Fuego / Fuego (Fire Fire) by Francisco de Goya

Francisco de Goya

Fuego / Fuego (Fire Fire), c.1824–28, Black chalk, lithographic pencil, on white-grey laid paper, 188 x 151 mm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, RF 38975, Recto, Michèle Bellot © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

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A Burning Fire Shut up in My Bones

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Timothy Gorringe

In 1793 Francisco de Goya painted Fire at Night (Banco Inversion-Agepasa, Madrid) which appears to represent a fire in a hospital or mental asylum, with people being carried out, and desperate to escape. Thirty years later, near the end of his life, Goya was a refugee from political terror in Spain, and this drawing, Fuego / Fuego or ‘Fire Fire’, made in chalk and crayon, dates to this period. It appears in an album, along with pictures of inmates from an asylum. The drawing shows a figure with his arms outstretched like the pueblo Christ in Goya’s The Third of May, 1814 (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and runs, or stumbles, engulfed with fire and smoke. Is he escaping? Or raising the alarm?

Jeremiah seeks to do the former and certainly does the latter.

He cries: ‘If I say, I will not mention the NAME, or speak any more in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones’ (Jeremiah 20:9 own translation). We might think of the seventeenth-century French theologian Blaise Pascal’s conversion: ‘Fire. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and not of the philosophers and the learned’ (1966: 309). Of Moses on Horeb. And of the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29).

The Word consumes Jeremiah. He is alight with it. We talk of someone being ‘on fire’ when they are consumed with passion for something. But this is not Jeremiah’s situation. He flees from the fire like the figure in Goya’s sketch. Or he runs crying ‘Fire, fire!’.

Jeremiah is a quiet man. He wants to live with his community, cultivate his garden in Anathoth. No chance. The Word will not allow it. The NAME says: ‘I am making my words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them’ (Jeremiah 5:14). The people of Israel are accused of sacrificing their children by fire, and the NAME threatens fire in return, but the fire comes through the prophet. Ostracism, book burning, and attempts to kill him are the result—fleeing from fire to fire.

 

References

Hughes, Robert. 2003. Goya (London: Harvill Press)

Pascal, Blaise. 1966. Pensées, trans. by Alban J. Krailsheimer (Harmondsworth: Penguin)