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The Reinvention Of Tradition Notes

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The Reinvention of Tradition: Death in the work of Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch

I have chosen to compare artists Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch as they have both reinvented tradition in their own way, in their own generations. Throughout this essay I intend to discover the similarities and differences between Goya and Bosch and how they have used their themes of death to reinvent the tradition of their time- in society or personally. I have chosen to investigate artists Bosch and Goya because they vary within their common topic of death; Bosch illustrates common religious views and beliefs of Christianity of 'Heaven' and 'Hell', whereas Goya brushes against mythology and influencing life events such as his unknown illness. The two artists link back to each other exploring death, surrealism, and even insanity. Goya has reinvented tradition in a personal sense, in which he reinvents his own traditional painting styles, from royal portraiture to dark imagery that shocked and horrified audiences. Bosch challenged the typical imagery of 1500s, differing from other painters of his time, using what is seen to be the first surrealist imagery, reinventing traditional themed paintings and becoming the first known surrealist. I have selected two similar paintings from both artists to explore how Goya and Bosch have both reinvented tradition. Title:

Saturno Devorando a su Hijo


Oil on canvas

Date produced:



143cm x 81cm


Museo del Prado, Madrid

Francisco Goya Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes was a Spanish Aragonese, romantic painter and printmaker born March 10, 1746. Goya trained at Jose Luzan, developing his skills to pursue his future career as an artist, dominantly as a part of the Romanticism movement. Goya followed a Catholic religion as did over 70% of Spaniards ^ (Barometer, Centre for Sociological Research. February 2013). Goya was regarded both as the last of the 'Old Masters' and the first of the 'Moderns', withholding great status within the art world, influencing well known artists such as Pablo Picasso (Juliet Wilson Bareau, Goya's Prints (London: British Museum Publications Ltd, 1981). Picasso appeared to use Goya's work as a common point of interest; which is argued began when Picasso started perfecting his printing process and may have viewed the prints Goya made of bullfights (Curtis, Verna Posever, and Selma Reuben Holo. (1986) La Tauromaquia: Goya, Picasso and the Bullfight. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Art Museum). Goya spent his childhood in

Fuendetodos, where his family lived and eventually moved to Madrid where he began his career at the court of Madrid. Goya

The Reinvention of Tradition: Death in the work of Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch

returned to Zaragoza where he continued to paint and began to show signs of the delicate technique for which he became famous. Towards the end of Goya's life he had embarked on a 'dark period' where he had become withdrawn and introspective due to a serious illness that had left Goya deaf between late 1792 and early 1793(Betlejewski S, Ossowski R. 2009. Deafness and mentality in Francisco Goya's painting. Department of Public Health Medicine College. University in Toruń). During this period of isolation, he had bought a house outside

Madrid- Quinta Del Sordo- ironically meaning 'House of the Deaf Man' named after its previous occupant. There he had put aside his traditional painting of the royal court members and reinvented his means by creating a series of dark paintings; Las Pintas Negras- 'The Black Paintings'. These black paintings were oil murals painted directly onto the walls of his home. These were seen to be a reflection of his great fear of insanity and outlook on humanity or depression over the aftermath of Spain's wars against Napoleon. (Nash, The Independent. 2003:3). Goya did not initially begin his career within the darker realms of art whereas artist Bosch seems to have always focused specifically on the afterlife of heaven and hell. The difference between Goya's and Bosch's interest in this subject is that Goya became most interested when he had embarked on his dark period, whereas nothing is known of Bosch's interests or illnesses that may have been of influence, Bosch's interests may be due to religious beliefs or requested art; Goya produced his black paintings through his own personal interest. I have used 'Saturn Devouring His Son' (Saturn) for its similarity to Bosch's content of art, as he often paints gruesome subject matter. Another reason I had chosen this specific painting is because it holds a sense of reinvention, where it has been argued that this painting was under influence of Ruben's 'Saturn' (Sharon Scott: Rubens, Goya and The Questionable Progress of Saturn). In this case, Goya would be reinventing the traditional means of Ruben's original painting through his own interpretation of the subject matter. 'Saturn' symbolises a god of agriculture, liberation, and time. Saturn Devouring His Son depicts the Greek myth of Kronus, the ruling Titan who came to power by castrating his Father Uranus. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own son, Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus in the underworld (Greek Mythology, 2000/2010:Cronus); however to avoid such events, Saturn killed and devoured all of his children after their births so he could withhold his high status, resulting in his wife hiding one of

The Reinvention of Tradition: Death in the work of Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch

their children who later over threw his farther. This was produced in a time when European artists were taking great interest and producing portraits of ancient myths and classical figures (OUP USA. 2011. Classical Mythology. Ninth edition).The Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens often refused religious paintings and transferred it to secular and mythological subjects, for example one of his works, 'The Head of Medusa'. Goya's painting was produced during the decline of the Spanish inquisition between 1478-1834, Goya's interpretation may be argued to portray his view of the world/society at the time, it was known that Goya took great interest into the harsh realities of the world, this may symbolise that individuals go to great lengths to maintain their power and status. This is possibly outlining Goya's view of the Spanish inquisition, that individuals have no boundaries when it comes to gaining power and status. After numerous following occupants and after 70 years on the walls, Goya's murals were deteriorating and the new owner had the piece later transferred to canvas of approximately 143cm x 81cm. Evidence shows Goya had previously produced a chalk drawing of Saturn, in 1796-97 prior to his oil mural painting. This indicates that the production of the preliminary drawing had influenced Goya to produce a larger scale painting of the same topic. Goya's painting was commonly viewed as influenced by Peter Paul Ruben's gruesome painting of the same subject in Madrid's Royal Collection (Sharon Scott: Rubens, Goya and The Questionable Progress of Saturn). It was noted that Rubens' Saturn is outwardly more refined than Goya's but Goya's remains renowned as the most horrific. The viewer's sympathy is automatically directed toward the baby. "Saturn appears a cruel and corrupt power. Afraid of losing his great strength, he seems remorseless, unaware of the figure of death behind him" (Patricia Wright, Eyewitness Art.1993:51). Goya had produced his black painting during his dark period where the information on the process is greatly lacking therefore it would be imagined that within Goya's dark period, the production of this painting was dominantly through expression. Expressions of death; of loss; maybe even that Goya had lost the meaning and purpose of life as he reveals the expression through movement and the change of his work throughout the duration of his life. Goya did not illustrate a dominant interest in death, however, but more of an interest in demonic figures, such as the goat in 'The Witches Sabbath'. This demonic figure appears often throughout Goya's work, specifically during his dark period. There was no given reason as to why Goya had focused on such figures; Goya was in his 70s while illustrating these demonic

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