Artworks under the lens

The Profound World of Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings

Let’s embark on a fascinating journey into the enigmatic world of Francisco Goya, a Spanish painter whose impact on Western art is immeasurable. Born in 1746, Goya’s artistic evolution coincided with a period of significant historical upheaval in Spain. Widely celebrated for his ability to blend realism with imagination, Goya’s later works, particularly the haunting series known as The Black Paintings, reveal a profound shift in his artistic vision.

Who was Francisco Goya?

Portrait of Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya initially made his mark as a court painter, capturing the essence of the Spanish royal family and aristocracy through portraits and tapestry cartoons. His early works reflected the polished style of the time, but a pivotal moment in 1792, marked by a sudden and severe illness that left him deaf, altered the course of his career and artistic expression.

His Career

Goya’s career unfolded in distinct phases. Early on, he created elegant courtly portraits and tapestry cartoons for the Spanish Crown. However, the onset of deafness triggered a transformative period that saw Goya delve into more introspective and emotionally charged themes.

What’s Happening in The Black Paintings

The Black Paintings
ArtistFrancisco Goya
Date Painted1819-1823
MediumOil on plaster
Genre Expressionism, Dark Romanticism
DimensionsVarying sizes
Series/VersionsPart of a series of fourteen paintings
Where HousedOriginally on the walls of Quinta del Sordo

Created between 1819 and 1823, a time of political turmoil and social unrest in Spain, “The Black Paintings” stand as a testament to Goya’s deep-seated fears, anxieties, and disillusionment. What makes this series particularly intriguing is that Goya painted these works directly onto the walls of his home, the Quinta del Sordo (Villa of the Deaf Man), intending them for his eyes alone.

These paintings, with their somber tones and disturbing imagery, offer a rare glimpse into the artist’s psyche, providing a window into the tumultuous landscape of Goya’s mind. Notable works within this series include Saturn Devouring His Son, Witches’ Sabbath, and Duel with Cudgels.

Interesting Facts

Personal Refuge: The Black Paintings were Goya’s private exploration. Painted on the walls of his home, they were not intended for public view, adding a layer of intimacy and mystery to the series.

Mystery Surrounding Themes: Goya chose not to provide written explanations for his paintings, leaving scholars and art enthusiasts to unravel the meanings behind the works. This deliberate ambiguity has fueled ongoing speculation.

Saturn Devouring His Son: Among the most Goya’s famous paintings in the series, Saturn Devouring His Son depicts the mythological Titan Cronus (Saturn) in a gruesome act. Interpretations range from allegories of the destructive power of time to reflections on the abuse of authority.

Influence on Modern Art: Goya’s profound and introspective approach in The Black Paintings has left an indelible mark on modern art. Pablo Picasso, a notable admirer of Goya, acknowledged the impact of these works on his own artistic development.

Quinta del Sordo: The choice to paint directly onto the walls of his home, the Quinta del Sordo, gives an added dimension to The Black Paintings. It was an intensely personal endeavor, transforming his living space into a visual diary.

Delving Deeper

Saturn Devouring His Son

To truly appreciate the significance of The Black Paintings, one must explore the thematic nuances and delve into the emotional landscapes that Goya sought to convey. The series is a testament to the artist’s ability to confront the darker aspects of the human experience.

Saturn Devouring His Son is a haunting masterpiece that has captivated art enthusiasts and scholars alike. The image of the mythological titan consuming his own offspring is both grotesque and compelling. Some interpretations suggest that Goya used this myth as a metaphor for the relentless march of time, with Saturn representing the inevitable force that devours all in its path.

Witches’ Sabbath transports viewers to a nightmarish scene of supernatural gatherings. Distorted figures engage in mysterious rituals, creating an unsettling atmosphere that blurs the line between reality and the supernatural. Goya’s use of dark colors and twisted forms heightens the sense of unease, inviting viewers to contemplate the boundaries between the known and the unknown.

Duel with Cudgels presents a visceral depiction of two men locked in mortal kombat. The intense and chaotic nature of the scene captures the brutality of human conflict. The choice of such a theme in the context of The Black Paintings suggests Goya’s exploration of the destructive nature of human aggression and the consequences of societal discord.

The Influence of Deafness

Goya’s journey into the realm of The Black Paintings is inseparable from the profound impact of his deafness. The isolation resulting from his loss of hearing created a heightened sensitivity to the visual world. Unable to communicate verbally, Goya turned to his art as a means of expressing the complex emotions and thoughts swirling within him.

The Black Paintings are, in many ways, a visual diary of Goya’s internal struggles. The absence of written explanations for the works leaves room for interpretation, inviting viewers to connect with the emotions embedded in the paintings on a personal level. The series becomes a testament to the universal human experience of grappling with fear, mortality, and the complexities of existence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did Goya make his Black Paintings?

Goya’s Black Paintings can be interpreted in a variety of ways as a private form of self-expression, created when no one else was there, much like a visual journal. Maybe because he didn’t want the public to see the paintings, Goya never gave them names.

How were Goya’s Black Paintings discovered?

Junquera looked over the records of sale for Goya’s home (La Quinta del Sordo) and discovered that it was only a one-story house when Goya sold it. It appears that the second storey, which had multiple Black Paintings, was added after Goya passed away.

Where did Goya paint the Black Paintings?

They were painted straight onto the walls of the farmhouse that Goya purchased in the outskirts of Madrid in 1819, like some fantastical type of interior architecture. An exile from the Spanish royal court, where he had painted for half of his life, he was seventy-three years old by modern standards.


In conclusion, Francisco Goya’s The Black Paintings offers a unique and compelling journey into the depths of the human psyche. Born out of personal struggles and a turbulent period in Spanish history, these works stand as a testament to Goya’s skill to transcend the limitations of traditional artistic expression. The series invites viewers to confront the darker aspects of existence, prompting introspection and contemplation.

Goya’s deliberate choice to create these works within the intimate space of his home adds an extra layer of complexity and authenticity to The Black Paintings. As we explore the haunting scenes and delve into the mysteries surrounding each work, we are reminded of the timeless power of art to communicate the ineffable aspects of the human experience.