Francisco de Goya's 'Los Caprichos'

Los Caprichos  is the earliest of Goya's large series of engravings, comprising eighty satirical prints in etching and aquatint. Goya etched the plates in 1797 and 1798, and published the set in book form in 1799. Goya combined two distinct series in the eighty plates: the first, a satire on Spanish customs and manners which reflect human folly; the second, his Sueño  (Dream) series of fantasy and witchcraft, "being intended to banish harmful superstition."

The artist referred to Los Caprichos  merely as "a collection of whimsical subjects" and cautioned that he had no intention "to mock the particular faults of one or another individual." Goya veiled his meanings in ambiguities, and frequently used titles subject to more than one interpretation in his effort to delude the official censor.

Of course, Goya's contemporaries understood the Caprichos  better than we do today. There was a widespread popular belief in witchcraft in eighteenth centuy Spain, which the intelligentsia viewed with amusement. Although Goya took risks in printing and selling the series, its content reflects what enlightened Spaniards were thinking.

In addition to the titles engraved in each of the plates, the Museum labels contain translations of commentaries, or descriptions pertaining to each plate. One set of these commentaries is in the Prado Musuem in Madrid. It was written in Goya's lifetime, and thought by some to be by Goya himself, or by his secretary. Sometimes the commentaries alone make it appear that Goya believed in the official code of morals. However, once the commentaries are coupled with these powerful images, their satirical spirit and intent become clear.