Summary of Los Caprichos. (EXTENDED VERSION)

Los Caprichos de Goya is a series of 80 etchings made by Franscisco Goya in 1799.

Trough an artist’s dream, Goya creates scenes where he talks about superstition, absurdity and lack of enlightenment in the spanish society of the late 18th century.


[Goya]… put before the eyes forms and attitudes that so far have existed only in the human mind, obscured and confused by lack of illustration, or excited by the unruliness of passions.

The etchings are structured like a linear story, divided in two clear parts.  The artist give a multiple view through multiple scenes of the spanish society. 


First part:

Dream atmosphere. A sequence.

A Universe of daily scenes mixed with passions + marriages + vices +  animals + religion/monks behaviour.

Capricho-Fig.112 Capricho-Fig.124 Capricho-Fig.138

Upbringing of men.

Fear of what do not exist when educating children (Sandman, fake scarecrow,

Education, donkeys).

Capricho 3. Que viene el coco.


Unruliness of passions,

Men lost in their passions, (physiognomy)

Scenes of harlotry,

interests in marriages.



Lack of knowledge & Self degradation:

in education

in science (doctor – donkey, parrot – pico de oro)

in arts (monkey playing guitar and painting).

Capricho-Fig.169 Capricho-Fig.161 Capricho-Fig.171

Second Part:

Witches, ghosts, superstition,

Teaching and practices of dark creatures.

The evil doing.

Deepest stage of  the dream, until the light comes.

Is the darkest moment when witches and evils are on their own.


With the awakening, the enlightenment arrives.

Capricho-Fig.182 Capricho-Fig.204 Capricho-Fig.208 Capricho-Fig.228 Capricho-Fig.250 Capricho-Fig.248 Capricho-Fig.242 Capricho-Fig.251


Goya’s use of duality:

Light   > Reason

Darkness > Superstition > Absurdity > Ignorance.



Beauty, Reason and Caricature.

José López-Rey.

Princeton University Press


Main Topic

Goya’s Caprichos is a satirical reflection about the superstition, the lack of knowledge of the Spanish society in the late 18th century.

The man is lost by his deepest passions.

Goya travels through different stages where social conventions, passions, animals, witches, devils, monks shape a  one night’s dream.

Ignorance and the blocking of the knowledge by the Church.


Narrative (Make a graphic, like a dream voyage, starting falling asleep, then, going through the deepest dream, and then awakening (enlighten) ).

  1. 25

As he went on drawing the Madrid Sketchbook, he increasingly gave free play to the sense of imagination, caprice and invention, […] similar to those in Caprichos.

  1. 44

The Inquisition accused the New School of Medicine of Madrid of “dammed sciences, more dangerous than magic”.

  1. 57 “Caricature and man’s nature”

Voltaire: Can one change man’s character? Yes, if one’s changes one’s body.


Note: to read William Hoghart’s “The analysis of Beauty”, 1753.

Physiognomy (from the Gk. physis meaning “nature” and gnomon meaning “judge” or “interpreter”) is the assessment of a person’s character or personality from his or her outer appearance, especially the face. The term can also refer to the general appearance of a person, object, or terrain, without reference to its implied characteristics, as in the physiognomy of a plant community.


The actual theme of the composition, like in Gay Caricature (fig. 43), is the self-distorting avidity with which men abandon themselves to gluttony. […] [p.49] The religious character of the sinner marks more sharply the depths of bestiality into which man may fall by refuing to understand, accept and master the reality of his own appetite.

Leonardo’s Book of fifty engravings > Leonardo rendered the characteristics of the passions by loading those parts of the human figure, which were most open to ridicule.

Peculiar physiognomies contribute more than anything else to the characterization of passions.

There are a certain physiognomies which express certain vices: a petulant, haughty or stupid man has, in most instances, his character painted on his face.

Johann Kaspar Lavater and Goethe sketched physiognomical notions into what was widely accepted as a scientific system. (check reference 7 on p.59)


There is a natural union between physical and moral excellence. Beauty and ugliness have a strict connection with the moral constitution of the Man.  The virtue beautifies, and vice renders a man ugly.

p64. Differences between Physiognomy and Pathognomy.

The first was directed toward the interpretation of human powers and faculties discernible in the solid parts of the body and the inaction of those which are movable, while the second aimed at the interpretation of passions as the can be traced in the motions of the movable parts.


–    Man as he is in general

–    What he can or cannot be.


–    What he is in the present.

–    What he wishes or does not wish to be.



Nature forms us, but we transform her work, and this metamorphosis becomes a second nature.

p.69. Fashion as a form of torture (represented as a chamber of torture) Woman reflected in a mirror. fig. 67.



Announcement of the Caprichos.

A Collection of Prints of Capricious Subjects, Invented and Etched by Don Francisco Goya. Since the artist is convinced that the censure of human errors and vices (though they may seem to be province of Eloquence and Poetry) may also be the object of Painting, he has chosen as subjects adequate for his work, from the multitude of follies and blunders common in every civil society, as well as from the vulgar prejudices and lies authorized by custom, ignorance or interest, those that he has thought most suitable matter for ridicule as well as for exercising the artificer’s fancy.

