They are dark images depicting the most sinister face of humans. Faces distorted by the wrath of malevolent forces. Mangled beyond recognition, they tell a tale of wounded souls and a war most horrific.
Spanish artist Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes’ ‘Disasters of War’ series is currently on display at Delhi. A total of 82 aquatint etchings tell a story of terror and outrage while depicting the 1808 Dos de Mayo Uprising as well as the 1808-14 Peninsular War.
The series of etchings are divided into three parts. The first shows war scenes and the consequent suffering of soldiers and the local populace. The second reveals the effects of famine that hit Madrid and the third part reflects the pessimistic outcome of the uprising as well as degradation of humans – women as well as dead bodies.
The first two parts are dedicated more to bringing out the awfulness associated with conflict, the obloquy that is heaped on people, the hunger, carnage and migration which is forced. The humiliation of women, their rape, and the disgusting behaviour of the living, who choose to shame the dead by stripping them and violating them.
The last part is sombre and portrays broken souls. It shows that all the bloodshed served no real purpose. The Bourbon monarchy was restored and the Church intervened to ensure that neither governmental nor religious reform took place.
The exhibition also highlights war photography undertaken by succeeding generations. Many of the pictures appear like frozen stills of horror as they illustrate twisted faces of those hit by subsequent wars. An audio-visual reel is also being played at the exhibition so that visitors get a real feel of situations that arise in battles.
Goya was a Spanish Romantic painter and print maker considered both the last of the Old Masters and among first of the Modern. He was great commentator and chronicler of his times and proved to be an inspiration for several artists in the future including Picasso, Monet and Bacon. Though he was a court painter, he eventually left for France due to his disgruntlement with the methods of the Spanish Crown. He died in 1828 in the city of Bordeaux.
The exhibition that has been curated by Juan Bordes, Officer of the National Engraving at the Royal Fine Arts Academy of San Fernando will be travelling to various cities around the world and will culminate in Bordeaux.
While the series is a masterpiece, the etchings and photographs hit you in gut; leave you in a distraught frame, with thoughts lingering over gloomy fates of those caught in manmade wars. And how the possibility of conflict and similar providence has never really left us.
(The exhibition is on at the Instituto Cervantes, 48, Hanuman Road, till September 15; 11 am to 7 pm)