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Goya's Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta



This is one of fourteen horrifying murals Goya painted on the walls of his house around the time of his second illness.
Francisco de Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819, Museo del Prado, Madrid


 


 


key idea
An act of kindness in a nightmarish world

By the time he was an old man, Goya had lost hope for the ideas of the Enlightenment. The French who had overthrown the Spanish king in 1808 turned out to be brutal themselves. The next king of Spain, Ferdinand VII, was even crueler than the kings who had ruled before him.

To Goya the world seemed a terrible place and human beings terrible creatures. Just before he fell sick again, Goya began painting horrifying figures on the walls of his new house. (Those murals, known as the “Black Paintings,” were later cut from the walls and taken to a museum.) His illness must have seemed yet another calamity.

Enter Dr. Arrieta, whose devoted care restored Goya to health. Around the time of Goya’s recovery, King Ferdinand was forced to accept a constitution limiting his power (unfortunately, he became an absolute ruler again just three years later). This picture can be seen as a simple gesture of thanks to Dr. Arrieta for saving Goya’s life. But it can also be seen as a statement of hope. Perhaps reason—seen here in the form of Dr. Arrieta and the science of medicine—could make the world a better place after all.



 
   
December 2006