Claro, the word means sure, certainly, as well as clear and light. Goya mastered lo claro early in his life. In his youth he painted bellezas, aristocratic women whose flawless skin reflected light like water. The Maja glowing from a lover’s touch. His? Claro. Then, his every brushstroke was first dipped in el amor. In his portrait of Doña Antonia Zarate, she appears proud, unyielding, yet also coqueta y algo triste. Light of day changes her tones, hour by hour. Claro. Did she stand for Spain? El orgullo. And for desire, is el deseo not different a cada hora? La noche oscura is best for lovers, but not for old men near the end. And Goya had painted the glorious Naked Maja.
And Goya had said, “Let us make love then.” And there was light.
His last paintings were a farewell to light. Lo claro in Goya’s vision began to leak out of his days. His women of light had been un adíos a la vida. Stone deaf, he retired into silence, isolating himself in his Quinta del Sordo. La vida began to bleed out of his paintings, fading into gray hues, sus colores se tornaron más y mάs oscuros. Goya shrouded his canvases in the black cloth of el luto. His art was a Spanish widow in deep mourning for la triste España.
Goya covered the walls of his House of the Deaf Man with his famous pinturas negras, eighteen murals known today as the Black Paintings. The Saturno devorando a uno de sus hijos held court in Goya’s comedor. And did Goya take his meals in front of the tormented, ravenous god feasting on one of his own children? Sí, España.
And Goya faced charges of obscenity from his king, not for conjuring monsters, but for having painted the glorious Maja desnuda. Goya painted to please no one from then on. Sólo para sí mismo. The ravages of war gave him all the oscuro he needed to turn el poder total of his art into a light-swallowing vortex. In Los Desastres de la Guerra he buries the fields and cities of Spain under dark masses of mud and clotted blood littered with the dead and dying. I saw this, and One cannot look upon this, he called them. In The Consequences a black form with a human face alights on the corpse of a Spaniard to feed. Other infernal shadows circle above. Soon they will envelope the sky in Spain. Goya was mastering lo oscuro.
And nearing la noche negra in the end, Goya wrote upon a black ink sketch of a viejo, a bent, bird-eyed graybeard sustained by two canes, Aún aprendo.
Published in Nightsun 26 (2007): 17.
Reprinted here with permission of the author.