Enlightening Industry: Goya, Allegory and Women at Work


Francisco de Goya’s painting, Allegory of Industry, 1797-1802, departs from the traditional representation of woman as allegory. The dress, individualization and realism of the figures reflect the eighteenth century’s shift in the role and representation of women of the working class. A comparison of Goya’s four allegorical paintings of 1797-1802, with Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, reveals a transfiguration of allegory. Goya’s Allegory of Industry, modeled after Diego Velázquez’s The Weavers, abandoned the classical mythology of the seventeenth century painting and created an entirely new iconography of industry. Goya’s divergence from classicism reflects a shift in the representation of working class women in eighteenth-century Spain. This shift coincided with changing gender roles and attitudes towards women as propagated by Spain’s most enlightened institution, the Sociedades Económicas. Through the lenses of Feminism and Marxism, this study analyzes Goya's Allegory of Industry to highlight the relationships between gender and class in eighteenth-century Spanish industry and their visual representation in Enlightenment culture.

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    Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’s tondo painting, Allegory of Industry, 1797-1802, departs from traditional representations of women as allegorical figures. The dress, individualization, and realism of the figures reflect late eighteenth century, Spain’s shift in the role and representation of women of the working class. This study first defines visual allegory as it was understood in the eighteenth-century and then explores how emblem books codified the allegorical figure. The following section reviews several contemporary allegorical paintings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to situate Goya’s use of woman-as-allegory in the visual tradition.

    Cesare Ripa’s Emblem Book, the Iconologia

    A comparison of Goya’s four allegorical paintings of 1797-1802 with Cesare Ripa’s illustrious emblem book, the Iconologia, reveals a transfiguration of allegory (Ripa 106-131). Goya’s Allegory of Industry, modeled after Diego Velázquez’s The Weavers, abandoned the classical mythology of the seventeenth century painting and created an entirely new iconography of industry. Goya’s divergence from classicism reflects a shift in the representation of working class women during eighteenth-century Spain. This shift coincides with changing gender roles and attitudes towards women as propagated by Spain’s most enlightened institution, the Sociedades Económicas. Through the lenses of Feminism and Marxism, this study analyzes Goya’s Allegory of Industry to highlight the relationships between gender and class in the eighteenth-century Spanish economy and their visual representation in Enlightenment culture.

    In his Versuch einer Allegorie of 1766, Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s proposed a new system of art production that combined antiquity with allegory, or Neoclassicism essential and Winckelmann viewed art itself as an emblem of its culture (Preziosi 26). To paint allegorically was to use images to signify figurative ideas (Winckelmann 60). Allegory was a particularly useful rhetorical and visual device for the Enlightenment (Winckelmann 69). With the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason, education, virtue, and secular imagery, allegory provided a medium within which enlightened artists and patrons could promote and immortalize principles and entities essential to their time and beliefs. Consequently, the influence of Enlightenment ideas is evident in the allegorical paintings of eighteenth-century Europe.

    Personification traditionally used the female form to represent qualities, ideas, or principles of which women were not actually associated (Sheriff 253). As allegories, women’s bodies became emblems, but the agency and power lent them by allegory did not illustrate the actuality of women’s status in society (Quilligan 167). The impregnation of the female body with male meaning or form separated her from her socioeconomic position (Teskey 16). The allegorical figure’s existence was abstract; she instructed, glorified and promulgated the enlightened ideas of men.

    During the Enlightenment, visual personification existed first as a continuation of a classical mode of representation and then slowly evolved, slowly, to reflect changing conceptions of art, gender, and class. Traditionally, the allegorical figure was idealized, positively or negatively, and bore the classicizing dress or undress of her mythological counterparts. The emblematic canon popularized by Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, first published in 1593, exemplifies the traditional and prescribed approach to allegoric image making (Ripa 106). Throughout Ripa’s Iconologia, the allegories are most commonly female, occupy few varied poses, and are either nude or swathed in classical garb. The allegorical figure was not an individual; her physical features and body adhered to a standard type. The identification of her character depended almost entirely on her accoutrements; the color of her garment, the garland in her hair, the props she held and the fatto, or scene, defined her attribution (Ripa xii).

