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The Literate Ass
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

The Literate Ass

1796 - 1797. Pencil, Pencil, Iron gall ink on laid paper. Not on display

A preparatory drawing for the aquatint, Capricho 39, As Far Back as his Grandfather (G02127), this is one of twenty-six pen drawings from the Dreams series that constitutes the basis for the Caprichos. It is taken from a satirical drawing in the Madrid Album that dates from 1794-1795 and is thus earlier than the graphic project for the Caprichos. Unrelated to the engraving’s purpose, the India-ink wash from the Madrid Album bears the handwritten caption, There are also masks of literate asses. This design was reused by Goya when he decided to engrave the series of Capricious Affairs. He adapted it as a preparatory drawing and added new iconographic elements. The result is the Dream titled The Literate Ass. Following the Madrid Album and the Dream, he continued its creative process with another preparatory drawing in red chalk and red wash. Finally, the artist engraved the plate using the aquatint process exclusively. Of the eighty published plates from the Caprichos, only two are pure aquatints with no recourse at all to etching and As far back as his Grandfather is one of them. Drawing number 72 from the Madrid Album, which was later redrawn as Dream 26, was the seed for As far back as his Grandfather. These two drawings’ respective captions confirm that Goya was criticizing false literati, which he characterizes as asses -an allegory of ignorance. This critical reference to literary activity is consistent with his later use of donkeys in the Caprichos, where he censures the practice of the noblest human activities- education, music, literature, medicine and painting -by coarse, incompetent people. In its successive states, this image’s allusion to the literarily inept shifts towards a criticism of the hereditary nobility. The drawing in the Madrid Album insinuates the noble stature of the asinine author through his clothing, and the Dream strengthens that characterization of the aristocratic donkey by adding a distinctive element that is maintained through the final engraving: a coat-of-arms on the side of the table. This heraldry indicates the ass’s old and noble family, which was conveyed in the Dream by a room full of books. But in the following preparatory drawing -the one made with red chalk- the bookshelves have disappeared, leaving a neutral background that strips the work of its criticism of mediocre writers. From then on, Goya targets the nobility. The final print culminates the semantic transformation of the literate donkey into aristocratic ass as the pages of the book leaning on the table, which were previously undefined or blank, clearly illustrate the animal’s family origins as a lineage of fools. The protagonist proudly exhibits a genealogy composed of various generations of donkeys, and the asinine archetype of his lineage is repeated in his coat-of-arms. His stupidity is suggested in the preparatory drawing by his closed eyes, which convey an inability to reason that Goya ironically emphasizes by showing him seated before an empty book. Unlike the drawing, the print shows him looking forward, with open eyes, but the allusion to his ignorance is maintained, though more subtly, by the owl in the background. If we interpret this as Minerva’s owl, a symbol of wisdom, the fact that he is completely in the dark again underlines the protagonist’s lack of knowledge. During the second half of the 18th century, there was a plethora of satires against those who boasted of noble lineage. Efforts to trace one’s noble origins were so widespread that even Goya did so. In 1791, he began a prolonged process to obtain recognition of his aristocratic status. The verses that accompany the print of the Asinus Nobilis -one of the images in the satire, memories of the Illustrious Asinine Academy, printed in Bayonne in 1792- illustrate this incipient social transformation: Every man is equal to all others, (...) / it is a fatal illusion / to differentiate on rational [being/] from another by birth. Goya further extends this idea by pointing out that, while intelligence is not hereditary, stupidity is, because the descendent of a noble line of donkeys will always be an ass. The Museo del Prado has a series of works related to Dream 26 (D04234 / G02127 / G00785). And Calcografía Nacional in Madrid has a steel-plated copper plate from the same series (218 x 154 mm, 344.85 g. No. 3465), while the Schidheiny family (Switzerland) has a preliminary drawing from Album B (no. 72) made with a brush and India ink with touches of pen and iron gall ink. This drawing is framed in pencil and its vertical laid lines are visible (Text drawn from: Blas, J., Asta su abuelo, in Matilla, J. M. and Mena Marqués, M. (dir.), Goya: Luces y Sombras, Barcelona: Fundación La Caixa, Barcelona: Obra Social La Caixa -Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2012, pp. 154-155).


Technical data

Related artworks

Asta su Abuelo
Aquatint on ivory laid paper, 1797 - 1799
Inventory number
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de
The Literate Ass
1796 - 1797
Pencil; Pencil; Iron gall ink
Laid paper
Height: 228 mm.; Width: 152 mm.
Caprichos [dibujo]. Serie Los Sueños, 39, 26
Javier Goya, Madrid, 1828; Mariano Goya, Madrid, 1854; Valentín Carderera, Madrid, c. 1861; Mariano Carderera, Madrid, 1880; Museo del Prado, 12-11-1886.

Bibliography +

Gassier, Pierre, Vie et oeuvre de Francisco de Goya: l' oeuvre complet illustré: peintures, dessins, gravures, Office du Livre, Fribourg, 1970, pp. nº 528.

Gassier, Pierre, Dibujos de Goya. Tomo.II. Estudios para grabados y pinturas, II, Noguer, Barcelona, 1973, pp. 99.

Stuffmann, Margret, Goya. Zeichnungen und Druckgraphik, Stadelschen Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt Am Main, 1981, pp. 176.

Glendinning, Nigel, Goya : la década de los Caprichos : dibujos y aguafuertes, Real Academia Bellas Artes San Fernando, Madrid, 1992, pp. 211.

Mena Marqués, Manuela B., El "cuaderno italiano", 1770-1786: los orígenes del arte de Goya, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1994.

Blanco Mozo, Juan Luís, La hidalguía de Goya. Nuevos documentos y una hipótesis sobre el capricho 39, Boletín del Museo e Instituto 'Camón Aznar', 49-50, 1995.

Blas, Javier, El Libro de los Caprichos: dos siglos de interpretaciones 1799-1999. Catálogo de los dibujos, pruebas de estado, láminas de cobre y estampas de la primera edición, Museo Nacional de Prado, Madrid, 1999, pp. 223.

Blas, Javier, ''Asta su abuelo'', en Goya: luces y sombras, Fundación ''la Caixa'', Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2012, pp. 154-155.

Matilla Rodríguez, José Manuel, Ligereza y atrevimiento. Dibujos de Goya, Fundación Botín, Santander, 2017, pp. 77 n.35.

Other inventories +

Colección Dibujos Goya (Numeración Sánchez Catón). Núm. 25.

Catálogo Goya, Pierre Gassier y Juliet Wilson. Núm. 528.

Catálogo Gassier, 1975. Núm. II 62.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed. Back, upper right corner

26 [cortado]
Inscribed. Front, upper central area

Inscribed. Front, lower left corner

El Asno Literato
Inscribed. Front, lower central area


Exhibitions +

Ligereza y atrevimiento. Dibujos de Goya
22.06.2017 - 30.09.2017

Goya: El cuaderno italiano
24.06.1994 - 21.08.1994

Goya: la década de los Caprichos
26.10.1992 - 10.01.1993

Update date: 05-01-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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