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Disaster 77. The Rope is Breaking
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de
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Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de

Fuendetodos, Zaragoza (Spain), 1746 - Bordeaux (France), 1828

Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de See author's file

Disaster 77. The Rope is Breaking

XIX century. Wash, Burnished wash, Etching, Drypoint on paper. Not on display

The title that appears on this print recalls the Spanish saying: “the rope always breaks at the weakest point.” Careful comparison of the drawing and the print reveals a series of differences that affect the meanings of both. In the drawing, the rope mentioned in the title could be called a “slack rope,” as its lines suggest a lateral movement that produces instability rather that possible breaking. On the print, however, the rope has a series of knots to the right, with frayed and weaker parts to the right. These convey a sensation of instability, but the rope’s obvious fragility adds a sense of risk that is clearly justified by the title. The second important difference has to do with the protagonist’s clothing, and thus, with his identification. In the drawing, he wears the tiara, white cassock and dark, presumably red cape associated with a pope. In the print, the tiara has been eliminated. Finally, in the move from drawing to engraving, the faces and expressions of the crowd have been more precisely defined. In an urban setting, they boisterously observe the clergyman’s plight -especially a woman who watches him from the corner of her eye, pointing to the weakest part of the rope and opening her mouth as if to say “the rope is breaking.” The key to understanding this work thus lies in the ropewalker’s identity. In the drawing, his clothing clearly identifies him as a pope, but in the print, in what some have called self-censorship, Goya removes his main identifying trait. Religious figures appear frequently in the Emphatic Caprichos. In Disaster 73, Feline Pantomime, a cardinal approvingly contemplates the coronation of the animals of the night, and in Disaster 74, This is the Worst, a monk bows to a wolf. In Disaster 75, Troup of Charlatans, what could be a cardinal with a bird’s head bows to a motley group of animals, and in Disaster 76, The Carnivorous Buzzard, a clergyman in the background blesses the bird’s expulsion. Finally, in Disaster 79, The Truth has Died, a bishop blesses its cadaver. None of these works presents a positive assessment of the Church’s attitude to the return of King Ferdinand VII, and that is how they should be interpreted. Moreover, one of the most debated aspects of the Emphatic Caprichos is their dating. While we defend the idea that they were engraved in 1814-1815, it has been suggested that the last ones were engraved between 1820 and 1823 and should thus be interpreted as symbols of the Church’s precarious position and its loss of prestige on the eve of the return of the constitution during the Liberal Triennium. The papal attributes and a certain physical resemblance have led the protagonist to be identified as Pope Pius VII, whose position was rather delicate during the Napoleonic Empire. Still, it is rather surprising that in a fundamentally allegorical context, Goya would have made the effort to depict a specific person, especially when he had not done so at any time before that in this series. It is true, however, that he was working on his Tauromaquia at that time, and there, numerous works precisely define some of their protagonists. Given his approach, it seems more logical to conclude that Goya used papal attributes to allegorically refer to the Church’s role, or possibly to the figure of Cardinal Luis María de Bourbon, president of the Regency. At war’s end, it was he who had to choose between following the guidelines set out by the Cádiz Cortes that obliged King Ferdinand VII to pledge allegance to the Constitution, or instead, to directly accept royal authority, which he in fact did, on April 16, 1814, near Valencia. The rope would thus break at its weakest point, where those liberals were forced to withdraw in the face of returning absolutism (Text drawn from Matilla, J. M.: "Que se rompe la cuerda", en: Goya en tiempos de Guerra, Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, pp. 344-346).

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Related artworks

The Rope is Breaking
Red chalk on cream laid paper, Ca. 1817
No se convienen
Etching on ivory paper, 1810 - 1814
Inventory number
G000758
Author
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de
Title
Disaster 77. The Rope is Breaking
Date
XIX century
Technique
Wash; Burnished wash; Etching; Drypoint
Support
Paper
Dimension
Height: 178 mm.; Width: 221 mm.
Provenance
Donation by Tomás Harris, 1964

Bibliography +

Nieto Alcaide, V., La guerra y lo imaginario en la pintura de Goya. En: Historias inmortales, Barcelona, 2003, pp. 319-329.

Matilla, José Manuel, Estampas españolas de la Guerra de la Independencia: propaganda, conmemoración y testimonio, Universidad de Salamanca, 2008.

Exhibitions +

Colaboración con el Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Madrid
28.05.2009 - 20.10.2009

Update date: 02-05-2019 | Registry created on 22-07-2016

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