Goya and the Power of Violence

Essay by sleavsCollege, UndergraduateA, November 2014

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1: Image Title: What Valor! by Francisco de Goya

2: Caption:

Francisco de Goya was a prominent Spanish painter during the 1807-1814 Peninsular War between Spain and Napoleonic France. There was significant social and political upheaval during this time in addition to the pugnacious war. The dehumanizing effect of extreme violence is captured in Goya's series of etchings titled Los Desastres de la Guerra. While many of the etchings polarize their subjects as either helpless victims or savage combatants, a woman is portrayed bravely in one image firing a cannon on the front line of battle. This picture, Que Valor!, presents a woman in a striking dress transcending the expectations of women in siege defense. The innocence represented by her white dress contrasts with the scene's composition and her dramatic agency clashes with the lifelessness of the male bodies beneath her. [1: Bouvier, 1108. ][2: Shubert, 294.]

While most of the images depict anonymous acts of violence, the woman here is understood to be an individual called Agustina de Aragón.

She became a prominent war hero for her efforts defending her city and later as a guerilla. While she was delivering apples to artillerymen during the defense of Zaragoza, the Spanish defenders broke ranks and retreated in the face of a French onslaught. The tide of battle turned after Agustina rushed forth and fired a cannon, hitting a group of French invaders. In Que Valor, only the barrel of the cannon, Agustina's dress and the pile of corpses beneath her are illuminated amidst the shadows. According to an English account written in 1809, she jumped upon the barrel of the cannon after firing it and goaded on "her fellow citizens by this daring intrepidity to fresh exertions." She appears less heroic in Goya's depiction than other artists', as her back...