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Francisco de Goya, Asmodea (Al aquelarre, o Asmodea)


Museo del Prado, Madrid

Date: 1820 - 1823
Technique: Mixed technique on wall, 127 x 263 cm

Of all the Black Paintings, this is the most hermetic. The title corresponds to the inventory made by Goya's friend, Antonio Bruguera, and he must have had his reasons for calling it so. Whatever these reasons were, the work itself gives no hint of them. Asmodeus, in masculine form, is the devil that appears in the Book of Tobit, who is responsible for the death of the husbands of Sarah, none of whom were able to consummate their marriage. The last of her seven husbands, Tobias, followed the counsel of the Archangel Raphael and drove off the demon, who fled into Upper Egypt where the archangel tied him up and immobilized him.

Another literary source for the subject of the painting which has often been considered is El diablo cojuelo (''The Limping Devil'') by Luis Vélez de Guevara, as suggested by A. R. Lesage and D. de Torres Villaroel. In that narrative Asmodeus is a devil that flies, a popular superstition who ''eavesdrops'' on households.

In these and other possible sources, there is only one aspect that might be related to the present painting: travel or flight. But there are many which do not fit into the image: above all, the fact that Bruguera refers to ''Asmodea'', not ''Asmodeus''. On the other hand, Goya has introduced some soldiers firing away in the foreground to the right and what would seem to be an military baggage-train in the middle ground. It is impossible to know whether the soldiers are are firing at the baggage-train or not, and all of this affects any iconological interpretation that adheres closely to classical sources: the world of Goya's time is very much present in the uniforms, the rifles, the horses, the soldiers, etc. This much said, it would also be only right to mention the fact that, on the contrary, the clothing of the figures in the air may correspond to the classical world. (Valeriano Bozal, Goya-Black Paintings)

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