Since the majority of the objects represented in this work are ideal, it may not be too daring to expect that their defects will perhaps meet with forgiveness on the part of connoisseurs as they will realize that the artist has neither followed the examples off others, nor been able to copy from nature. And if imitating Nature is as difficult as it is admirable when one succeeds in doing so, some esteem must be shown toward him who, holding aloof from her, has had to put before the eyes forms and attitudes that so far have existed only in the human mind, obscured and confused by lack of illustration, or excited by the unruliness of passions.

One would be assuming too much ignorance of the fine arts, if one were to warn the public that in none of the compositions which form this series has the artist had in mind any one individual, in order to ridicule particular defects. For truly, to say so would mean narrowing overmuch the boundaries of talent, and mistaking the methods used by the arts of imitation in producing perfect works.

Painting (like Poetry) chooses from the universal what it considers suitable to its own ends: it reunites in a single fantastic personage circumstances and characteristics that nature has divided among many. From such a combination, ingeniously arranged, results the kind of successful imitation for which a good artificer deserves the title of inventor and not that of servile copyist.

Diario de Madrid, on Wednesday, February 6th, 1799.

P.78. (script in fig. 173) “The artist dreaming. His only purpose is to banish harmful, vulgar beliefs, and to perpetrate in his work of caprices the solid testimony of truth”.

p.78 & 79. Goya on the meaning of Los Caprichos. (published in Diario de Madrid) February 6th 1799.

–    If imitating nature is as difficult as it is admirable when one succeeds in doing so, some esteem must be shown toward him

  1. 81 Imagination, deserted by reason, begets impossible monsters. United with reason, she is the mother of all arts, and the source of their wonders,

To check: Addison’s essay “Pleasures of imagination”

p.84 As a Rationalist, he was providing the accuracy of his satirical fancy and the legibility of his plastic language. He did not hesitate to make easier for others the task of understanding his work.



Dream scenes. Dream Atmosphere.

  1. 97. Animals acting like human fools (fig. 159, 161, 164, 167, 169 & 171).

Witches and Ghosts assume nearly human habits, feelings and passions. By identifying men’s stupidity or malignity.

Social Satire in a dream setting:

P.99. References for Goya: Francisco de Quevedo and his DREAMS (some characters appear in Goya’s Caprichos), and the optimism of Gaspar de Jovellanos.  VS Rationalist vision > human absurdity and superstition harms himself and society, instead of a religious point of view.

Dream sequence.

P.101. The underlying structure of the series makes it clear that Goya is intent on leading the mind though the night of human absurdity to the daylight of reason.

Upbringing of Man:

P.105. (fig. 90 & 92).

The deadly abuse in early education led children be afraid of what does not exist.

Man’s impenetrability:

Inability of man and woman to understand the true nature of each other and the joy of love.

P.110 (fig 106-107) Muchachos al avío.

Early drawings called “the wild merchants”, they are smugglers, thus watching their lawlessness with merchants rapacity considered unbridled at the time.

Unruliness of passions

Ebb and flow of woman’s experience.


Actually, the Caprichos do not depict the blindness of human fate or the all-pervasive influence of the milieu. Human beings are viewed as following evil courses determined by themselves.

Underlying this view there is the artist’s belief in the essential supremacy of man as the only being who can organize the world.

If the ways of the world are absurd, they are nonetheless the work of man to retrace them according to reason.

He could free himself from the distorting habit which passions, superstitions and unenlightened upbringing has foisted upon his real nature, and could regain the dignity of his appearance.

Man’s evils are, in sum, of his own framing, and they fall back upon himself.

Man’s and woman’s strife


Scenes of harlotry. Man and woman are evildoers at the same time. (fig. 120 to 134).

Intertwining evils.

  1. 120 fig 135 to 140.

Highlight fig 138. Instead of making girls settle down and learn, they put chairs on their heads.

Aged wickedness.


Mock virtues


Precedent visions:

Women’s licentiousness and scheming.

Man’s debauchery and canting righteousness

Because of the superiority of men over women, man is responsible of society’s failings.

Woman’s wretchedness as the measure of man.

P 126 & 127 (read again)

Self degradation of human kind

–    animals as metaphors.

–    Big human endeavors: art, science and education.

Ape playing the back of a guitar.

This scene represents the stupidity of the pompous patron of music and the ignorance of the dilettantes surrounding him.  & The difference between the real artistic and the servile and mimicking copyist.

Heraldry provides him with a feeling of his historical significance while explaining to ohers his inbred stupidity.


Donkeys on shoulders. Stupid aristocrats and politicians over lower classes, but it is so asleep

(check all page 131).



Religious fanatism, show as acting both impulsively and deliberately, is here linked to superstitious belief, one being as destructive of human dignity as the other.


In Goya’s fancy, human vices are equal in power to devilish practices. Such a parallel is now strengthened by visions in which the witches? Fiendishness duplicates human vices. By this double equalization Goya reaches a new pitch in his expression of man’s absurdity.

  1. 152

Witches, devils initiations, learning how to evil doing. Impatient to fly. (fig 224).

The teaching of Evil Arts.

Representation of the sorceress’ pact with the Devil.

The Ritual:

“Do you swear to obey and respect your masters, as well a those in authority, to sweepattics, to spin tow, to beat timbrels, to howl, to yell, to fly, to cook, to anoint, to suck, to boil, to blow, to fly, each and every time you are so ordered?”

[ … ]  This is a pungent expression of man’s willingness to bind himself to superstitions belief and authority is none the less harmful to human reason and dignity.


Light   > Reason


> Superstition

> Absurdity

> Ignorance.



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