3/1/11

Francisco de Goya, The Saint Isidore Pilgrimage (La Romería de San Isidro)


Museo del Prado, Madrid

Date: 1820 - 1823
Technique: Mixed technique on wall, 138,5 cm x 436 cm

This painting easily brings to mind the ones Goya made in the eighteenth century of public holidays and fêtes, especially the cartoon which was never made into a tapestry called The Meadow of the Hermitage of Saint Isidore. The atmosphere of playfulness, the luminosity and interplay of tones, the animation of the figures, the precise location of place where the activity transpired..., all this has given way to a world that is completely different. Shadows are the dominion of this procession of pilgrims advancing in our direction. Their songs, if there are any, have more of a tragic and desperate air than they do of happiness. The beauty of the woman, partly hidden by mantillas, is lost in the sordid group. The setting has lost any attraction it might once have had, yet it is suggested by the landscape that frames the background, even in some of the figures who have joined the procession.

The scene has been interpreted by many historians as a saturnalia, a feast in honour of Saturn who, like Saint Isidore, is patron of farm workers. This may well be the subject of pilgrimage, but here the excess and revelry characteristic of a saturnalia are nowhere to be found. The scene painted by Goya does not take us back into the past, as befits a nostalgic return to classical mythology; on the contrary, it all seems very immediate. The characters, their dress, and even their appearance, belong to Goya's own times, and are even less defined than that. Here the artist is not trying to make an historical reconstruction, just as he never does in any of the Black Paintings. If he uses the subjects of classical iconography, it is to speak of the present, of the world which was taking shape at the threshold of the nineteenth century.

The group of figures advancing towards us makes up a frieze of many different types. Some are beggars; others, craftsmen or labourers; there are society ladies and people of the middle classes; people from all walks of life, and all of them are participating in the pilgrimage. We are part of the procession, too. Not only is the crowd coming towards us, some of the figures in the foreground establish eye contact with us, thus setting up a dialogue that we cannot avoid. (Valeriano Bozal, Goya-Black Paintings)

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