El sueño de la razon produce monstruos (the sleep of reason brings forth monsters)

Goya, Francisco

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Etching/engraving

Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle
  • Date of entry: Mar-12-2015


Originally intended as a frontispiece, El sueño de la razon produce monstruos is number 43 in the series Los Caprichos (1799) by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Also one of his roughly 40 self-portraits, this ambiguous picture shows a seated male figure with his ankles crossed leaning over to his right as he rests his elbows and head on a desk. The male figure wears an ankle-length coat, breeches, stockings, and shoes. His hair is long, his face invisible. On top of the desk, under his right elbow, we see a paintbrush or writing instrument. The side of the desk, in the lower left corner, bears the title of the work. On the floor to the man's right crouches a lynx. Owls with huge wings and expressive eyes surround him. The owl on his right holds out a paintbrush. A cat with watchful eyes perches behind his back. Above the human figure large bats are flying; the largest one at the top right has a goat-like head.


The meaning of the title, El sueño de la razon produce monstruos, has been debated, mainly because sueño can mean both sleep and dream. Known as a pintor filósofo, Goya may have intended to affirm the Enlightenment by saying that when reason sleeps, the imagination produces monsters resulting in madness. Or, he may have implied that reason alone without imagination leads to madness, even horror. Goya's favorite literary character Don Quixote is a good illustration of imagination without reason.

The symbolism of the animals in the picture supports the ambiguity of Goya's vision. The lynx is a symbol of secrets, known for its strong vision and hearing. The lynx and the bat carry supernatural, even satanic significance, but can represent good. The owl may indicate wisdom. But the owl, cat, and bat also stand for depression or melancholy. The large bat with the goat face in the upper right denotes a satanic element, as the goat is identified with the devil, see, for example, Goya's painting, The Witches' Sabbath (1797-98). Baudelaire said of Los Caprichos: "All those distortions, those bestial faces, those diabolic grimaces of his are impregnated with humanity" (Ciofalo, pp. 64-65).

Goya produced two other, similar drawings, part of a series called sueños (dreams) which became Los Caprichos (The Whims). He juxtaposes the real and the demonic in several other works, such as De Que Mal Morira? (Of What Illness Will He Die?) and Las Viejas (see annotations). For comparison with other classic works that comment on the link between depression, sleep, and devilish temptation, see Dürer, Melencholia I and The Temptation of the Idler (The Dream of the Doctor). For Goya's interest in mental illness, see Courtyard with Lunatics.


Work executed 1796-1797

Primary Source

John J. Ciofalo. The Self-Portraits of Francisco Goya (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press) 2001; Robert Hughes. Goya. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf) 2006, p.73.