The Pilgrimage of San Isidro

Francisco Goya
Keywords: PilgrimageSanIsidro

Work Overview

A Pilgrimage to San Isidro
Spanish: La romería de San Isidro
Artist Francisco Goya
Year 1819–1823
Medium Oil mural transferred to canvas
Dimensions 140 cm × 438 cm (55 in × 172 in)
Style   Romanticism
Genre   allegorical painting
Location Museo del Prado, Madrid

A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (Spanish: La romería de San Isidro) is one of the Black Paintings painted by Francisco de Goya between 1819–23 on the interior walls of the house known as "The House of the Deaf Man" (Quinta del Sordo) that he purchased in 1819. It probably occupied a wall on the first floor of the house, opposite The Great He-Goat.[1]

Like the other Black Paintings, it was transferred to canvas in 1873–74 under the supervision of Salvador Martínez Cubells, a curator at the Museo del Prado. The owner, Baron Emile d'Erlanger, donated the canvases to the Spanish state in 1881, and they are now on display at the Museo del Prado.[2]

A Pilgrimage to San Isidro shows a view of the pilgrimage towards San Isidro's Hermitage of Madrid that is totally opposite to Goya's treatment of the same subject thirty years earlier in The Meadow of San Isidro. If the earlier work was a question of depicting the customs of a traditional holiday in Madrid and providing a reasonably accurate view of the city, the present painting depicts a group of prominent figures in the night, apparently intoxicated and singing with distorted faces. Figures from diverse social strata also figure in the painting. In the foreground a group of humble extraction appears, while farther into the background top hats and nuns' habits can be seen.

The topic of the procession was used to emphasize theatrical or satirical aspects; in this respect the picture has parallels to The Burial of the Sardine, painted between 1812 and 1819.

It is a recurring theme in Goya's paintings to present a crowd that fades little by little into the distance. Already it was present in San Isidro's Meadow and it was later used frequently in The Disasters of War. At the very edge of this painting the silhouette of the rocky outcroppings and that of the parading multitude coincides; this way, the opened space emphasizes the whole rest of the solid and compact mass, dehumanizing the individuals into a formless group. The exception is a figure to the right whose face can be seen in profile and seems to moan or sing.

Like the other works in this series, the painting's palette is very diminished. In this case, blacks, ochres, grays and earth tones are applied with very free, energetic brushstrokes. The theme of the loss of identity in crowds in this painting can be seen as a precursor to expressionist painting, particularly the work of James Ensor.

This painting (La Romeria de San Isidro) was originally in the ground floor room of the Quinta del Sordo.

The Pilgrimage to San Isidro filled one long wall of the Quinta, opposite a painting called The Great He-Goat or Witches' Sabbath in the downstairs room of the house. Goya may have been prompted to paint this subject by the fact that the Quinta was built in the neighbourhood of the Hermitage of San Isidro and by the recollection of having painted the Hermitage and the Meadow of San Isidro in happier, earlier days. Without knowledge of the title, however, it would be hard to identify the procession of figures moving forward, their features becoming clearer and more awful as they get near, as a procession of pilgrims. Goya's viewpoint in this painting must have been close to that in the Meadow scene, but there is no view of the city in the background.

Pilgrimage depicts a procession headed by a group of eight more discernible people. One man wears clothing from the 17th century and carries a glass; another is a monk or a nun.Dowling 453 The left half of the painting with its bright sky is among the lighter passages of the Black Paintings, which are dominated by browns, greys, and blacks. Another Black Painting, A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, seems of a piece with Pilgrimage except for its darker tone. Both may depict processions to the shrine of San Isidro—a thought reflected in their titles (none given by Goya)—which was close to his home, Quinta del Sordo.

The mural paintings that decorated the house known as “la Quinta del Sordo,” where Goya lived have come to be known as the Black Paintings, because he used so many dark pigments and blacks in them, and also because of their somber subject matter. The private and intimate character of that house allowed the artist to express himself with great liberty. He painted directly on the walls in what must have been mixed technique, as chemical analysis reveals the use of oils in these works. The Baron Émile d´Erlanger acquired “la Quinta” in 1873 and had the paintings transferred to canvas. The works suffered enormously in the process, losing a large amount of paint. Finally, the Baron donated these paintings to the State, and they were sent to the Prado Museum, where they have been on view since 1889. In the ground-floor room of Goya´s house, the present work occupied the wall across from Witches´ Sabbath or Aquellarre (P00761). Brugada´s description relates this “pilgrimage” with the Feast of San Isidro in Madrid, of which Goya painted a jolly sketch in his youth. The latter was called: The Meadow of San Isidro (P00750). Here, the artist uses the subject of the pilgrimage to express popular superstitions and ignorance. The house where Goya lived was in a part of Madrid quite close to the hermitage of Saint Isidore. Here, the background landscape is desolate, but the country house at the right of the composition indicates that the scene took place near a small town or city. Several parts of this piece were repainted by Martínez Cubells, especially the faces of some figures. Despite the multiple explanations offered by art historians, these works continue to be mysterious and enigmatic, yet they present many of the esthetic problems and moral considerations appearing in Goya´s works. The mural paintings from “la Quinta del Sordo” (the Black Paintings), have been determinant in the modern-day consideration of this painter from Aragon. The German Expressionists and the Surrealist movement, as well as representative of other contemporary artistic movements, including literature and even cinema, have seen the origins of modern art in this series of compositions by an aged Goya, isolated in his own world and creating with absolute liberty.