Art History Lab

The Dark Depths of Goya’s Black Paintings: Unmasking the Torment within

to Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings

Francisco Goya was a prolific Spanish artist, whose career spanned the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His paintings were known for their powerful and raw representation of human emotion, as well as their critique of the contemporary politics and culture of Spain.

However, towards the end of his life, Goya created a series of paintings that were different from anything he had done before. These were the famous Black Paintings, a collection of dark and unsettling paintings that explore themes of fear, violence, and insanity.

In this article, we will explore the story behind these paintings, their creation, and their eventual ownership.

Background of Francisco Goya

To understand the importance of the Black Paintings, we must first understand the life of Francisco Goya. Born in 1746, Goya lived through a tumultuous period in Spanish history that saw the country ravaged by war and political strife.

In 1808, the French army, led by Napoleon, invaded Spain and installed their own monarch on the throne, leading to the collapse of the Spanish monarchy. Goya, who was by then already a successful painter, captured this momentous period in Spanish history through his paintings, which were known for their realism and social commentary.

In addition to the political upheavals of his time, Goya also suffered from a number of personal challenges. In 1792, he fell seriously ill, which left him deaf for the rest of his life.

This experience left a deep mark on Goya, and it is thought that it contributed to the negative outlook that is reflected in his Black Paintings.

Description of the Black Paintings

The Black Paintings are a series of 14 paintings that Goya created near the end of his life, sometime between 1819 and 1823. They are so-called because of their dark palette and dimly lit atmosphere, which creates a sense of unease and foreboding.

The paintings explore unsettling themes such as madness, brutality, and death, and are considered to be some of the most disturbing paintings in art history. One of the most famous works in the collection is Saturn Devouring His Son, which depicts the titan Saturn devouring one of his children.

The painting is a vivid expression of the theme of violence and brutality that runs through much of Goya’s work. The Black Paintings are thought to have been a reflection of the artist’s inner turmoil, and his fear of descending into madness.

The History of the Black Paintings by Francisco Goya

Purchase of Quinta del Sordo

The Black Paintings were created on the walls of a house known as the Quinta del Sordo, which was located on the banks of the Manzanares river, just outside Madrid. Goya acquired the house in 1819, following the death of his wife, Josefa Bayeu.

He chose the location of the house because of its solitude and isolation, and it is said that he wanted to avoid public attention.

Creation of the Black Paintings

It is not known exactly when Goya began painting the Black Paintings, but it is thought to have been sometime between 1819 and 1823. The paintings were created directly on the walls of the house, using a dark and somber palette.

They were not meant to be seen by the public and were viewed only by a small circle of friends and family. Despite the personal nature of the paintings, Goya also took the time to label each one with descriptive titles.

Some of the titles are quite simple, such as “Two Old Men,” while others reflect the artist’s dark sense of humor, such as “The Dog.” The paintings were eventually moved from the walls of the house and onto canvas, where they are now preserved.

Ownership and Display of the Black Paintings

Following Goya’s death in 1828, the Quinta del Sordo was sold and the Black Paintings were purchased by a French diplomat named Baron Frdric mile d’Erlanger. The paintings remained in private ownership until 1881 when they came into the possession of the Spanish government.

Today, the Black Paintings can be seen at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where they are displayed alongside many of Goya’s other important works.


The Black Paintings are a powerful and haunting reflection of the inner turmoil and fear that plagued Francisco Goya towards the end of his life. Through his art, Goya was able to confront the darkest aspects of human nature and explore his own personal struggles with madness and despair.

Although the Black Paintings were painted in private and were never meant to be seen by the public, they are now considered to be some of the most important works of art in Spanish history. Their dark and unsettling themes continue to fascinate and disturb viewers to this day.

The Original Setting of Goya’s Black Paintings

The Black Paintings are a series of 14 murals painted by Francisco Goya, which are considered some of the darkest and most enigmatic works of art in the history of Spanish art. These murals were painted directly onto the walls of the Quinta del Sordo, Goya’s house near Madrid.

In this article, we explore the original setting of the Black Paintings and discuss their unique features.

Inventory of the Paintings

Antonio Brugada was a collector and an art historian, who visited the Quinta del Sordo in 1874 to make an inventory of the murals. In his report, Brugada listed 14 murals, which highlighted the existence of a painting that was later lost.

The missing mural is referred to as the “Idol” and is believed to have been painted on the southern wall. Its subject and significance remain unknown, but it is thought that it may have been destroyed or lost during the transfer of the murals to canvas.

