Saturday, August 25, 2012

1811-1815 and Goya's Disasters of War

1811-1815 blogging, part 3 of 5
The Disasters of War

In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I relax by considering possibilities for future series.  I spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1811-1815. 

So here’s my third 1811-1815 series possibility:  21 essays on The Disasters of War.

The Disasters of War, plate 15:  "And It Can't Be Helped"
by Francisco Goya.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Thirty-five years after the death of the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya, his series of aquatint prints called The Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra) were published in 1863.  Goya had worked on these 82 prints between 1810 and 1820.  During those years, he was in his sixties and largely out of favor with the court where he had once enjoyed star status.  A serious illness had left him deaf.  His wife died in 1812.  And he observed his country being torn apart by war.

The Disasters of War are a cry of outrage at man’s inhumanity to man.  They are unflinching in their portrayals of war’s horror and ugliness.  There are no heroes.  The bodies of victims are mangled and dismembered.  Their killers are ordinary-looking people casually resorting to sadistic violence.  The very lack of sentimentality within the prints is what makes them such a powerful and pessimistic anti-war statement.

It’s difficult to imagine the amount of work that Goya must have expended on a work that he must have known was unpublishable.  Perhaps it was an artistic obsession that he knew he simply had to work through.  Or possibly he recorded these scenes for posterity—in the hope that someday people would see his depictions of atrocities and say, “Never again.”  The prints are available now for our meditation and they remain as sadly relevant as they were in Goya’s day.

The Disasters of War, plate 3:  "The Same Thing,"
by Francisco Goya.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Over the next two days, I’ll be proposing some more 1811-1815 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).  But I’m wide open to other suggestions.  Any ideas for 1811-1815 places, books, poems, songs, paintings, or other cultural artifacts that might inspire a good 21 Essays series?

© 2012 Lee Price

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