, I, p. 151. In a significant play, Lo que queria ver el Marqués de Villena (What the Marqués de Villena Wanted to See) by the Spanish dramatist Rojas Zorrilla (1607–48), the term is used in relation to a witchcraft theme. The sorcerer Fileno attempts to convince the Marqués de Villena of the existence of witchcraft by making the scenery and the figures fly away. The character Zambapalo comments, ‘Volaverunt.’11 Julio Caro Baroja, Teatro popular y magia, Madrid, 1974, pp. 61–62. Goya also relates this word to witchcraft by showing the Duchess of Alba flying above a group of three witches. They fly in three diverging directions to the Duchess, but wear ‘maja’ jackets similar to hers. She spreads her mantilla and flaps the butterfly wings that sprout from her head. These wings seem to indicate that she flies from man to man just as a butterfly flies from flower to flower. The etching bitterly comments on Goya’s estrangement from the Duchess of Alba.12 One of the most significant ‘Sueño’ drawings in the Prado Museum depicts Goya passionately clasping the Duchess of Alba’s arm. She has two faces to symbolise her duplicity and butterfly wings to symbolise her fickleness. The drawing is inscribed ‘Sueño. De la mentira y la ynconstancia’ (Dream. Of lying and inconstancy). However, on a more universal level, this butterfly-winged woman symbolises female fickleness and inconstancy. Her swollen pride and vain conceit elevate her without the help of witchcraft. As Goya’s commentary states: 

The group of witches who serve as pedestal to this fashionable lady are more of an ornament than a need. There are heads so swelled with inflammable gas that they can fly without the help of a balloon or witches. 

Goya’s design for the frontispiece of his ‘Sueño’ series is located in the Prado Museum (fig. 12). It is executed in pen and sepia ink, and contains three inscriptions. In the upper margin appears ‘Sueño I’ (First Dream). On the side of the desk is written ‘Universal language. Drawn and etched by Francisco de Goya in the year 1797.’ The bottom margin is inscribed ‘The author dreaming. His only intention is to banish harmful common beliefs and to perpetuate with this work of Caprichos the solid testimony of truth.’ The drawing shows the seated artist slouched over his desk in a deep sleep. Behind him lurk bats, owls, and a sinister cat with gleaming eyes. In earlier ages such animals were associated with witchcraft because of the belief that the devil could transform his followers into these and other animal forms. López-Rey points out that in mythology bats are the infernal deities of dreams and suggest to the physiognomist ‘an ignoble passion which shuns light’.13 López-Rey, op. cit., p. 137. In the drawing these various creatures of darkness and superstitious belief cannot penetrate the prominent arc of light located above the sleeping artist. Rays of light issue from his head and link him with this luminous arc. This light is the light of Reason or Enlightenment and is intended ‘to banish harmful beliefs commonly held’. The drawing, therefore, symbolically contrasts light to darkness, reality to dream, and enlightenment to superstitious beliefs. 

A related pen and sepia ink drawing in the Prado Museum also shows the seated artist slumbering over a desk (fig. 13). The luminous arc is not present, but rays of light extend from his head illuminating his partially visible face. Leaning diagonally against his chair is a copperplate with the etched image of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the arts. A cat emerges from behind the chair and looks out at the viewer, while above another cat with wings joins a horde of infernal bats. Various other animal faces are intermingled with animalised human faces. A donkey with two crossed hoofs presides over the scene as a symbol of man’s folly and stupidity. A profile and two frontal views of Goya’s face appear in the centre of these swirling visions. He shows himself trapped in the uncontrollable world of dreams. Human faces and animals swirl around him like the turbulent waters of an endless whirlpool. These chaotic, incoherent images dominate an absurd world where light and reason cannot combat man’s superstition, stupidity, and irrationality. 

