Seated Giant

Stephanie Stepanek

Goya made timeless statements of a political nature throughout his print series—Caprichos, Disasters of War, Disparates, and even the Tauromaquia on bullfighting—but the rare independent print known as Seated Giant conveys some of his most complex and profound ideas on the nature of power and the consequences of war. The muscular nude male with his back to the viewer sits, like a primal god, on the earth’s curve, seeming to hold dominion over the land. Yet his static pose and backward glance with brooding, rueful expression; the denuded ground; and the shifting time of day, between dawn and dusk, give a sense of diminished power, arrested in time and history.

Goya created Seated Giant as an aquatint a print technique of pure tones which he uniquely mastered. According to a letter, the damaged prints or plates of this image were found in a locked cupboard after they were made; it survives in only six impressions. It was most likely executed during the period of King Ferdinand VII’s restoration to the throne of Spain following the defeat of Napoleonic forces in the War for Independence (1808–14). While the French invasion had delivered certain liberal freedoms, most of Spain rose up against the occupying empire, and Ferdinand’s government was punitive and repressive. As court painter to both regimes, Goya maintained a precarious position. His giant contradicts the traditional idea of dynamic force. Is he a metaphor for France, Spain, or Goya himself? Can we look at it as an image of the position of the United States today?

drawing of seated giant by Goya
Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Seated Giant, by 1818. Aquatint, with burnishing and scraping. Katherine E. Bullard Fund in memory of Francis Bullard. 65.1296

Update October 21, 2016 4:28 pm

Among the 1,787 likes and individual comments about this Instagram post, here is a highlight:

deliaflorescanas Fantastic question... love being asked to think about a piece like this. Thank you.

Stephanie Loeb Stepanek is curator of Prints and Drawings.