Here at Voice of London Arts, we believe in the importance of the history of art and culture — which is why we’re putting together cheat sheets on important artists of the past.
Reporter: Anisha Chowdhury | Sub-Editor: Yasmin Jeffery
The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance have decided to scrap the Art History A-Level for students across the UK as part of Michael Gove’s plan to make the arts subjects “rigorous and demanding” by reducing “soft” ones.
Here at Voice of London Arts, we believe in the importance of the history of art and culture. Sadly, young people are subjected to so many distractions that we often don’t find the time to learn about which parts of the past gave birth to the works we love today.
This is why we’re putting together cheat sheets on important artists of the past. After all, who wants to read pages and pages of a text book too big to carry, or sift through endless unnecessary information on Wikipedia? Whether you need to have a quick read before art class, or you’re just looking for some inspiration, we’re here to help.
Okay, who was Francisco Goya, and when was he around?
Goya was born in 1746 in Aragon, and began painting at the age of 14. Although he originally started his career making tapestries, he was hired as court painter for the King in 1786.
During the French revolution, Napoleon’s army decided to depose the King and take over the country, which gave Goya a front row seat to the horror show as court painter.
He ended up creating some of his most influential and shocking anti-war images through light, space and composition, embracing the struggle that the war had brought to Spain.
What kind of art did he produce?
Goya was a pioneer for romanticism during the 18th and 19th centuries. With his work came the birth of a movement that strayed from political constraints and focused on the human self. This included emotion, passion and horror within the individual and society — a form that had not been explored yet.
Goya’s first-hand experience during the war gave him a unique perspective on the effects of the revolution on the Spanish people. Some of it was so dark that a series of his later works were aptly named the “Black Paintings”, which included “Saturn devouring his Sons” — and yes, it looks as terrifying as it sounds.
A couple of his most famous works — so you have something to talk about at the dinner table — include the works below.
Charles IV of Spain and His Family, 1801
Goya was asked to paint the above life-sized portrait of the royal family, and his unique approach to painting such important figures is what made the piece so controversial for its time. Rather than portraying the leader as powerful and in control, everything seems displaced and unorganised, which many art historians find embarrassing on behalf of the monarchs depicted.
It’s worth noting that the king’s wife is placed at the centre of the painting as opposed to the king himself — this suggests who was really wearing the trousers in that relationship.
Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819 – 1823
The above haunting work is the most famous of the “14 Black Paintings” Goya produced in his home in Madrid. The story behind this piece is based on a Roman myth, where it was prophesied that one of Saturn’s sons would overthrow him. So, in a paranoid mess of a panic, Saturn ate his sons. He couldn’t get to the last son though, who was saved by his wife and he was overthrown anyway. Awful.
How did Goya influence generations?
People value Goya’s work so much, Carolina, 20, even got one tattooed on her arm.
She explained: “Honestly, I studied art history so deeply in school and it wasn’t only fascinating because it’s our actual history, it was inspiring. My art teacher was the reason I was happy to wake up in the morning and travel all the way there. The rest of my classes were pretty miserable, but learning about people like Goya and romanticism made it worth it. Growing up in Portugal, art class helped me through the hardest of times.”
Early romanticism is widely seen as one of the most important revolutions in art history. It paved the way for an innovative generation where personal experience was at the forefront of life.
All those anarchist songs about feeling angry and alone, and all those sweet melodic love songs you probably love were borne from romanticism paving the way for new artists to express themselves and their emotions.
Goya birthed a raw form of expression which allows artists today to reach new limits with their own passions through art.