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Of what ill will he die?
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

Of what ill will he die?

1799. Etching, Aquatint, Burnisher, Burin, Drypoint on paper. Not on display

In the Caprichos, Goya assimilated different satirical traditions, some of which were learned and others popular, ranging from the literature of the Spanish Golden Age and moralising texts from the Enlightenment to contemporary material in proverbs, parodies, popular sayings, folklore and theatrical representations, and including also what he could encounter in emblem books and satirical prints. Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez, a friend of the artist, remarked on the satirical nature of the etchings, He who thumbs through the Caprichos by Goya will laugh. The Spanish Royal Academy´s 1791 dictionary defines satire as a kind of work in which the customs or actions of the general public are mocked or censured. This satirical dimension of the Caprichos is particularly evident in the prints featuring donkeys, from plates 37 to 42. Despite their asinine nature, the protagonists in these prints engage in the noblest work of humanity, such as teaching, medicine or the arts (musical, pictorial and literary). The asses are thus humanised, and their humanlike activities are laden with critical meaning. Plate 40 represents a donkey–physician taking the pulse of an agonised patient before two dark silhouettes outlined against the curtain in the background. One of these silhouettes suggests the habit of a cleric, perhaps attending to the dying man´s spiritual health. The dramatic intensity of the image is diminished by the characterisation of the doctor as an animal, introducing a subversion of the logical order of things, and whose iconographic source is the imagery associated with the commonplace of the world upside-down. Of the doctor´s social category there is no doubt: witness his frockcoat, the cravat wrapped around his neck, the chain to his fob-watch that can be seen against his breeches and, on his hoof, a splendid ring with a large gemstone. Precisely this sort of ring was the subject of mockery as a sign of the wearer´s arrogance. Francisco de Quevedo´s Sueños y discursos (Dreams and discourses; 1627) was an important source for Goya´s conception of Los Caprichos - in that collection of satirical texts, Quevedo describes the fat ring on the doctor´s thumb, with a stone so large that when he takes the patient´s pulse, they can diagnose the stone that will seal the sick man´s grave´.Goya presents the paradox between the physician´s respectable appearance and his mean character, for the ass symbolises ignorance; an idea accentuated here by the fact that his eyes are closed. This suggestion of blindness is a clear metaphor for a lack of knowledge. Thus, the donkey represents the fool who has attained an elevated place in society through the incompetent practising of medicine, provoking the suffering and demise of his patients. The caption, Of what ill will he die?, is a rhetorical formula. Given the choice between the two possible answers -the disease or the treatment- one finds the answer to be obvious: the patient will die of doctoring. The message, as a criticism of incompetent physicians and the pernicious consequences of their ineptness, would be easily understood by Goya´s contemporaries. In one of the manuscript commentaries on the Caprichos from the time of their publication, we find the following explanation: There is no reason to ask what the patient has died from when he follows the advice of doctors who are ignorant brutes (Blas Benito, J.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 211).

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Witches disguised as normal people
Pencil on laid paper, 1796 - 1797
Of what illness will he die?
Etching on ivory laid paper, 1797 - 1799
Inventory number
G000649
Author
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de
Title
Of what ill will he die?
Date
1799
Technique
Etching; Aquatint; Burnisher; Burin; Drypoint
Support
Paper
Dimension
Height: 215 mm.; Width: 150 mm.
Series
Caprichos [estampa], 40
Provenance
Donation by Tomas Harris, 1964

Exhibitions +

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Houston TX
15.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Brisbane
22.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

Update date: 02-05-2019 | Registry created on 13-09-2016

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