    Allegorical Paintings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

    Pictorial allegories during the late eighteenth century referenced their visual heritage while reflecting contemporary perspectives and societal progress. They embodied neoclassical visual practices in presentation, execution, form, and style. The implied language of visual allegory spoke to tenets of Enlightenment thought in its ability to educate and promote values to the viewer regardless of social status (Preziosi 26). Patrons, in turn, used allegorical painting to display their support of the economy, arts, and sciences (Viejo 36).

    Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s fresco, Industry Triumphing over Idleness, painted for Count Loschi in his villa at Biron de Monteviale in 1734, adhered to the standard allegorical type. Refer to Figure 1 (Levey 68). In this fresco, Industry is a statuesque female figure with a simple, formulaic face. She stands on a ledge with one foot forward next to a rooster mounted on a rock. At her feet lies defeated Idleness; his wings are in the dirt, black cloth covers his lower body, and two putti hover around the grapevine to his right (Levey 69). In Ripa’s Iconologia, a rooster pecks at the ground next to Industria, symbolizing diligence and discernment (Ripa 147). According to Ripa, Accidia, or sloth, wears a black cloth on his head and stands in a vineyard where two putti play (Ripa 39).Industry Triumphing over Idleness manifests the poses, props, and dress of classic allegory popularized by the Iconologia. At Count Losehi behest the fresco allegories at Biron de Montevialethe instructed and promoted virtuosity to their viewers (Levey 68).

    Tiepolo’s Apollo and the Four Continents illustrates the shift in allegorical representation as a product of the Enlightenment. Refer to Figure 2. This fresco, commissioned by Prince-Bishop Karl Philipp von Greiffenklau in 1752, spans the entire ceiling of the Treppenhaus, or staircase, at the Würzburg Residenz shown in Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence. It depicts the heavens, with Apollo at center, flanked by the four continents, one on each side: Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. At center, Apollo, god of the sun and father of the arts, holds a statuette of Athena (Krückmann 55). Refer to Figure 3. According to Ripa, this gesture symbolizes attainment of wisdom through distinction in the arts (Krückmann 56). In the Iconologia, Ripa modeled Europe after the goddess of Rome, Minerva, as a symbol of wisdom (Ripa 102). Her attributes symbolize power, religion, and the arts; Tiepolo expanded this model on the ceiling to include himself, his patron, and their architect, Balthasar Neumann (Ashton 109-110).

    In Apollo and the Four Continents, Tiepolo combined the real and the symbolic, the classical and the contemporary to affect an enlightened directive (Levey 198). The whole image exalts dissemination of light reason, and wisdom through the arts (Krückmann 56). The influence of the Enlightenment on allegorical representation transformed classical models into contemporary enlightened doctrine. The evolution of meaning in Enlightenment allegory was a product of the desire to promote the cultivated values of patrons and the ideologies of the artist.

    In Francisco de Goya’s oeuvre there are few allegorical paintings. Most of Goya’s allegories derive their symbolism from Ripa’s Iconologia. In Truth, Time and History, 1797-1799, and Poetry, 1798, Goya employed the Iconologia without much deviation (Soria 196). His tapestry cartoons of the four seasons, completed in the late 1780s, maintained much of Ripa’s emblematic schema, but revealed Goya’s proclivity for realism.  Three of the four tondos commissioned for then-Prime Minister Manuel Godoy’s palace at Madrid—Allegory of ScienceAllegory of Agriculture, and Allegory of Commerce—partly replicated descriptions of the Iconologia. The fourth tondo, Allegory of Industry, reflects the tension between Goya’s reality and Ripa’s canon.

