Esto es peor (This is worse)

7:00 AM

Francisco de Goya, Esto es peor, 1812-15
This,” Goya sardonically proclaims, “is worse.” 


The Belvedere Torso
It certainly is. The body of a Spanish rebel, naked and mutilated, has been grotesquely impaled on the stump of a tree. Depending on who you ask, that’s either two branches, one through his anus and one through his shoulder, or one branch going all the way through. Yikes. In the background, another Spaniard is being dragged away by a mustached, uniformed soldier, utterly indifferent to the corpse in the foreground. Francisco de Goya based this particular etching, part of his Disasters of War series, on a real incident which occurred in Chinchón, the town where his brother lived. Two French soldiers were killed by rebels, and their fellows took revenge on the townspeople.

The jarring cruelty depicted in Goya’s work is enough to unsettle and disturb just from the surface, but let’s look deeper. Neo-classicism was still an active movement in the early 19th century, and it was still fashionable for neophyte artists to travel to Rome and study from early sculpture. Goya was one of those who did, and he apparently kept those early sketches and referred to them later. The pose of the corpse seems to be based on the Belvedere Torso, a heavily damaged sculpture missing a head, both arms, and both legs below the knees (presumably why it’s called the Belvedere Torso and not the Belvedere Elbow). Knowing this, we see that Goya gets a jab in at the Neo-classicists and the ancient sculptures they venerate. Damaged sculptures, missing arms, heads, and legs, are praised as beautiful art, while the same damage inflicted on a living body is horrifying. The slack-jawed head of the corpse turns toward the viewer, inviting them to share in the macabre joke.

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