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Analysis of Francisco Goya Painting

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Time, Truth, and History

Time, Truth, and History is an oil painting from the early part of Goya’s career that aims to personify the concepts of time, history, and truth into a scene in which they represent an allegorical relationship with each other and the viewer. The piece was not published until 1875 when it appeared in "El grabador al aguafuerte”[1]. Mostly recognized as an oil sketch for a later work, the painting uses a limited range of colours and was mainly used by the artist to experiment with the overall composition. This is proven by its similarity to a better known work by Goya, made about a decade later, that used the same composition in a large-scale allegory relating to Spain’s liberation from Napoleonic rule. In its dramatic subject manner and aesthetic style, it fits within the description of a romantic painting.The oil sketch was initially given by the artist to Juan Carnicero (around 1875) in Madrid, where it was purchased by Ralph W. Curtis for Horatio Greenough Curtis, and ultimately was gifted in his memory by Mrs. Greenough to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where it currently resides.

Time, Truth, and History

Francisco Goya y Lucientes

about 1797–99 or 1804

Oil on canvas 41.6 x 32.7 cm (16 3/8 x 12 7/8 in.)





Historical Context


Romantic Style




A restricted color palette is not uncommon to Francisco Goya’s personal artistic style. Along with the significant range in value, the thick brushstrokes and almost entirely black background which emphasize the three figures not painted completely at the edge of the canvas, but rather separated from the viewer by a streak of white that provides contrast from the plain foreground. The wings of time have streaks of white that create visual texture and imply lines, one leading towards the highlights of the upper left clear sky, while the other wing closes off a section of the painting with bats that seem to have an organic form, Goya only defined one of the winged mammals with distinct yellow eyes, the rest provide variety that is parallel with the various objects which surround the feet of history. The work as a whole is asymmetrically balanced, yet there is a considerable sense of unity, considering truth sits precisely at the center while time and history create an implied triangle that reassures the viewer of where to focus their attention.

Historical Context

Francisco Goya y Lucientes is often referred to as the last of the old masters and the first of the moderns. At the time he was working on this painting, he had been assigned the rank of court painter to the Spanish crown. By 1799, he had become Primer Pintor de Càmara, the highest rank attainable for a court painter. In hindsight, this painting is more of an oil sketch for a later work commissioned by Manuel Godoy, the prime minister of spain whom Goya was essentially assigned to paint for. The later version called Truth, Rescued by Time, Witnessed by History (displayed next to this section) has been surrounded by arguments concerning the social and historical commentary by Goya. In spite of some letters and writings that survived, Goya was a very guarded and introverted man, so historians know comparatively very little about his thoughts and various interpretations have been accepted throughout the last three centuries. A leading Goya scholar, Dr Eleanor Sayre, seemed to have proved conclusively that a more appropriate title for the painting would have been Spain Adopting the 1812 Constitution. Considering that the Peninsular War deeply affected Goya’s life in Madrid, as exemplified by other works from his “Disasters of War” series of prints, and exemplified by “The Second of May of 1808”, and “The Third of May of 1808”, which depicted scenes of Spanish citizens rising up against Napoleonic soldiers or just attempting to defend their homeland. The notion that the three subjects could be representative of Spain adopting its first constitution is a widely accepted theory.


Romanticism was at it’s peak during the first half of the 19th century, and with the popularity of the movement there was also an increased emphasis by visual artists on perceiving an individual’s emotional and imaginative interpretations as authentic and valued subject matter, placing new interests on such emotions



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