The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

August 31, 2010 at 12:03 am (Uncategorized)

In the review of Inception yesterday, I posted Goya’s print The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Here are some brief notes I made as the basis for a presentation on the subject: 


Ambiguity occurs whenever words, actions, or images can be interepreted in more than one way. Francisco de Goya’s creation, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a striking picture which leaves a strong impression on the viewer, and a number of ambiguous questions. I consider myself to be a rational person. I do not believe in superstitions; however, I enjoy speculation upon the fantastic, the “what if?” , the impossible. Goya’s work seems to combine these two interests, and is a powerful draw for me.

 The story behind the creation of The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is complicated. Goya was born in Spain in 1746. He enjoyed success and worked as a court painter for the Spanish crown. In 1792, Goya contracted colera which left him deaf in one ear. Goya took five years to recouperate from the colera, and at the end of this period, he began work on a collection of eighty prints called Los Caprichos (the whims).  When he finished the collection, he chose to sell them in a liquor store instead of a gallery or bookstore. In total, he sold only 27 prints before he made a gift of the rest to King Carlos IV. The Sleep of Reason… was originally meant to be the front piece in the collection, but Goya changed his mind making it plate number 43. The pictures in the collection are in a style called aquatint which is a form of etching. The print is black and white and measures 21.5 cm by 15cm.

 In the painting, we see an artist, often thought to be Goya, with his head buried in his hands. Around him swirl nightmarish characters: Owls and bats, and behind them a lynx sitting motionless. The meaning however is not so clear. To begin with, the title in Spanish is “El sueno de la razon produce monstrous.”  El sueno can be translated either as ‘the sleep’ or ‘the dream.’ This may mean that the absence of reason creates monsters, or dreaming of reason creates monsters. Owls are traditionally taken to represent wisdom, but in Spanish folklore, owls also represent stupidity. Bats are usually creatures of darkness and evil; however, the lynx is thought to have the ability to see through darkness.  Goya’s motto for the plate is, “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of her wonders.” Here, Goya seemed to suggest that both reason and superstition are capable of producing nightmares. Goya enjoyed ambiguity in his work, and his ultimate intention may be known only to him.


1 Comment

  1. Hell in Session? | Notes from Underground said,

    […] get a lot more hits. For a long time Song of the Worms was a big hit,  but recently my notes on Goya are getting a lot of hits. Someone has assigned […]

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