The Stanley Moss collection is another significant reference for the original setting of the Black Paintings. Moss, a collector of Spanish art, purchased one of the murals, “Judith and Holofernes,” in 1958.

The purchase catapulted the collection of private Spanish art into prominence, and it provided an opportunity to view the murals outside of their original setting.

Description of the Original Layout

The Quinta del Sordo was a country house situated on the banks of the Manzanares River near Madrid. The house was built in classicist style, with several doors and windows.

The house was constructed in the late 18th century, and it is believed that its walls were painted in the late 1810s or early 1820s. The frieze that surrounded the top of the walls displayed fruit and leaf patterns, while the walls were covered with geometric patterns.

The geometric shapes were painted in gray and toned brown. The murals were painted in a range of colors, including black, brown, gray and white, which contrasted sharply with the geometrical patterns on the walls.

Placement of the Artworks in Quinta Del Sordo

The 14 Black Paintings were painted on two floors of the house. The lower floor contained three murals, while the upper floor featured the remaining 11.

The lower floor was accessed through a door on the northern wall, while the upper floor was accessed through a staircase that led from the entrance hall on the ground floor.

Lower Floor Artworks

The three murals on the lower floor were “Judith and Holofernes,” “Pilgrimage to San Isidro,” and “Two Monks.” The murals on the lower floor were painted in lighter colors and featured painted borders that framed the scenes. “Judith and Holofernes” depicted the biblical scene of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes, while “Pilgrimage to San Isidro” captured the festivities surrounding a religious pilgrimage.

“Two Monks” portrayed two monks sleeping, with one holding a glass of wine.

Upper Floor Artworks

The upper floor contained the remaining 11 murals, which were painted in darker colors and had no painted borders. Each of the murals was oil-painted on canvas and then attached to the wall.

The murals on the upper floor were arranged irregularly and were not aligned in a straight line. This placement technique gave the murals a sense of movement and imbalance.

The notable figures on the upper floor included “The Dog,” “Procession of the Holy Office,” “Asmodeo,” “Duel with Cudgels,” “The Fates,” and “Women Laughing and Reading.” The paintings featured nocturnal compositions, which added to their sinister and unsettling nature. “The Dog” portrayed a dog staring at a moonlit landscape and is often considered one of the most enigmatic works in Goya’s collection.

Notable Features of the Artworks

One notable feature of the Black Paintings’ original setting was their connection between the smaller and larger murals. They created a unique connection among the murals and often provided perspective and balance to the larger murals.

Another notable feature was the nocturnal compositions that created an eerie atmosphere and stimulated the viewer’s senses, as if they were watching a nightmare unfold before their very eyes.


Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings remain a masterpiece of Spanish art and provide a unique insight into the inner struggles of the artist and the era in which he lived. The original setting of the murals provides a context for the themes and techniques employed by Goya, which include dark imagery, light and shadow, asymmetry and an eerie atmosphere.

The murals displayed in the Quinta del Sordo together represent a remarkable legacy of one of Spain’s greatest artists.

Questions Over the Authenticity of the Dark Paintings at Quinta Del Sordo

The Black Paintings by Francisco Goya, housed at the Quinta del Sordo, have been the subject of much debate over their authenticity. While some argue that they were indeed painted by the artist, others have suggested that they may not be Goya’s work.

In this article, we will explore the authenticity of the Black Paintings and the alternative theories surrounding their authorship.

Alternative Theories on the Authorship of the Paintings

One of the most prominent alternative theories surrounding the authorship of the Black Paintings comes from Juan Jos Junquera, who suggests that Goya may not be the sole creator of the works. Junquera posits that the murals were co-painted by Javier Goya, the artist’s son, and Mariano Goya, the artist’s grandson.

Junquera’s theory is based on the fact that the murals were discovered after Goya’s death and that there is no direct evidence proving that Goya was their sole creator. According to Junquera, there is no record of Goya ever mentioning the Black Paintings in his letters or documents.

Additionally, there is no proof that the artist ever had a private study in Quinta del Sordo.

Rebuttal to Alternative Theories

Despite the alternative theories, there is strong academic research and archival evidence to support the idea that Goya was indeed the sole creator of the Black Paintings. As art historian Nigel Glendinning notes, there is a clear stylistic connection between the Black Paintings and Goya’s later works, which suggests that they were indeed painted by the artist.

Glendinning also notes that there is a significant historical record of the murals, which suggests that the works have been associated with Goya since their discovery in the mid-19th century. Given that the murals were discovered not long after the artist’s death, it seems unlikely that anyone besides Goya could have painted them.

