Francisco de Goya, The Fates (Las Parcas, o Átropos)

Museo del Prado, Madrid

Date: 1820 - 1823
Technique: Mixed technique on wall, 123 x 266 cm

Goya turns to three mythological figures: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, daughters of Night, who grant mortals the powers of Good and Evil and persecute both mortals and gods who commit offenses. In his Theogony Hesiod tells us that these goddesses ''never cease to apply their bitter punishment to whomever commits an offense''.

There are four figures in Goya's painting, the three goddesses and another figure that seems to be a man whose hands are (tied?) behind his back as he is carried along by the Fates. The artist has altered the traditional iconographical attributes of the Fates. Clotho is holding a figure - a doll, an ex-voto of human being? - instead of tow or distaff; Lachesis is not spinning, but rather looks into a lens or a mirror, the symbols of time; Atropos, who in traditional iconography snipped the thread of Life, here carries a pair of scissors. The male figure, unarmed, looks towards the viewer.

If the nature of the subject matter is important for understanding this painting, so are the elements which Goya has introduced into the story. First among these is the disappearance of all trace of the heroic sublime or mythological. The Fates are powerful deities and they are represented as such in visual and literary tradition. But this is not the case in Goya's work: their faces are deformed and brutish, especially that of Clotho, and that even the identity of their gender is hidden. Goya's vision of the divinities of Night has a little to do with the ideal nobility of Neoclassicism as it does with the sentimental terror of many Romantic creations. If anything leaps out in these figures it is the brutal sordidness with which they are conceived. Other European artists of the period were concerned with representing nocturnal deities, but only Goya dared to see them in this way, eliminating everything positive, transcendental, or ideal that our concept of ''divinity'' usually entails.

This is not the only thing that seizes the viewer's attention. No less interesting is the nocturnal landscape in which the action takes place: its moonlit beauty, with its silvers and golds, the luminosity of the firmament and the reflections off the trees and bushes, and the angular disposition of the picture space are all fundamental elements of Goya's painting. The overall effect is that of a dream, and it finds consistency in the evidence of oneiric phenomena. The contrast between the figures and silent Nature, the caracter of the Fates, the dummy-like profile of the man being carried along through the air, all contribute to achieving expressive effect. (Valeriano Bozal, Goya-Black Paintings)


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