    Transfiguration of the Women as Allegorical Figures in the Works of Goya

    This study consults two editions of Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia: the 1748-50 Hertel Augsburg edition and the 1709 Pierce Tempest edition, which provide a more complete frame of reference for Ripa’s iconographic tradition and to account for the uncertainty which edition Goya used (Soria 106). There are several major differences between the Tempest and Hertel editions, because entire plates were lost in time and translation. The Hertel edition includes extensive fatti, which describes the scenes and surroundings. Though there is some variation in the emblems and their attributes, together these editions form a cohesive framework for viewing the influence of Ripa’s iconography on Goya’s allegories.

    Goya painted the four tondos some time between 1797 and 1802. Documents of the commission have yet to surface; so the exact dates are unknown (Viejo 16). The earlier date is most commonly accepted; the Museo del Prado dates 1797-1800 in its description of the paintings (Nordström 95). In Isadora Rose-De Viejo’s, “Goya’s Allegories and the Sphinxes: ‘Commerce’, ‘Agriculture’, ‘Industry’ and ‘Science’ in Situ,” she dates the paintings between 1801 and 1802, based on the position of the tondos in the staircase at Godoy’s palace and his letters to Queen Maria Luisa that document its renovation (Viejo 39). Their placement in the first public room of the palace reveals the significance of the tondos; the themes of science, agriculture, commerce, and industry reflect the four main concerns of the Sociedades Económicas (Viejo 37).

    Allegory of Science shows a young woman seated next to a window with her hand resting on an astrolabe. Refer to Figure 4. Behind her, a large telescope points out of the adjacent window. A box of scrolls sits on the floor below her pointed feet. Behind her a small bearded man reads from a piece of parchment at a desk. The Augsburg 1758-1760 Hertel edition of Ripa’s Iconologia, Scientia, which translates as knowledge, describes a woman wearing long robes and a diadem, with wings on her head (Ripa 188). Refer to Figure 5. She holds a mirror in one hand and a triangle in the other which rests on a ball. Next to her, a putto reads from a piece of parchment. Behind her are two globes: one terrestrial, the other celestial. In the background, Ptolemy sits at a desk with another male figure. In the Pierce Tempest Iconologia, the illustration of science parallels the ensemble and immediate props described in the Hertel edition (Ripa 67). Refer to Figure 6.

    The iconography of Goya’s Allegory of Science echoes its emblematic model. The seated female has the standardized face and pose of Ripa’s allegorical figures. The extensive scenery of the Hertel edition can be identified in Goya’s painting; the astrolabe, telescope, scrolls, and seated man determine the Iconologia as the source of its symbolism (Viejo 38). Goya did deviate from the Iconologia by depicting Sciencein contemporary dress versus the ‘stately robes’ described by the Hertel edition (Ripa 188). It is, however, difficult to be certain of Goya’s hand in constructing the iconography of this painting. Allegory of Science was severely damaged by 1867, heavily restored by Rafael Monoleón in the late nineteenth century and is now lost (Viejo 37).

    Goya’s Allegory of Agriculture depicts a seated young woman, wearing a grey-green gown with a yellow garland in her hair. Refer to Figure 7. On the ground are several farming tools. Next to Agriculture is a young man who holds a basket of produce and stares at the young woman. It is not clear exactly what the female figure is holding, but in the distance, just above the man’s head, a scale hangs in the sky. In the HertelIconologia, Agriculture is a young girl dressed in green, wearing a wreath of wheat, holding the zodiac in one hand, a sprig of thyme in the other, with a plow at her feet (Ripa 54). Refer to Figure 8. The Tempest edition differs little from the Hertel description, except the English Agriculture bears an exposed breast (Ripa 2). Refer to Figure 9. Goya again used a simplified female face, adorned it with a garland, and situated her among her signifiers; the farming equipment at her feet, the basket of produce, and the scale, the zodiac sign for Libra, or October (Nordström 96).

