May 15th: Mercury and Goya

Mercury, who was identified with the Greek Hermes, is the Roman god of intellect, communication, and travel.  He is the messenger of the gods and the patron of merchants and thieves.  The Mercuriales, "Men of Mercury," was probably the largest Roman corporation.  May 15 was their corporate holiday when they paid homage to Mercury to assure their continued success.


On this day in 1828 Franisco de Goya died in exile.

Harassed by the Inquisition, he had fled to France.

On his deathbed, between incomprehensible mutterings, Goya spoke of his beloved home on the outskirts of Madrid, on the banks of the Manzanares River.  There, painted on the walls, was the best of his work, his most personal.

After his death the house was sold and resold, paintings and all, until the works were finally removed from the walls and transferred onto canvases.  In vain they were put up for sale at the Paris Exposition.  No one wanted to see, much less buy, those ferocious prophesies of the century to come, in which grief slaughtered color and horror shamelessly revealed its raw face.  The Prado Museum did not wish to buy them either, and at the beginning of 1882 they entered its halls by donation.

The "black paintings" are now among the most visited in the museum.

"I painted them for myself," Goya said.

He did not know that he painted them for us.

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