Goya's the Forge Essay

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SAMPLE EXCERPT . . .
The eye gravitates toward their centrality, and the complicated mix of angles that Goya has used to arrange these bright spots. This leaves the third man, whose position is complicated, and whose grey hair indicates a greater age than the other two: from the angle at which he bends, and from the glimpse of his left hand, it appears that he is operating a bellows. But his presence definitely makes the viewer think that we have three generations of men represented here: youth, adult, and old man.

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The most astonishing thing about Goya's painterly technique here, though, is its fundamental unrealism. The facial features are discernible but they are not painted with a clarity or a particular attention to photographic realism: the young man's face is almost cartoonish, the old man's face is blurred and grey. The one spot of bright vivid color in the painting -- the glowing orange patch atop the anvil -- is almost an abstraction: we can hardly see what item these men are working on, we merely note its glaring bright color in the overall gloom of the canvas. Likewise Goya's brushwork frequently seems to be done with a palette knife, or at least geared to give a slightly improvised and blurred effect: the white lines on the left upper thigh of the blacksmith appear applied with a knife, as do the white highlights on the young man's upper right shoulder. The face of the old man seems to have been delineated entirely with a palette knife: the lines that indicate his beard and mouth seem too broad and rough for mere brushstrokes. It is astonishing to see, in a painting that would best be described as a form of social realism, that much of the actual painting seems more to anticipate Impressionism.

Essay on Goya's the Forge Assignment

But this is arguably Goya's purpose here. The brushwork is clearly meant to capture the physical and emotive force of these figures: the heat and smoke of a blacksmith's shop, the strong physical motion of hammering on an anvil, are all things that in real life would obscure and blur our actual vision. Goya is capturing what things look like to a viewer in an actual smithy, by backing away from straightforward realism. Yet I noted at the outset that Goya's purpose here is arguably political. This derives from the choice of topic -- ordinary working men engaged in an activity that also has a history in mythological painting, usually in depictions of the god Vulcan forging the armor of Aeneas or the armor of Achilles, depending whether the painter is illustrating a scene from Vergil or Homer. Vulcan is, of course, the god of craftsmen -- he would be the patron of these very human blacksmiths. But Goya himself is fundamentally a craftsman as well: he indicates more of an identification with these strong central figures -- with their sense of three generations of men standing in allegorically for all working men everywhere, cooperating on one task -- than he does in work done for royal patrons. In a time after the French Revolution -- with an awareness of the complications in Spanish response to that Revolution after it resulted in a French invasion (the atrocities of which Goya would memorably depict in his art) -- the notion of using the artisanship of Vulcan (a painterly subject that Boucher had done for the French monarchs) to represent that of more humble working men represents a kind of political stance on Goya's part. Obviously we cannot claim that this is an anti-aristocratic painting, but it is one that exalts to a mythic and sculptural level the actions of ordinary Spanish village peasants. In some sense, then, Goya is expressing a democratic sentiment in heroizing them here. [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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