The Life of Francisco Goya

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes was born in Fuendetodos in 1740, a town close to Saragossa in the North east of Spain. Shortly after his family moved to nearby Saragossa and this is where he spent the early years of his life. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to José Luzanan, an artist and friend of his father. He later was to continue his studies of art in Italy before returning to Saragossa in 1771 where landed the job of painting frescoes in city’s cathedral. This work, done in the classic Rococo style, established an excellent reputation for Goya as an artist and prepared the foundations for much of his later success. In 1773 Goya married Josefa Bayeu, the sister of local artist Francisco Bayeu.

From 1775-92 Goya was to work for the Royal Tapestry Factory in Madrid helping to paint the designs. The work served as an excellent means of broadening Goya’s horizons and developing him as an artist – his studies of the work of Velasquez also influenced his style, giving Goya a slightly freer hand in his paintings with a greater imagination. In 1786 Goya was appointed as painter to the King and just three years later, he was made the court painter. During this period, Goya painted Charles IV and Ferdinand VII and also gained a lot of respect as a portrait painter to the aristocracy.

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Francisco Goya

Tragedy was to befall Goya in 1792 when he contracted a serious illness that resulted in the loss of his hearing. Modern scientists believe it may have had something to do with the large amount of lead in the paints available at the time. A fairly paranoid individual anyway, Goya’s deafness caused him to withdraw even more from the world. In 1799 he completed some of his most famous works, a collection of 80 prints entitled “Los Caprichos”. The works were a stark collection, satirising human weakness and Goya’s own mental struggle is captured within them. Amongst his other great works of the period are “The Nude Maja” and “The Clothed Maja”. The first painting was received with general outrage by the Spanish court so Goya did another painting of the same scene but without the nudity. Both are now viewed as seminal works.

Goya became more and more recluse and retired to his villa in Madrid, “Quinto del Sordo” (House of the deaf man), as the Napoleonic wars raged. When Bonaparte’s troops seized power in Spain, Goya produced some of his frankest and most challenging work on the subject of war; the most famous painting from the time being the brutal “The Disasters of War”. It lays bear the atrocities of some of the French soldiers and also shows the spirit and resistance of the Spanish people. Goya had seen the devastation of Saragossa first hand; he was also in Madrid when 20,000 were claimed by famine so he’d seen these atrocities taking place in front of him.

However Goya’s most disturbing work was still to come, between 1819 and 1923 he produced 14 works that are now known as the “Black Paintings”. Insanity, madness and fantasy are all recurrent themes throughout the series in which Goya used a lot less colour and a much darker palette in general. The most brutal painting of the period is undoubtedly “Saturn devouring his son”, a depiction of the God eating his offspring in bloody fashion. Other telling paintings from the series are “The great he-goat” and “Fight with clubs”, all tell of Goya’s haunted mental state at the time, he’d been lucky enough to survive two near-fatal illnesses and he lived in fear of a relapse. Goya eventually died aged 82 in self-imposed exile in Bordeaux.

Today the best place to see his work is the Prado Museum in Madrid. Today the best place to see his work is the Prado Museum in Madrid. Goya’s work earned him the title of “the father of the moderns” and his influence on painters of the contemporary era can be traced to his sharp observational style and his tendencies to paint as he saw, with little regard for conventional beauty.

By Mike McDougall

Mike McDougall has five years experience working as a travel writer and marketeer. He is currently working to provide additional content for Babylon-idiomas, a Spanish language school with an excellent presence in Spain and Latin America.


  1. I am quite troubled by the fact that you seem to have dates wrong about the artical on Francisco Goya, considering he was born 1749.

    Amber F

  2. Actually, it appears that it was: March 30, 1746. Our apology for the errata.

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