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Goya's inquisition : from black legend to liberal legend

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journal contribution
posted on 2014-03-26, 11:16 authored by Helen E. Rawlings
In the opening decades of the 19th century, Goya sketched around 39 ink wash drawings, collected in his Album C (c. 1814-24), that depict with dramatic intensity the corporal and psychological punishments inflicted on those individuals whose behaviour or beliefs challenged the values of the conservative regime that had ruled Spain for generations. Around half of the drawings clearly relate to the practices of the Spanish Inquisition, the court of law founded at the end of the 15th century whose function was to root out heresy from within society and so strengthen its Catholic foundations. The captions that accompany the images refer to the judicial charge being brought to bear on the victims in each case and a stark contrast is established between the seemingly harmless nature of their alleged crimes and the severity of their treatment. Goya thus invites the viewer to perceive the Inquisition as a barbarous, inhumane institution, emblematic of Spain’s backwardness and its failure to embrace the concepts of liberty and reason associated with the modern age. This reputation, borne out of its early history and embodied in the so-called Black Legend perpetrated by Spain’s Protestant enemies in the 16th century, survived throughout the tribunal’s 300-year existence, although in practice by Goya’s time its propensity for abuse and the necessity of its role – fiercely defended by conservatives – had considerably diminished. Nevertheless, as this article will demonstrate, its past injustices were skilfully exploited by the artist, along with fellow political sympathisers, as if a current reality to serve the needs of their own liberal legend. [Introduction]



Vida Hispánica, 2012, 46, pp. 15-21

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF ARTS, HUMANITIES AND LAW/School of Modern Languages


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