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But he was more than just a painter. His paintings are a priceless document of the history of the Spanish people. He painted the world in which he lived, and he painted it in terms of uncompromising realism. His entire outlook was shaped by the dramatic events that were unfolding on the world scale.
Goya's work is not that of an isolated artist but of a great human being committed to the cause of humanity. He was shaped by great historical events - the French revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the ferocious struggle for national independence and the movement for liberal reform that followed it, a movement that was brutally crushed by the forces of darkness, obscurantism and reaction.
The old world in Europe was destroyed by the French Revolution, which aroused the hopes and sharpened the aspirations of the best elements in Spanish society - including Goya. They longed for progress, for liberty and a constitution. But the invasion of Spain by the French set in train a series of events that were a living nightmare for the Spanish people - a nightmare that found its mirror image in the paintings of Goya. This man, apart from an artistic genius, was a born rebel.
There is a strain of stubbornness in the man that is a typical trait of the Aragonese character. At the age of 29 he went to Madrid, which became henceforth the centre of his personal and artistic world. Then in came his big breakthrough: It is impossible to understand Goya without some knowledge of the situation in Spain at that time. By the late 18th century Spain was a very backward part of Europe, lagging economically, politically and culturally behind England and France.
Having lost most of her empire, Spain settled down into what Marx called a "long and ignoble decline". The great routes of commerce were diverted from the Iberian Peninsula. Following Holland, England rose to great heights over Europe for a long time. By the beginning of the second half of the 16th century, Spain had already begun to decline.