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The Disasters of War: Goya as witness to the soul in torment

The Disasters of War: Goya as witness to the soul in torment

In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain. The resulting war was the occasion of appalling atrocities on both sides of the conflict. Over the next 8 years the artist Goya documented the events of the war, but not in quite the way that we would think of documentation. He was not interested in recording the events of the war. His aim was to record the human suffering, in intense and almost unbearable images that are designed to evoke yes, outrage, but also pity and horror with human destructiveness.
Juliet Wilson-Bareau, one of the world’s leading authorities on Goya, says: “I have lived with these prints, which many people consider too shocking, absolutely unbearable, and I find in them – besides the heartbreak and outrage at the unspeakable violence and damage – a great well of compassion for all victims of the suffering and abuses they depict, which goes to the very heart of our humanity.”
This paper will look at the suffering of our patients through the lens of Goya’s images: bringing into focus the role of the therapist as witness to this suffering; drawing on the work of Ullman, Benjamin and Gerson in their concept of the ethical third; and concluding that it is this witnessing by society and the community that leads to healing.