Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Early Goyas

I checked in at the Prado in Madrid today for the first time in 17 years and found myself spending more time than I might have expected in a corner where (it seems) not many people linger.  I could say "among the Goyas," but it's not what you're thinking.  I'm talking not so much about the famous ones on the ground and first floors, but the stuff tucked away on the top floor--specifically the cartoons, as they are presented, for the tapestries of some defunct prince.

They're early work and they are "country scenes," which might set you to thinking Boucher, maybe Fragonard, maybe Murillo, possibly even Poussin.  Granted there is some of each of these in reflection here, but no more than some.  It seems that even when Goya is trying to be conventional or derivative, he can't help himself: these figures are alive, with juice and sinews that leap out across nearly 250 years.

You can see it in the subjects.  There's plenty of conventional-seeming stuff: a kite, a balloon, a boy climbing  tree.  But on second look,  not so much.   The boy climbing a tree evidently intends to steal some fruit and you sense there is more than merry mischief here: he looks like he might be hungry, and might be in trouble if he is caught.  And as to playing--here are some more boys, these tormenting a young bull.  

 The figures are not all children: there's a washerwoman,  a guitarist (blind), a water drinker (blind).  Even more striking (and probably the best known) is "La Nevada," a representation of s poor family (yes?) crossing a mountain in the snow.  Why the prince would want it in his bedroom is beyond imagining but it might make a fit companion to what I'd rank is the most extraordinary in the whole set.  It's called "the injured mason" and there he is being carted away by his fellow workers after (yes?) a fall.  The scaffolding for the job is in the background and I can't imagine how anybody could look at it without seeing a Christian deposition.

The only comparison that comes readily to  mind is that scene in Shakespeare's Henry IV part 2  where carriers and the ostler banter in the morning chill outside the in at Rochester.

1 comment:

marcel said...

Apropos the mason, maybe Goya had recently heard an early version of this tale.