Goya’s first ‘Sueño’ drawing became Capricho 43 in the final etched series (fig. 14). The platemark and printing folds on this drawing show that it was actually transferred to the copperplate on which Capricho 43 was etched. The final etching was originally intended as the frontispiece for Los Caprichos as indicated by the Madrid National Library Manuscript that states, ‘Frontispiece for this work: when men don’t hear the cry of reason, everything turns into visions’. However, later Goya changed his mind and used his sardonic, top-hatted self-portrait as the frontispiece (fig. 15). He also changed the title of the series from Sueños to Los Caprichos. Nevertheless, he maintained the dream-like appearance of his original conceptions. The term ‘capricho’ in Spanish refers to works where the artist uses his creative invention to break away from traditional rules of art.14 The Dictionary of the Real Academia Española gives the following description of ‘capricho’ – ‘Obra de arte en que el igenio rompe, con cierta gracia o buen gusto, la observancia de las reglas’, Diccionario de la Lengua Española, Madrid, 1956, p. 257, For an analysis of the many possible meanings of the term ‘capricho’ in Goya’s age see Paul llie, ‘Capricho/Caprichoso: A Glossary of Eighteenth-Century Usages’, Hispanic Review, XLIV, 1976, pp. 239–55. For Goya this term signified everything an artist could do when he was not burdened by official commissions. As he stated in a famous letter to Bernardo de Iriarte: 

I devoted myself to painting a set of cabinet pictures in which I have succeeded in making observations for which there is normally no opportunity in commissioned works and in which ‘capricho’ and invention have no limits.15 Zapater y Gómez, op cit., p. 53. 

There are several important differences between Capricho 43 and the original ‘Sueño’ drawing. Unlike the drawing and the other Caprichos, this etching has an inscription that is effectively incorporated into the composition. It states: ‘EΙ Sueño de la razón produce monstruos’ (The dream of reason produces monsters). Goya has made the giant bat of the drawing smaller and has moved it higher up in the design to give greater emphasis to his own sleeping figure. He has also reduced the amount of light, increased the bats and owls in the sky, and placed a new group of four owls and a cat behind his chair. One owl near the artist has seized a crayon holder and appears to offer it to him. Owls are traditional symbols of darkness, folly, and ignorance. However, they are also symbols of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the arts. This prominent owl seems to combine both meanings as he prods Goya to unite his reason with his fantasy. The arc of light that held back the forces of darkness in the drawing has vanished. Now in the ominous aquatinted sky there are swarms of night creatures. Goya shows himself at the very centre of this unenlightened world. He, like mankind in general, can only overcome superstition, ignorance, and irrationality by uniting reason with fantasy. As Goya states in his commentary, ‘Fantasy deserted by reason produces impossible monsters: united with it, fantasy is mother of the arts and source of all its marvels.’ 


                                                                                                                                                       Goya’s original frontispiece for the ‘Sueños’ series was followed by nine scenes of witchcraft and sorcery. In the final Caprichos, however, Goya placed these witchcraft scenes after Capricho 43, ‘The dream of reason produces monsters’. He juxtaposed the scenes of social satire in the first half to those of witchcraft in the second to show the mutual relationship between man’s irrational social abuses and superstitious beliefs. He related the bawds of the first part to the witches of the second part, since he saw both as the procuressess of vice and evil. For him the witches were the cynical observers of life who created obstacles and laughed at everything. He used them to satirise the superstitions and evils of his day, but he probably also felt a certain sympathy for them. He showed them as evil creatures but also as carefree ‘night owls’ who only needed a broom to go out looking for adventures. 