Themes and Motifs Present in Goya’s Black Paintings

The Black Paintings are known for their dark and haunting images, which explore themes of horror, violence, and despair. Goya’s use of loose brushwork, dark colors, and dramatic light and shadow created an eerie atmosphere that was unprecedented in Spanish art at the time.

In this section, we will explore some of the key themes and motifs present in the Black Paintings.

Color Palette and Style

The Black Paintings are painted in dark colors, with a range of browns and grays dominating the compositions. There is a significant use of black, which creates an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere.

The loose brushwork employed by the artist contributes to the haunting and unsettling nature of the images.

Dramatic Use of Light and Shadow

A hallmark of Goya’s work, the dramatic use of light and shadow, adds to the unsettling nature of the Black Paintings. The contrast between the bright and dark areas is particularly pronounced in Saturn Devouring His Son, where the titan’s bright white flesh contrasts with the darkness of the surroundings.

Specific Artworks

Saturn Devouring His Son is one of the most famous works in the Black Paintings. It depicts the titan Saturn eating one of his children, a scene from Roman mythology.

The painting has been interpreted as an expression of Goya’s own fear of madness and mortality. Witches’ Sabbath, which was painted on the ceiling of the upper chamber, portrays a coven of witches performing a satanic ritual.

The painting has been associated with Goya’s interest in the occult and the supernatural. The Black Paintings are not all dark, however.

Women Laughing and Reading portrays three women enjoying themselves in a relaxed and informal setting. This painting is a clear departure from the other works in the collection and demonstrates the range of Goya’s artistic interests.


The authenticity of the Black Paintings by Francisco Goya has been debated for many years. However, the evidence strongly suggests that Goya was indeed their sole creator.

The Black Paintings are known for their haunting and disturbing imagery, which explores themes of horror, violence, and madness. Through his use of color, style, and dramatic lighting, Goya created a unique and evocative body of work that continues to fascinate and intrigue viewers to this day.

The Significance of Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings

The Black Paintings by Francisco Goya are not only significant as masterpieces of Spanish art, but they also hold a deeper significance in terms of the artist’s personal journey and their impact on subsequent art movements. In this article, we will explore the significance of Goya’s Black Paintings, looking at the reflection of his pain and deterioration, as well as their influence on art movements.

Reflection of Goya’s Pain and Deterioration

The Black Paintings are believed to be a reflection of Goya’s psychological deterioration and the pain he experienced in his personal life. It is important to note that during the period Goya painted these works, he was facing numerous challenges.

He was dealing with illness, having become deaf in 1792, which isolated him from the world around him. Additionally, Goya had an unhappy marriage, further contributing to his sense of despair and anguish.

The Black Paintings can be seen as a manifestation of Goya’s twisted and troubled psyche. They depict unsettling and often macabre scenes that touch on themes of violence, madness, and mortality.

Goya’s critique of societal issues is also evident in these works, as he confronts the darkest aspects of human existence.

Influence on Art Movements

The Black Paintings had a significant influence on later art movements, particularly Expressionism and Symbolism. Expressionism, which emerged in the early 20th century, sought to convey emotional and psychological states through distorted and exaggerated forms.

The raw and emotive quality of Goya’s Black Paintings, as well as their exploration of inner turmoil, resonated with Expressionist artists. The Symbolist movement, which also emerged in the late 19th century, sought to express subjective and mystical experiences through art.

Goya’s use of symbolism, subconscious imagery, and his exploration of the darker aspects of humanity in the Black Paintings aligns with the interests of Symbolist artists. How Goya’s Black Paintings Differ from His Other Works

The Black Paintings stand out from Goya’s earlier works, both in terms of style and subject matter.

In terms of style, the Black Paintings adopt a deeper, more solemn, and contemplative approach. Unlike his earlier works that were marked by fine detail and precision, these murals exhibit a looser and more expressionistic style.

Goya’s brushwork becomes more gestural and expressive, capturing the emotional turmoil and intensity of his subject matter. In terms of subject matter, the Black Paintings explore darker and more disturbing themes compared to Goya’s earlier works.

While Goya was known for his social critique and political satire, the Black Paintings delve deeper into the human psyche, exposing the horrors and fears lurking within. The macabre scenes depicted, such as Saturn Devouring His Son or the Witches’ Sabbath, are a departure from the lively and often satirical scenes in his earlier works.

