Vintage Goya

“[Goya] speaks to us with an urgency that no artist of our time can muster,” wrote art critic Robert Hughes. Goya’s best known suite of engravings, “The Disasters of War,” is arguably as (or even more) powerful and poignant than any of the other timeless anti-war artworks, including those by Daumier, Dix, Grosz and Picasso. Francisco Goya’s 82 nightmarishly witnessed scenes of human cruelty in “Disasters of War” anticipate the atrocities of modern warfare; they were not just imaginative specters but first-hand war reportage of the kind even today’s military public relations teams prefer to keep from view.

Goya’s images are scars that humans have left on humanity, which is why I’m vexed that a reputable California vintner, The Prisoner Wine Company, has extracted portions of two Goya images as labels for their wines. On their website they write “We work with passionate, devoted growers to source varietals from the best vineyards and appellations located across California in order to create interesting wine blends that are thought provoking and approachable.” Fair enough.




However, altering and using Goya’s visual testimony to sell wine is like calling naming a microwave oven “The Hiroshima.” Some well-meaning souls got their metaphors mixed up. The website for the wine does not seem to breathe any hint of irony either:

“‘The Prisoner’ was created and inspired by the drinkable “mixed blacks” first made by the Italian immigrants who originally settled in the Napa Valley. Launched in 2003, ‘The Prisoner’ soon became the most recognized innovative and unique Napa Valley Red Wine blend, leading the resurgence of blends by incorporating Zinfandel with the unlikely “mix” of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono. Features enticing aromas of Bing cherry, dark chocolate, clove, and roasted fig. Persistent flavors of ripe raspberry, boysenberry, pomegranate, and vanilla linger harmoniously, for a smooth and luscious finish.”





Nor does the companion wine, “Blindfold,” suggest full-bodied wit: “Created to provide the perfect white wine companion to The Prisoner, Blindfold is equally bold and intriguing. In establishing a creative white blend, Winemaker Jen Beloz and her team begin with a classic Chardonnay base, and blend in full-bodied and interesting aromatic white varieties (Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Marsanne).The wine is complex with inviting aromas of honeysuckle, grilled white peach and apricot. A luscious entry of toasted hazelnut and mandarin are balanced by bright acidity and minerality. The finish is rich and creamy with flavors of lemon zest and caramelized sugar.”

Goya created these prints for his own personal catharsis along with an impassioned need to record history. They were never published when he was alive, only afterward did they find an audience. Still, his depictions of mutilation, torture and rape carried out by French and Spanish armies was not a partisan political critique as much as a commentary on the barbarities of war. We can be certain that he would never imagine any of these images would be used as a label of a fine California wine.

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4 thoughts on “Vintage Goya

  1. amaze

    I just came in to start the first day of work after the new year holidays here in Japan, and this was the first mail I opened. What has happened to us…what do the new generation of designer think of design? Seeing so much gruesome visuals on the internet and TV has made them numb, they think gruesome is not gruesome anymore.
    I really hope we see less of this kind of design flooding the world, or else we are in big trouble.

  2. llens8

    An excellent observation, Steve– sharp and right on target. Our nerve endings gradually become deadened by a steady stream of cultural choices such as this. If we don’t remain alert and empathetic, we could one day become so desensitized that we might even elect a vulgar lout as president.

    Just sayin.’

    — David Apatoff

  3. toragami

    I get great pleasure from all the Daily Heller posts. Today’s post I find especially poignant and disturbing when contemplating these troubled times. To my sensibilities, the business and design ethics that were glossed over when deciding to cheapen profound commentary on the horrors of war by associating these images for something as trivial as wine borders on corporate malevolence. Even the company’s name, “The Prisoner Wine Company”, mocks the miseries and evil of incarceration. I hope the quality of their wine is substantially better than the quality of their empathetic awareness.