Goya’s use of witchcraft subjects also reflects the interest in supernatural themes which was prevalent throughout the whole of the eighteenth century in Spain. Spanish writers of the period, such as Feijóo, Torres Villarroel, Cadalso, Iriarte, Moratin, and even Jovellanos, fascinated their readers with stories of magical terrors and witchcraft practices. The Spanish public flocked to the theatre to see plays about magic and the supernatural, such as Marta la Romarantina, El magico de Salerno, La peregrina doctora, El hechizado por fuerza and Duendes son los alcahuetes y el espiritu foleto. The works of Padre Feijóo reveal that the belief in witches still existed in many parts of Spain. Also in Aragón, Goya’s native region, the legends about witchcraft remained very much alive in the imagination of the common people. Near Barahona in the province of Soria, the plain known as the ‘Campo de Brujas’ (Witches Field) was considered the meeting place of both walking and flying witches. Even in Madrid there were ‘haunted’ mansions, such as that called ‘La Casa del Duende’ (The House of the Goblin) located on the Calle del Conde Duque de Olivares.16 Luis Bonilla, Historia de la Hechicería y de as Brujas, Madrid, 1962, pp. 278–79.

In addition Goya’s close friend, the dramatist Leandro Fernández de Moratín, was working on a new edition of the most famous witchcraft trial in Spanish history, The Auto de Fe Celebrated in Logroño on the Days 6 and 7 of November, 1610. Moratín may have begun his edition and satirical notes as early as 1797 or 1798.17 Helman, op. cit., p. 186. It is quite probable that he showed the preparatory manuscript to Goya. 



                                                                                                                                                           The second ‘Sueño’ drawing represents a witchcraft scene (fig. 16). It is executed in pen and sepia ink and shows two witches attempting to fly. At the bottom of the page, there is a pencilled caption that states: ‘Trial of novice witches of their first flight and with fear they test themselves for the task.’ This drawing finally became Capricho 60 ‘Ensayos’ (Trials) (fig. 17) that the Prado Manuscript describes as follows: ‘Little by little she is making progress. Now she takes her first steps, and with time she will know as much as her teacher.’ The drawing and the etching are very similar but do possess some significant differences. On the ground in both we see a human skull, a bone, a dead animal with its legs tied, and two cats next to a double-handled unguent pot. There are also two spools that, according to López-Rey, are ‘most probably symbols of the witches’ individual destinies which they believe themselves to have wrested from the Fates through their pact with Satan.’18 López-Rey, op. cit., p. 150. In the drawing the centre cat has wide-open eyes and looks slightly off to the side. In the etching, however, he has more sinister squinting eyes and directly confronts the viewer. The goat-devil with twisted horns and glaring eyes is similar in both but appears more mysterious in the sketch because of the shading effects around his body. The box-like object at the right of the sketch disappears in the etching. The small hill shapes at the left of the drawing become pronounced diagonal forms in the etching. Light and dark contrasts are more effectively used in the etching to emphasise the goat and the flying figures. In the sketch the floating witch at the right is old and ugly and has a long, toothy smile. In the etching, however, she is young and attractive with a smaller smile and more regular features. Most significantly of all, the centre witch is clearly a woman in the sketch but appears to be a man in the etching. The young witch pulls him by the ear and he frowns back at her. In the etching, therefore, Goya has added another level of meaning. He now comments on matrimonial relations. The Madrid National Library Manuscript is closer to the actual theme in its commentary: ‘For the married couple to leave off sexual labors, to quarrel continually, to rob and always be like cats, are trials and the beginnings of cuckoldry.’


                                                                                                                                                               It is interesting to follow one of Goya’s original Madrid Album drawings through to its final conception as a Caprichos print. In this way one can study the evolution of Goya’s composition and satirical meaning. One of the Madrid Album drawings contains an inscription at the bottom that reads ‘Caricatura alegre’ (Merry caricature) (fig. 18). It is executed in Indian ink wash, and can be dated between 1796 and 1797. It depicts five monks grouped around a table. The principal seated figure at the left has a very phallic nose that is supported on a stick so he can stuff himself with a spoon. The central monk also holds a spoon, and has an elongated angular face with puffy eyes and a flat nose. The figure seated at the right has a skull-like face and grins demonically. The standing monk behind with the pointed face holds a bowl of food and looks at the long-nosed seated monk. A second standing monk, who is only lightly suggested with the tip of the brush, turns to look at the other figures. He holds a tray and has a very pronounced hooked nose. The still-life on the table of the wine bottle, piece of bread, and plates of food is only summarily represented. The background and side of the table are rendered in a loose wash technique. The figures are broadly indicated without many details and their angular robes stand out against the dark wash background. The broad, loose technique of this work perfectly conveys Goya’s satirical meaning. He uses this ironic ‘Merry caricature’ to comment on monastic lust and gluttony.


