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A symbol of suffering, Francisco Goitia’s Tata Jesucristo

Francisco Goitia, Tata Jesucristo, 1926-27 oil on canvas, 85 x 107 cm (MUNAL, Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City) Speakers: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(gentle music) - [Lauren] We're here in the National Museum of Art in Mexico City looking at a wonderful painting by the artist Francisco Goitia. - [Steven] It's a really powerful image and it feels so close to us. There's no distance between the two women that we're seeing depicted in the painting and us. They are right there. It's such a powerful image. - [Lauren] The painting which is called Tata Jesucristo is one in which Goitia is forcing us to confront loss and grief because we are just looking at two women who are grieving over the deceased who we don't see, but who we can imagine is in our space. - [Steven] The young woman on the left side of the canvas is covering her face with her hands so we don't see her. The older woman on the right is grieving with such intensity that her face is completely distorted, and of course, by the rough handling of the paint as well, so that they both become a universal symbol of deep emotional pain. - [Lauren] We get the impression that they've been grieving for a while because there's a candle almost in the center on the bottom of the canvas is starting to bend because it's been so warmed and it's almost burned all the way down to the bottom and see two marigold flowers right along the edge as well, which are flowers used during Day of the Dead for the deceased. - [Steven] Or maybe even a third in the extreme right corner. It's interesting the way you said that the candle had warmed and melted and there's something very organic about the quality of the wax that's left. And it's not so different from the way the figures themselves are rendered in this very organic, very warm tones, but also these very soft volumes. There isn't really a straight line in this painting. Everything feels human and immediate. - [Lauren] The artist considered this his masterpiece. He had actually moved to the state of Oaxaca to live among the Zapotec indigenous population to study their ways because of this interest in learning about the indigenous populations. - [Steven] Well, this is interesting. Here we have a man who has received academic artistic training. He had been a member of the Academy of San Carlos that is the leading art school in Mexico. He goes to Europe, he goes to Barcelona, he goes to Rome. He understands modernist art and has a very sophisticated understanding of the pictorial tradition. He chooses to paint in a very rough manner. There's nothing that's not recognizable to our eyes, but this is not a finished academic painting. And it seems to me that he's trying to find a style that matches his subject. - [Lauren] We know that the artist was searching for inspiration. And one day on Day of the Dead, he saw this older woman who is the model for the woman on the right, who is grieving over the death of a loved one. And he used her as the inspiration for this more universal expression of grief. - [Steven] Look how he simplified the forms. He's given us a single point of light. If we look at the older woman's body, her torso is a perfect rectangle with only a few interior lines to bring her hands up as she seems to pray and seems so traumatized. We have the sense of what it feels like for her fingernails to come together and touch. There is this tremendous sense of interiority, of intimacy. This is a painting that is just full of a deep humanity. - [Lauren] Goitia is consistently interested in grief, in death, in mourning. And we see this in a lot of his earlier works. In 1912 he joined the army under Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution and worked as the official painter for a specific General. And he was painting and recording lots of the death and devastation that he was encountering. And we know that he'd increasingly became upset and concerned over the loss of life and women who he kept seeing grieving over dead men were perhaps an inspiration here. - [Steven] But what he's done is he's taken those specific experiences and he synthesized them so that we have this beautiful universal statement of grief. (gentle music)