Goya's The Pilgrimage of San Isidro

How does art respond to a political and societal event of vast and cataclysmic dimensions? To large-scale war, atrocity, and ruin?

Goya offers a majestic answer in one of his Black Paintings, The Pilgrimage of San Isidro. I think of it as a forerunner to Guernica, akin in ambitiousness, scope, and theme to Picasso's panorama of man's inhumanity to man.

The Pilgrimage of San Isidro is one of 14 (or 15) "Black Paintings" Goya painted on the walls of a farmhouse outside Madrid in the 1820's before he fled into exile to Bordeaux France. It ostensibly portrays a procession of pilgrims at a religious festival.  


The figures in the Pilgrimage of San Isidro are caricatured - perhaps in part to veil their identities during a dangerous time. At the same time, here they are, recorded and recognizable if you are clued in, in stylized, "coded" form.

The painting is something like a grand political caricature, combining attributes of the modern cartoonist, war correspondent, and social critic.  But it is above all an allegorical landscape - a tableaux of human folly - that falls within a pictorial tradition harkening back at least to Bruegel three centuries earlier.


In the mid-1990's, a spanish scholar, Antonio Muñoz-Casayús, discerned the likeness of Napoleon Bonaparte in The Pilgrimage of San Isidro (now in the Prado).  After identifying Napoleon, Muñoz-Casayús identified more than 24 other contemporary political and social figures, French and Spanish. This piece is largely based on the research of Muñoz-Casayús.


 After discovering the portrait of Napoleon in the group of party goers in the painting of the Pilgrimage of San Isidro, Muñoz-Casayús identified a host of characters, all assembled by virtue of being variously responsible in Goya's eyes for the great calamity of the War of Independence; or in some instances, figures having a more valorous or heroic curriculum vitae. 

The dramatis personae notably features Napoleon and other related Bonapartes, the empress Josephine, the despotic Spanish king Fernando VII, and in all some two dozen characters. According to to Muñoz-Casayús they include:

1º.- Alcántara, Pedro de. Duque del Infantado. Served under five governments as Minister of Spain. Bachelor with two known lovers.

2º.- Beauharnais, Josefina de. Married to Napoleón. Empress of France. Fouché, Duke of Otranto and Minister of the Police of the French Republic used her to obtain secret information from the Emperor.

3º.- Bonaparte, María Annunziata Carolina. Princess of France. Sister of Napoleon. Ambitious for power, fame and money. Married to the Marshall of the Empire, Joachim Murat.

4º.-Bonaparte, Joseph. King of Spain also known as José I. Lawyer and diplomat. Brother of Napoleon.

5º.- Bonaparte, Napoleón. Emperor of the French Empire (Empereur des Français).

6º.- Borbón y Parma, Fernando de. King of Spain, also known as King Fernando VII. (Is represented three (3) times in the painting).

7º.- Borbón y Parma, Fernando de. As prince, exiled in Valençay, France. (Is represented three (3) times in the painting).

8º.- Borbón y Parma, Fernando de. King of Spain also known as Fernando VII as a lonely widower which lasted from 1806 to 1816. (Is represented three (3) times in the painting).

9º.- Borbón y de Sajonia, Carlos de. King of Spain also known as Carlos IV.

10º.- Carvajal, José Miguel de. Duke of San Carlos. Principal butler of King Fernando VII in exile in Valencay, France and in the royal court of Madrid.

11º.- Cevallos, Pedro de. Minister of Spain at the service of Carlos IV, Fernando VII and of José I (Bonaparte).

12º.- Escóiquiz, Juan de. Canon and tutor to Prince Fernando and later served as advisor when Prince Fernando became King Fernando VII.

13º.- Godoy, Manuel. Prince of Peace. Prime Minister of the Borbon dynasty and favourite of King Carlos IV.

14º.- Guyot, Claude Étienne. General of the Empire. Served Napoleon during his campaign in Madrid in December 1808.

15º.- Izquierdo de Rivera y Lezaun, Eugenio. Banker, diplomat and admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte. NOTE: In the painting, this person could also be, instead: Martínez de Hervás, José. Marquis of Almenara. Minister of Spain who married his daughter to General Duroc.

16º.- Jordán de Urries, Pedro. Marquis of Ayerbe. Principal butler of Fernando VII during his exile in Valençay, France..

17º.- Malasaña, Manuela. Heroine of the “2 de Mayo”. A seamstress, was assassinated at 17 years old by the troops of Marshall Murat in the streets of Madrid for carrying a pair of scissors.

18º.- Martín Díez, Juan. “El Empecinado”. Military leader and guerrilla fighter in the War of Independence. Captain General of the army. Was hanged rather than executed by military firing squad, by order of Fernando VII.

19º.- Murat, Joachim Napoleón Murat. Grand Duke of Berg. Marshall of the Empire. He took Madrid in a bloody and fiery attack. Married to Carolina Bonaparte, and in the end, betrayed the Emperor.

20º.- Parma, María Luisa de. Queen consort of Spain. Married to King Carlos IV. Friend and informant of Napoleon.

21º.- Rey, Clara del. Heroine of the “2 de Mayo” in Madrid. Died defending the barracks of Monteleon.

22º.- Talleyrand, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgod. Prince de Benevento . Bishop, politician, diplomat and statesman. He served under five successive French governments.

23º.- Tudó, Josefa Francisca de Tudó y Catalán. “Pepita Tudó”. Princess of Bassano. Lover of Manuel Godoy. She had access to confidential information of the Court of Carlos IV. She is considered to have been the model for two of Francisco de Goya’s most famous paintings, the “Maja vestida” and the “Maja desnuda”.

24º.- A“Vélite” (Young soldier of the Napoleon guard) of the Cavalry of hunters and grenadiers.

Note the pyramidal or pyre-like form of the agglomeration of characters, probably a double-entendre allusion to the bonfires lit as part of the ceremonial conclusion of pilgrimage festivals - in Spanish, the word “Pyramid” - “Piramide” - is similar to “Bonfire” or “Pira”.

The characterization of the figures is borderline caricatural, and fairly merciless: an unholy mass of fiends, rogues, schemers, fools, opportunists, and buffoons, their features exaggerated to nearly grotesque, looking variously astonished, enraptured, frightened, flabbergasted, confused, vociferous, and aghast. (By contrast Goya seems to offer a modicum of representational respect to the transcendently important Napoleon: it looks like a fair portrait of the man.)

Goya also strips these grand figures of their gleaming vestments and sashes, all the finery of nobility and rank, and reduces them to plain cloth and clothing; and thus, to the status of the ordinary folk that bore most of the horrors and desolation of their handiwork.

-Robert Knafo


The Pilgrimage of San Isidro in its original location photographed in 1874.


Schematic of The Black Paintings in their original location. The Pilgrimage of San Isidro is located on the ground floor level along the long rightmost wall.