Francisco de Goya

The Manufacture of Gunpowder (La fabricación de pólvora)

The Manufacture of Gunpowder (La fabricación de pólvora)
Datos Generales
Ca. 1810 - 1814
Palacio de la Zarzuela, Madrid, Spain
32.9 x 52.2 cm
Técnica y soporte
Oil on wood panel
Reconocimiento de la autoría de Goya
Undisputed work
National Heritage
Ficha: realización/revisión
14 Mar 2010 / 25 Aug 2022

Numero 1 / Fabrica de pólvora establecida por D. Josef Mallen / en la Sierra de Tardienta / en Aragón / en los años de 1811, 12 y 13 ("Number 1 / Manufacture of gunpowder established by Mr Josef Mallan / in the Sierra de Tardienta / in Aragón / in the years 1811, 1812, and 1813"), on the back.

690 (lower right-hand corner, in white)


Goya was called to Zaragoza in 1808 by José Palafox to visit the ruins of the city, which had been devastated by French troops, and paint the "triumphs" of the people of Zaragoza at this site. Goya wrote a letter to José Munárriz which confirms this trip to his home region. The artist painted two works on panel which form a pair based either on this visit or on a subsequent one which took place before the end of the War of Independence. These were entitled The Manufacture of Gunpowder and The Manufacture of Bullets.

Both entered into royal collections when they were acquired by Ferdinand VII some time after his return to Madrid in 1814. They appear in the Inventory of Paintings, Furnishings, and Jewels of the Royal Palaces of Madrid, Sites and Country Houses (Inventario de pinturas, muebles y alhajas de los Palacios Reales de Madrid, Sitios y Casas de Campo) drawn up in 1834, registered to the Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. They then moved to the Royal Palace in Madrid before moving once more to the Zarzuela Palace.

Análisis artístico

Although they are not signed, thanks to the inscriptions on the back of the paintings we know that they depict clandestine activities carried out in the Sierra de Tardienta in Huesca, some 50 km north of Zaragoza. In 1810, José Mallén, shoemaker to Almudévar, organized a party of guerrillas and ordered the manufacture of gunpowder (the gunpowder produced in Aragón was famous for its quality) and bullets at his secret factory to supply the regions of Aragón, Valencia, and Catalonia. We do not know if Goya was able to see these scenes in real life (although it is probable that he did not, given the inaccessibility of the site) or if they were inspired by descriptions and news items, but it is clear that the story these paintings tell is also a historical reality.

The panel on which this scene is painted is very irregular. It seems to be a cedar panel from a door or a window shutter, which suggests the lack of available materials during the war.

Despite its rudimentary support, the painting is executed with documentary precision, showing Goya's lasting interest in "the glory of his country". The energetic activity of the men is clearly depicted, giving two very vivid scenes. With these works the painter wished to pay homage to his countrymen and his native region.

The setting is painted in detail, dominated by the trees which tower over the sandy terrain. It has been noted that landscape plays a fundamental role in these paintings, and is therefore not reduced to a background screen against which the figures are outlined; rather, it has a life of its own, expressed by means of different pictorial qualities. The figures of the men busily going about their tasks are arranged in an orderly fashion which allows the viewer to follow each step of the gunpowder manufacturing process. On the left, they pound the mix. Then, in the centre of the scene, the powder is sifted before it is placed in boxes and carried away by the figures on the right. A man dressed in black who might be the factory owner, José Mallén, gives instructions to the other men.

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Enlaces externos
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