6/22/11

Francisco de Goya, The Holy Office or Pilgrimage to the Fountain of Saint Isidore (Peregrinación a la Fuente de San Isidro o El Santo Oficio)


Museo del Prado, Madrid

Date: 1820 - 1823
Technique: Mixed technique on wall, 127 x 266 cm

Goya represents a procession which seems to be led by a member of the Holy Office who is the figure in the right foreground wearing clothing of seventeenth-century fashion, with a rather comical face and gesture. The figures that surround him are elderly pious women who are in no way the envy of the sorceresses of the Witches' Sabbath or the ones who appear in the artist's drawings and prints. The same may be said of those coming in from the right, some of whom, deformed or hunchbacked, stagger along with great difficulty. The pilgrimage is headed for the spring which may bring them a cure, but the characters in the foreground indicate that Goya is rather skeptical in this regard.

This is perhaps the only one of the Black Paintings that has a clearly satirical meaning. The member of the Holy Office does not frighten us, neither do the pious old women who surround him or follow him in procession. It is not surprising that they prompt a grin. Goya's attitude, his approach to the subject, is possibly due to a known fact: at the time this work was painted, the court of the Inquisition had been abolished. It would never be reestablished, not even with the return to absolutism and in spite of the pressure brought to bear by Ferdinand VII.

The Inquisition had assumed religious functions, but it had also become a political instrument, as the Church hierarchy themselves had often recognized. Its presence had done much to shape Spain's cultural life. Goya himself had been investigated by the court on several occasions. First, for his series of prints called Los Caprichos, and later, after the Peninsular War, when hos autorship of the paintings called Las Majas, the property of the first minister, Manuel Godoy, came under scrutinity because they were considered to be obscene. The disappearance of this institution was most surely a relief for the elderly painter, as this work seems to tell us. (Valeriano Bozal, Goya-Black Paintings)

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