Morning Monsters

Morning, Monsters!

Did you recognize it? It’s my version of Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” (“El sueño de la razón produce monstruos”), part of a series of aquatints called ‘Los Caprichos’ (1797-98). Prepare yourself cause I’m going full-history-nerd in this post.

I read that there’s very different interpretations of the meaning of this work. Apparently, Goya himself described the series as depicting “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance or self-interest have made usual” (source: Public Domain Review).

The entire drawing

So it’s a kind of satire, social criticism. This interpretation is consistent with the image of Goya as a champion of the Enlightenment, trying to get rid of ancient superstition.

But I heard this in a talk by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: the word ‘sueños’ in the title can have different meanings.

“‘Sueño’ can be translated two ways.

  • ‘Sueño’ can be ‘sleep’, sleep of reason. Meaning that when we’re not vigilant, dark forces will overtake us.

  • ‘Sueño’ can also be translated as ‘dream’. When an artist dreams, the true inner imagination will be released.


So this can either have a very negative, or a very positive meaning.”

That’s a different interpretation!

The original, by Goya (source: Wikipedia)

And only then, I came across this description of the work (Norton Simon Museum):

“When abandoned by Reason, Imagination produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their wonders.”

That’s a whole different translation all together… but this does confirm the suspicion that this work does not have one single meaning.

And a little encore: the School of Life has a short video about Goya and chooses a very psychological (and subjective 🤨) approach to this work. My phrasing:

“Goya was manic depressive since adolescence.
Night is when things become unbearable if our minds are fragile… Every monster in this work represents a (nighttime, haunting) thought.”

The good news here: (especially) when the experts disagree, we can choose our own interpretation. I’m going for the Norton Simon Museum interpretation (the Duo Penotti power of Imagination and Reason).

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