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Goya's Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya created a famous print series called Los Caprichos (Caprices), made up of eighty scenes criticizing human behavior. This image he titled “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters."
Francisco de Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, plate from Los Caprichos, 1797-98

Scholars have different ideas about the ghostly heads in this portrait. Some see them as the visions of a sick man, while others argue that they are a priest and servants.


key idea
Picturing a world without reason

Goya had been seriously ill once before, when he was forty-six years old. The illness affected his sight, hearing, and balance. He recovered after a few years but was completely deaf for the rest of his life.

While he was convalescing, Goya spent a lot of time reading. He grew passionate about ideas then sweeping Europe. Human affairs should be based on reason and science, not tradition or superstition, argued the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Their writings inspired revolutions in France and America and gave rise to modern ideas about democracy and equality.

Goya’s pictures—especially his prints and drawings—often showed the effects of a world without reason. He created scenes filled with madness, cruelty, and rude behavior. Many of them were inspired by the horrors of his time—the invasion of Spain by French armies under Napoleon and the cruelty of the Spanish king Ferdinand VII. But other visions may reflect his own painful experiences of illness. Goya’s free use of fantasy and imagination had an important influence on later artists.

December 2006