Following on from Saturday’s note on Janet Cardiff’s The Murder of Crows, Daniel Yáñez González-Irún explores the Goya etching that inspired the piece and its other re-interpretations.


“All those distortions, those bestial faces, those diabolic grimaces of his are impregnated with humanity”
–Charles Baudelaire on Los Caprichos, Ciofalo

Francisco Goya (1746-1828), El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1797)
Plate 43 of series Los Caprichos

El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, ca. 1797) belongs to Goya´s book of satirical images Los Caprichos. In this manuscript, the Spanish painter explores superstition, sensuality, greed, vice, violence and man´s weakness. The etching on display here, an allegory of reason and truth, shows Goya asleep at his desk with owls and other creatures hovering in the background as if emerging from the artist’s dreams; i.e. when reason sleeps, our wicked imagination produces monsters and insanity. The lynx is a symbol of secrecy, and the owl indicates wisdom but, in conjunction with the cat, can also refer to depression and sadness. Goya added to the etching the thought: “Imagination abandoned by reason generates improbable monsters; but added to it, it becomes mother to the arts and the fountain of every marvel.”
These etchings were produced during the Spanish Enlightenment (1790s), an era in which people and intellectuals began to question ecclesiastical authority, royal hierarchies, but always aiming at bringing some rationality and reason to our understanding of the world, the heavens and mankind. Soon after hearing he had been reported to the Spanish Inquisition (abolished for good in 1834), Goya withdrew the set from sale.

An “itchy” sketchy representation and brief notes of the subject matter by the author of these lines

The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters (design for the Caprices, plate 43)
Sepia pen and ink drawing

Yinka Shonibare, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
(C-print mounted on aluminum)