Artibus et Historiae no. 60 (XXX)

2009, ISSN 0391-9064

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WENDY BIRD - Goya and the Menippus Satire: New Light on The Strolling Players, Yard with Madmen and Later Works

A sign bearing the inscription "ALEG. MEN." in Goya's The Strolling Players is generally believed to be an abbreviation of Alegoría menandrea ("Menandrean Allegory"), an attribution that has contributed nothing towards our understanding of the painting. This article demonstrates that the sign stands for Alegoría menipea (Menippean Allegory), and explores the meaning of The Strolling Players in this light. The Menippus satire was an important satirical genre in Spanish literature from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, forming part of a cultural tradition with which Goya was familiar. The carnivalesque nature of the Menippus satire relates strongly to imagery that is common in Goya's work.

At first sight the scene suggests an obscene carnivalesque satire on the Spanish Bourbon king Charles IV, his queen María Luisa and their favourite Godoy, based on popular rumours. However, the use of the term "allegory" attests to a further underlying meaning. Given the importance of the turbulent events that coincided with the work, the French Revolution and the regicide of Louis XVI, The Strolling Players, may well represent the French Bourbon king, his queen Marie Antoinette and Godoy, who failed in his attempt to save them from the guillotine.

A relationship is drawn between events referred to in the French Satyre Ménipée of 1593, a carnivalesque text supporting the first French Bourbon king, Henry IV and the events surrounding the execution of the last French Bourbon king, Louis XVI. It is suggested that Goya's Yard with Madmen is a pendant to The Strolling Players, representing the 'world upside-down' of the French Revolution.

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