                                                                                                                                                           The second version of this subject appears in the ‘Sueño’ drawing numbered 25 (fig. 19). It is executed in pen and sepia ink and bears an inscription at the bottom that says, ‘Dream of some men who were eating us up.’ The figure in the left background has been eliminated, and there is now a goat-like creature in his place. The composition is still conceived in terms of two triangular groupings, but the seated monk at the left no longer has a large phallic nose. He and the central figure have more rounded heads. Both have their eyes closed and blindly spoon the food into their gaping mouths. The face of the seated monk at the right is no longer skull-like. He now has a gluttonous smirk as if he were licking his chops. The more rustic monk-waiter behind looks down at his tray which contains a human skull. The still-life details on the table are shown more precisely, and a glass and knife have been added. The shadows are indicated with very exact parallel pen strokes, and the entire work is much more minutely detailed than the first sketch. There is an arc of light at the upper right recalling the similar arc in the first ‘Sueño’ drawing titled ‘Universal language’. This luminous arc does not seem to be able to penetrate this dark, unenlightened scene. The grouping of the figures recalls paintings of The Supper at Emmaus by artists such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt. However, Goya reverses the meaning of this religious subject and shows us gluttonous monks who are obviously blind to Christ’s message and significance. He concentrates specifically on the monks’ gluttony, but the goat in the background may also refer to lust. The human skull on the tray indicates that these monks live off their followers. In this drawing Goya satirises the excessive wealth and overindulgence of the monastic orders of his day. 

The third drawing of this subject is executed in sanguine wash (fig. 20). It is a far less detailed study that closely resembles the final Capricho. In contrast to the previous drawings, the objects on the table are hardly indicated at all. The seated monk at the left and the one in the centre now have their eyes open in a squint. Their mouths are gaping caverns and their bald heads are given greater emphasis. The seated figure at the right is more demonic and has horn-like tufts of hair. The standing waiter is more monk-like than in the pen study. He still looks down at his tray, but it is now empty. The area at the right is now a large arched opening that resembles the gaping cavern-like mouths of the monks. The lack of details and broad rendition of this work recall the ‘Merry caricature’. However, here Goya creates more simplified and dramatic light and dark contrasts. He eliminates any references to lust and intensely concentrates on the monks’ gluttony. 

The final Capricho – number 13 – has a more hallucinatory effect (fig. 21). All the figures are in darkness except the seated monk at the left. Diagonal beams of light strike his head, shoulders, and lower robe, as well as part of the table. Burnishing is used to highlight the collar, nose, and hands of the central monk and the bald head of the seated monk at the right. The left and centre monks still have gaping, cavernous mouths, but now their eyes are half-open. The centre one is now completely bald and has sharp teeth. The figure at the right tilts his head inwards on a diagonal and leers demonically, revealing three teeth. The waiter-monk looks at the group and recalls the figure in the ‘Merry caricature’. The arch-like area at the right is clearly defined but now completely shadowed through the use of aquatint. Little light penetrates this nightmare world of over-indulgence. The ironic engraved inscription, ‘Están calientes’, has a double meaning that implies the monks are hot and ‘in heat’. By relating the monks’ gluttony to their lust, this inscription evokes Goya’s ‘Merry caricature’. The Capricho is effectively described in the López de Ayala Manuscript: ‘Stupid monks stuff themselves at meal time in their refectories, laughing at the world; how can they be anything but hot [in heat]!’ 