The shift from Goya’s other works to the Black Paintings can also be seen as a break from traditional art standards. Goya’s earlier works were often created within the confines of the royal court, adhering to certain artistic norms and standards.

The Black Paintings, however, display an independent and unconventional approach. Goya painted them for himself, without any expectation of public or royal approval.

This departure from the court traditions allowed Goya to explore his innermost thoughts and emotions, resulting in a body of work that was deeply personal and provocative.


The Black Paintings by Francisco Goya hold great significance in the realm of art history. They reflect Goya’s personal pain and deterioration, serving as a window into his troubled psyche.

Furthermore, these works had a lasting influence on subsequent art movements, particularly Expressionism and Symbolism. The Black Paintings stand apart from Goya’s earlier works in terms of style and subject matter, adopting a more expressionistic and introspective approach.

They also mark a departure from traditional art standards, allowing Goya to break free from the constraints of the royal court and explore his deepest fears and anxieties. The Black Paintings remain a testament to Goya’s artistic vision and continue to captivate audiences with their haunting and thought-provoking imagery.

Reception to Goya’s Black Paintings

When Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings were first discovered in the mid-19th century, they elicited a range of intense emotions and responses. While initial reactions varied, they set off a chain of events that ultimately led to the long-term recognition and significance of these masterpieces.

In this article, we will explore the initial reactions to Goya’s Black Paintings and their enduring impact on the world of art.

Initial Reactions to the Paintings

Upon their discovery, the Black Paintings were met with a mixture of shock, intrigue, and awe. Art critics and viewers were immediately struck by what they perceived as a deep and honest emotional expression in the murals.

Goya’s ability to convey the inner turmoil and psychological depth of his subjects left a profound impression on those who encountered the Black Paintings. The raw and unfiltered portrayal of human emotions resonated deeply, as viewers recognized their own fears and anxieties reflected in the macabre scenes.

The power and imagination displayed in the Black Paintings were equally praised and criticized. Some saw Goya’s nightmarish visions as groundbreaking and revolutionary, as they pushed the boundaries of artistic expression and challenged conventional notions of beauty.

Others found the paintings frightening and unnerving, accusing Goya of indulging in a grotesque and disturbing aesthetic.

Long-Term Recognition and Significance

Despite the initial mixed responses, the Black Paintings soon gained recognition as masterpieces of art. Over time, art critics and scholars came to appreciate the psychological depth and profound examination of human emotions present in these works.

The murals were recognized as a testament to Goya’s mastery in capturing the complexities and dark recesses of the human psyche. The Black Paintings have since become synonymous with Goya’s later period and are considered some of the most important works in his oeuvre.

Their significance is not limited to their artistic merit alone but extends to their influence on the development of art history. The Black Paintings challenged traditional aesthetic standards and broke free from the confines of convention, opening up new possibilities for artistic expression.

The exploration of darkness within the human condition depicted in the Black Paintings had a lasting impact on subsequent art movements. Their emotional intensity and psychological depth made a significant impression on artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly those aligned with Expressionism and Symbolism.

The raw and evocative nature of Goya’s works served as a touchstone for artists seeking to convey their innermost emotions and tap into the depths of the human experience. The enduring significance of the Black Paintings lies in their ability to transcend time and resonate with contemporary audiences.

Goya’s fearless exploration of the human psyche, coupled with his masterful technique, continues to captivate viewers and challenge their perceptions. The Black Paintings serve as a reminder of the profound and universal nature of human emotions, transcending geographic and cultural boundaries.


The initial reactions to Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings varied, but they ultimately paved the way for their long-term recognition and significance. These masterpieces of art left an indelible mark on the world of art, inspiring subsequent generations of artists and challenging traditional aesthetic norms.

Today, the Black Paintings are regarded as classics, revered for their depth and psychological insights. They continue to be examined and admired for their ability to convey the complexities of human emotions and their lasting impact on the trajectory of art history.

In conclusion, the Black Paintings by Francisco Goya have left an indelible mark on the world of art. Initially met with mixed reactions, these masterpieces soon garnered recognition for their profound exploration of human emotions and psychological depth.

The power and imagination displayed in Goya’s works challenged traditional aesthetic norms, paving the way for artistic expression in subsequent art movements. The enduring significance of the Black Paintings lies in their ability to transcend time, continuing to captivate audiences and leaving a lasting impression on the trajectory of art history.

Through their raw and evocative portrayal of the human condition, the Black Paintings serve as a reminder of the universal nature of human emotions and the importance of artistic expression in grappling with the complexities of life.

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