Goya Time


The Caprichos & Caricature

excerpted from the book
Saturn: An essay on Goya
By Andrè Malraux
Phaidon Publishers, 1957, translated from
the French by C. W. Chilton,
excepted are pages 46 – 54

For ages Spain had felt herself to be an abettor of the higher diabolism. Philip II had peopled the vistas of the catacombs that guarded his solitude with the creations of Bosch. And who but Bosch and Bruegel had forestalled Goya in summoning such convincing monsters from unplumbed depths? And Bruegel did not surpass the vividness of the Temptations until, in the Dulle Griet he met the Scourge, the maddened slut let loose in a fiery, seething mass of misery. But like him and like Bosch, Goya seemed not to hear anything now but the murmuring of his secret language. What he did understand was that his enemy was the Creation. Following the Flemish diabolists he fought against it with satirical fantasy. He knew now – and he was the first to know it for three hundred years – that his world would never replace the real except by a new system of relationships between things and beings. Bosch painted men-horses, demon-fish, roundel-hats and gave life to their strange world by thrusting it into time, by giving crutches to his devils (wounded in what battles?), and by plunging it into space; the damned, made of shellfish and eggshells, fall for ever into the depths of a background that Bosch was picturing at about the same time as Leonardo was working; they fall in a hellish evening as clear as the twilight of our infancy, in a hellish night in which, behind the sad face of mankind, there turns windmills with sails of fire, a night more charged with poetry that the burning of Rome.

Goya, for his part, represents a simpleton being shaved by women who skin him, adds to carnival the mummery of the Inquisition; tired of putting masks on his characters he turns the face into a mask, or into an animal, or replaces it with an animal's head; gives asses human gestures; combines man and beast for his Sorcerers Out Walking; invents the Chinchilla, a man with padlocks for ears; discovers the spectral voice of draped figures clothing themselves in the void; enlarges the hands of the Goblins. Life is given to all this by its irony and by the appearance in an unusual setting of familiar sentiments which snatch these scenes out of the moment and extend them in life of their own; sorcerers and demons must cut their nails; ghosts watch for the coming of day so that they can flee in time. But Goya disposed also of an obscure people that the Flemish had not known – a people which was not, strictly speaking, imagined but rather intercepted. Did he himself distinguish between the monsters that he owed to the combinations taken from a revived tradition, the Sorcerers Out Walking for example, and those brought to him from he depths of ages by sleep and especially by dreaming. The enormous hand of the Goblins, and the clothes without a face are well known to psycho-analysts; the plucked man-chicken is one of the strange beasts that they are still discussing and one which the unconscious seems to bring up from its deepest depths. Saturn has always been the god of witchery.

Caricaturists in all humanity want to reduce the world to one single meaning, to reveal what it hides by isolating it from what is hidden; Goya wanted to extend it, to add that which would prolong it into regions of mystery. He does not illuminate it like a moralist, a pamphleteer, or a satirist; the light which he lets down, instead of illuminating the puppets, stretches their immense shadows out over infinity. In his time Bosch and Bruegel were counted among the caricaturists (as Baudelaire was to count them later); the distortion which was decisively breaking away from reality had already learnt how to get back to the supernatural.

Stylized as the art of this period may have been, and in spite of Fragonard and David, illusion – the 'objective vision', it may be, of the imaginary – played a preeminent part in it. The modesty of caricature freed it from this. Being a two-dimensional art, like those of the ante-classical era, it did not attempt to compete with the real while it resembled it. It still, however, remained obedient to it. But if we look at the first Caprichos after seeing an album of contemporary caricatures we are gripped by the presence of a new dimension which is by no means that of depth.

Of course, there is a kind of depth in the Caprichos, but it is not that of 'reality', or that of the Italians (Goya's distance is not an horizon). It is a depth of lighting – which caricature did not possess, consisting as it did of lines or low relief, sometimes coloured in flat tints. Nor does Goya's lighting tend to build up space. Like that of Rembrandt, and of the cinema, it tends to connect that which it marks off from the shadow and to give it a a meaning that goes beyond it, and, to be precise, transcends it. The darkness is not merely black, it is also darkness.

Copyright ©1957 Phaidon Press Ltd.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -