Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment

By Danto, Arthur Coleman | The Nation, July 10, 1989 | Go to article overview

Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment


Danto, Arthur Coleman, The Nation


A portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs of Carlos III of Spain marks the threshold of an exhibition that otherwise consists solely of works by Goya. The portrait serves as a frontispiece, as it were - Carlos points outside the picture to the works that follow - but it also expresses the premise of the exhibition, Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment (at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until July 16), in two distinct ways. Carlos was one of those monarchs, like Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia and Joseph II of Austria, who embodied the political virtues of the Enlightenment as fully as the Encyclopedie expressed its intellectual vision: The so-called Spanish Enlightenment was altogether his achievement. And Mengs, who came to Spain at Carlos's invitation, was regarded as the greatest painter of his time despite his conspicuous aridity, and set the aesthetic standards of the Spanish court. Goya's first significant patrons were those Enlightenment intellectuals Carlos had the wit to appoint as ministers in charge of his benign policies of reform and toleration. Whatever his gifts otherwise required, it was a condition of securing commissions that he internalize the somewhat stiff and austere mannerisms of the neo-classical style, for which Mengs tirelessly campaigned. One can sense the tension between inclination and conformity in Goya's very early (1782) portrait of the Conde de Floridablanca, Carlos III's chief minister, and every inch an Iluminado: The Count stands severely upright, like the statue of a Roman emperor, albeit in red satin court dress with a blue grosgrain shoulder sash, one arm extended, the other akimbo. But he is placed in a room filled with shadows, and the other figures have such a contrasting fluidity and animation that the work looks like a collaboration between two artists with radically different styles.

There is little doubt that Goya's values were the values of his enlightened patrons, but the degree to which his work can in any sense be classed as Enlightenment art, and hence to what extent these values penetrate the work and enable us to respond to it as we should, remain interesting questions. Consider, to begin with, Mengs's portrait of Carlos. It is of an Enlightenment monarch and by an advocate of the style that came to define Enlightenment tastes. But it does not show Carlos as Erklarungsmensch but rather as the commander in chief of his armies, resplendent in polished armor and gold-embroidered draperies, wearing his decorations and holding the baton of his authority. The wig is an eighteenth-century giveaway, and the face could hardly have been painted in any earlier age, but an eighteenth-century depiction of an eighteenth-century monarch is not necessarily a piece of Enlightenment art, and in fact Mengs has adopted the conventions of the baroque portrait in his effort to represent the sovereign with maximal dignity. In contrast, Goya certainly shows Floridablanca as an enlightened minister, since he is surrounded with the emblemata of his values: books, expressing a taste for knowledge, and maps and a clock, expressing the rationalizations of time and space. Goya even puts himself in the picture showing the count a picture (too small to be this portrait) and in this way establishes him as a patron of the arts. But does the portrait of Floridablanca as such express Enlightenment values any more than does Mengs's portrait of the king?

Let me bring this question out more vividly by considering a much later work, the profound portrait of Bartolome Sureda, of about 1805. A great deal had happened to Spain and to Goya between the portraits of Floridablanca and Sureda. Carlos III had died; Spain was ruled uneasily by the nearly imbecile Carlos IV; Floridablanca and the other enlightened ministers had been driven out of office; in France the Enlightenment had given way to the Revolution, whose values were frightening because of the threat they posed to monarchical legitimacy (Louis XVI was beheaded in 1793), guaranteeing a conservative backlash; Napoleon cast black shadows over Peninsular politics.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.