Goya in Bordeaux

Film review

Jan Neider-Heitmann



I had the privilege of seeing the film Goya in Bordeaux recently.  Fortunately Rentia Bester, a friend and art teacher went along, helping me to understand more of the man and his times, and also the significance thereof for today. We find ourselves in the so-called post-modern transition. Rentia shared some of her study material on Goya.  I would like to pass some of it on to you, and hope to whet your appetite to go and see this moving film. 

Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) lived during the great transition that came to be called the Enlightenment - the birth of modernity.  The age of reason is depicted in many art works of the time in the form of heroic and smiling characters.  "The smile of reason," is how somebody referred to the spirit of that time.  Goya's early works still reflect the great optimism of the late 18th century. 

Yet Goya lived to experience the horrors of war as Napoleon's army met popular opposition in the streets of Madrid on the 2nd of May 1808. Mass executions by the French army followed. On the following day Joseph Bonaparte was enthroned as the new Spanish monarch and guerrilla war followed. 

When Ferdinand VII was re-instated as monarch in 1814, he revived the Inquisition and found 12000 Spaniards guilty of treason. 

Goya himself was also accused but later acquitted. His art shows that there are no heroes in war, only victims. His depiction of the 2nd and 3rd May lacks patriotism.  Death is degrading and undignified for both sides. There is no place for reason and enlightenment - kill or be killed.  The truth Goya paints is not the calm contemplation of the high ideals of brotherhood, but a bloody actuality.  This aggression solves nothing.

Goya, early harbinger of the post-modern condition, a hundred years earlier than Nietzsche, is disillusioned with the belief that man is a rational being.  It is not good enough to want to follow reason or want to be good and social.  Reality includes nightmares and evil - and not to recognise this is not to be truthful.  In his history paintings Goya does not paint heroes or villains, but people stripped of all pretension.  And, behind the actions of individuals, he points to larger forces beyond the power of ordinary people.  

May the Lord help us to assess our cultural heritage; to discover the meaning of the gospel in fresh ways as it speaks to this legacy; and to have the discernment, courage and wisdom to live and speak as his people as if this gospel is true.

The Big Picture

Advent 2000 Vol2 Issue2

Page 29