The Sickness Unto Death Pt. IV: The Dog

8:40 PM

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis

Francisco Goya, The Dog, 1819-23

"Now I've only got one organ left in this old bag of bones
It is failing me
And I try to tell people that I'm dying 
Only they don't believe me
They say we're all dying
That we're all dying
But if you are dying, why aren't you scared?
Why aren't you scared, like I'm scared?"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon


In 1819 Francisco Goya holed himself up in the the "Quinta del Sordo" - "The Villa of the Deaf Man" - near Madrid, Spain. In the preceding years he had been racked by illness and mental decline, just as his country had been racked by war. During his stay at the Villa, Goya completed a series of fourteen paintings commonly referred to as The Black Paintings. These dark and brooding pieces were painted directly onto the walls of his home, like hieroglyphics in an Egyptian tomb. But while the Egyptians used their art to capture the promise of a happy afterlife, the murals of Goya's mausoleum speak of the inescapable horror of the void beyond life.

Among these Black Paintings, The Dog stands out, not as the most macabre work, but rather, the most hopeless and tragic. The titular canine gazes up at the sky, into the heavens, as he is tossed about in a sea of darkness. For now his head pokes up above the surface, but soon the swelling wave on the right side will break over him, tossing him down, down, down, into its black empty depths. The helpless creature has no chance to live, only to survive. To paddle and paddle until its strength gives out, or the darkness consumes it once and for all.

Goya must have felt that he was the dog. Lost, alone, and afraid. The Black Paintings were never truly intended for public exhibition. Goya had chosen to paint on the walls of his home for his own sake, never mentioning the paintings in writing or in conversation with his contemporaries. The paintings acted as a sort of therapy in this, the final dark chapter of his life. The dog's plight is his own. But while it will forever be frozen in time, just on the cusp of drowning, Goya's story would have to end, and no series of paintings, no matter how moving was going to change that.

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