‘Sueño’ drawing number 27 anticipates the famous donkey series in Los Caprichos (fig. 22). It is rendered in pen and sepia ink and contains a pencilled inscription that says, ‘Witches disguised as common physicians’. Edith Helman has pointed out that it was quite common in eighteenth-century Spanish literature to represent humans as donkeys. She mentions the Memorias de la insigne Academia Asnal (Records of the Famous Asinine Academy) written by a certain Doctor Ballesteros. This book of verses with donkey woodcuts was published in Bayonne in 1792.19 Helman, op. cit., p. 63. It was well known in Madrid, and Goya probably had seen a copy of it. Nevertheless, his conception of this drawing is very original. He shows us a triangular grouping, consisting of two donkey doctors, a woman, and a male patient. The patient’s bed is placed on an angle to the viewer, while the left foreground is occupied by the large donkey-physician who takes the man’s pulse. The woman places her right hand on the donkey-doctor’s shoulder and looks slightly upward. Another ass with a powdered wig and large glasses leans forward from behind the bed. He gleefully reads from a book or prescription that he holds in his gloved hoofs. Goya links these bestial doctors with witches who are also famous for their lethal potions and sham cures. There may be an autobiographical reference intended here, since Goya would have been more than familiar with bestial doctors after his serious illness. In addition, the woman in the drawing curiously resembles the Duchess of Alba. Goya may be suggesting that this bewitching woman’s love is as false as the sham cures of these donkey-physicians.   

In the red chalk and sanguine wash drawing Goya has greatly simplified the composition by eliminating the woman and the large bewigged donkey (fig. 23). A dramatic diagonal shaft of light now directs us to the more hulking donkey-physician, who is placed closer to the picture plane and shown directly leaning over the patient. Unlike his counterpart in the first sketch, this donkey wears shoes on his lower hoofs and a diamond ring on his extended right hoof. His eyes are closed out of ignorance as he takes the patient’s pulse. The patient and his bed are now placed parallel to the picture plane and his head is turned upward. There is a large curtain in the background and two shadowy forms ominously hover behind the bed. 




                                                                                                                                                          The final etching ‘De que mal morirá?’ (Of what ill will he die?) is Capricho 40 (fig. 24). It is very close to the sanguine preparatory drawing but even more ominously threatening. There are more extreme contrasts of light and dark because of Goya’s effective use of aquatint. He employs fine parallel etched lines to depict the details on the donkey’s coat and donkey collar-like scarf and on the sheets and pillowcase. The asinine doctor’s eyes are again closed as he awkwardly takes the patient’s pulse. The bedridden man is close to death, and the gloomy figures in front of the shadowy curtain are like the lurking spectres of death. With this bestial, ignorant doctor attending him, the patient will surely die. Goya’s ironic commentary states, ‘The doctor is excellent, meditative, reflexive, calm, serious. What more can one ask for?’ 


The final Capricho of the series is entitled ‘Ya es hora’ (It is now time) (fig. 25). It depicts four monk-like monsters who stretch and yawn as day breaks. The diagonals created by their bodies and extended arms lead us back in space, but there is no horizon line indicated. They all wear monastic robes and have grotesque faces. The foreground figure has two small horns on top of his head and carries a bunch of skeletal humans around his waist. The bright daylight that floods the scene indicates that it is now time for these monsters of the night to disappear. As Goya’s commentary states:  

Then, when dawn threatens, each one goes on his way. Witches, hobgoblins, apparitions, and ghosts. It is a good thing that these creatures do not allow themselves to be seen except at night and under cover of darkness. Nobody has been able to find out where they shut themselves up and hide during the day. He who could catch a denful of hobgoblins and were to show them in a cage at 10 o’clock in the morning in the Puerta del Sol, would need no other inheritance.   

