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Francisco de Goya - The Dog

by Alexandra Tuschka

We do not know for what reason Goya might have chosen such an unconventional motif, only that this fresco belongs to the famous "Pinturas negras" - the black paintings that Goya painted on the walls of his Quinta del Sordo starting in the 1820s - a sequence of morbid, mostly nightmarish motifs. These paintings were taken from the walls and can be seen today in the Prado, while the painter's former country residence is now destroyed. The motif itself is so minimal and unspecifically structured that many classify it as symbolic in the highest degree: the background divides into two halves. At the bottom, a brown area runs diagonally through the picture. In the center, a small dog's head looks after this very movement. The background is permeated with a light ocher tone, which, however, abruptly darkens in the right part of the picture. This reinforces the threatening impression of this part of the picture, which seems to be coming towards the dog. 

The motif makes it difficult for the viewer to classify the scene due to its few clues. The recipient must rely on his sensory impression and direct emotionality. The uneasiness that emanates from viewing the work is the lowest common denominator here. Many interpretations invoke Goya's mental state. The dog could thus accompany the dead souls into the underworld, or it could itself be a symbol of the painter's seclusion and loneliness. Above and below are associatively often divided into "heaven" and "earth"; here, however, a rock or a wall could just as well be meant. Or is he in quicksand, threatening to sink?  The constriction of the scene is also reinforced by the elongated format.

The painting has inspired many later painters, including Antonio Saura, who even called it the most beautiful painting in the whole world, or Joan Miró, who liked it best in the Prado.

Francisco de Goya - The Dog

Fresco, around 1820, 134 × 80 cm, Museo del Prado in Madrid


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