Goya suggests that these monsters are the creations of man’s irrationality. Their existence is perpetuated through bad education and superstitious belief. However, when the light of reason dawns, these night creatures must vanish. Goya ends Los Caprichos with a light-filled scene of physical awakening, to show that the monsters produced by the unenlightened human mind can only be expelled when man wakes up to reason. 

In Los Caprichos Goya gave free reign to the dreams and nightmares that had pursued him during his illness and his fatal encounter with the Duchess of Alba. He meant them as satiric denouncements of the ignorance, uselessness and vanity of the society in which he lived. However, as the drawings and etchings evolved they became a universal denouncement of all the empty banalities, prejudices, hypocrisies, and follies of unenlightened mankind. Their written titles are often ironically ambiguous but their pictorial images form a clear and simple universal language. Unlike many artistic and literary works, Los Caprichos have continually maintained their actuality. They are a timeless reflection of the duplicity, deceit, and hypocrisy of mankind. They show that man can only improve his world through the use of reason. 



1          This complete set of Los Caprichos was acquired through the Felton Bequest. The etchings are printed in warm, light sepia ink on fine quality strong, but soft, laid paper. Each sheet measures 32 x 22 cm. 

2          Diario de Madrid, 6 February 1799, pp. 149–50. 

3          The López de Ayala Manuscript appears in Cipriano Muñoz y Manzano, Conde de la Viñaza, Goya: su tiempo, su vida, sus obras, Madrid, 1887, pp. 327–59. The Madrid National Library Manuscript and López de Ayala Manuscript are both reproduced by Edith Helman, Trasmundo de Goya, Madrid, 1963, pp. 219–41. 

4          This letter is reproduced in Francisco Zapater y Gómez, Colección de cuatrocientas cuarenta y nueve reproducciones de cuadros dibujos y aguafuertes de Don Francisco de Goya, Madrid, 1924, p. 55. 

5          Ibid., pp. 55–56. 

6          This sheet of drawings is in a private collection in Paris. It measures 23.7 x 15 cm. 

7          See Pierre Gassier, The Drawings of Goya, The Sketches, Studies and Individual Drawings, translated by James Emmons, London, 1975, pp. 73–103. 

8          The complete inscription in Spanish is: ‘Pintor de miniatura. A minutos la corta [i.e. corteja] al cruzar la Plaza de San Antonio de Cadiz. Antiguo y moderno, Origen del orgullo.’

 9         This drawing is reproduced in Pierre Gassier, The Drawings of Goya, The Complete Albums, translated by Robert Allen and James Emmons, London, 1973, p. 80, pl. B.40. 

10        See Jose López-Rey. Goya’s Caprichos: Beauty, Reason and Caricature, Princeton, 1953, I, p. 151. 

11        Julio Caro Baroja, Teatro popular y magia, Madrid, 1974, pp. 61–62. 

12        One of the most significant ‘Sueño’ drawings in the Prado Museum depicts Goya passionately clasping the Duchess of Alba’s arm. She has two faces to symbolise her duplicity and butterfly wings to symbolise her fickleness. The drawing is inscribed ‘Sueño. De la mentira y la ynconstancia’ (Dream. Of lying and inconstancy). 

13        López-Rey, op. cit., p. 137. 

14        The Dictionary of the Real Academia Española gives the following description of ‘capricho’ – ‘Obra de arte en que el igenio rompe, con cierta gracia o buen gusto, la observancia de las reglas’, Diccionario de la Lengua Española, Madrid, 1956, p. 257, For an analysis of the many possible meanings of the term ‘capricho’ in Goya’s age see Paul llie, ‘Capricho/Caprichoso: A Glossary of Eighteenth-Century Usages’, Hispanic Review, XLIV, 1976, pp. 239–55. 

15        Zapater y Gómez, op cit., p. 53. 

16        Luis Bonilla, Historia de la Hechicería y de as Brujas, Madrid, 1962, pp. 278–79. 

17        Helman, op. cit., p. 186. 

18        López-Rey, op. cit., p. 150. 

19        Helman, op. cit., p. 63.