    In Allegory of Commerce, two figures, a female and a male, sit at a table in a workspace (Nordström 100). Refer to Figure 10. A bright light cast from an open window illuminates the central figure and the female figure hunches over the table in a relative shadow. Both figures hold writing instruments firmly against the table. Underneath the table are a white sack and a basket, perhaps symbolizing goods, and a tall white stork that stands in the foreground on the edge of a raised surface.

    Commerce is one of the missing plates in the Hertel edition of the Iconologia. In the Tempest edition, commerce is translated from commertio della vita humana, or commerce of humane life (Ripa 14). Refer to Figure 11. It describes a man pointing at two millstones, with a stork in his right arm and a buck at his feet (Ripa 14). The stork, the only token Goya borrowed from Ripa in this image, symbolizes faith and encouragement in commerce (Nordström 100-101). Considering the motive for this commission and the established ‘simple’ connection between the image of a stork and the idea of commerce, the iconography of this image would certainly communicate its patron’s support of the Spanish economy (Viejo 29).

    Allegory of Industry depicts two female workers at their spinning wheels. Refer to Figure 12. The women sit in front of a large arched window, surrounded by their instruments. More simplified than its fellow allegories, this image focuses on the women and their workstations. Goya did not utilize Ripa’s emblematic schema, but instead created a new iconography of industry that both reflected and propagated women’s role in rebuilding the Spanish economy.

    The Hertel and Tempest editions of the Iconologia translate Industria as diligence (Ripa 23). Industria symbolized industriousness and promoted a strong and virtuous work ethic. Ripa wrote the first edition in 1593; so themes of agriculture, science and commerce were more appropriate and relevant than the newer notion of industry (Ripa xii). The Hertel edition describes Industria as a young woman in red, holding an hourglass and a sprig of thyme around which bees hover. Over her wrist hangs a spur; beside her, a rooster pecks at the ground (Ripa 147). Refer to Figure 13. The Tempest edition mentions the sprig of thyme, the bees, and the rooster, but does not include the hourglass (Ripa 14). Refer to Figure 14. The association of the rooster with Industriareached G.B. Tiepolo in his Industry Triumphing over Idleness (figure 1), but Goya chose to leave it out; so that the only symbol to remain was the spinning wheel.

    In his essay, “Some Emblematic Sources of Goya,” George Levitine suggested that with Allegory of Industry, Goya followed seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velasquez’ Las Hilanderas, or The Weavers, over the Iconologia (Levitine 15). Refer to Figure 15. The subject matter of Las Hilanderas combines genre and myth and, as a result, the meaning of this painting has been the center of much debate (Stapleford 159-181). After Carl Justi penned the work as depicting the workroom and sales shop of the Santa Isabel tapestry factory, it remained listed as a genre scene in the Prado catalogues until 1945 (Kahr 377). More recently, the work has been interpreted as the fable of Arachne: a tale of a girl who tries to ‘outweave’ Pallas Athena, the goddess of weaving (Nordström 160). The foreground figures have also been identified as the three fates, which spin, measure, and cut the thread of life (Stapleford 163).

    In the foreground of Las Hilanderas, five women wind, card, and spin thread in what appears to be a tapestry workroom. In the background, seen through a doorway, five more figures stand in a well-lit showing room surrounded by tapestries. Three of the five figures wear contemporary gowns, and provide a view of the great contrast between women as producers of goods and women as consumers of goods. The role that the figures play in the foreground is distinctly separate from the mythological scene in the background. Velázquez’s choice to depict the figures in contemporary dress, setting, and in the act of working separates them from any mythology within the painting and roots them in contemporary Spanish experience.

    By following Las Hilanderas as the source of his imagery for Allegory of Industry, Goya repeated the realism of Velázquez’s foreground genre scene. Goya abandoned the mythology of The Weavers altogether which emphasizes the reality of the scene inAllegory of Industry. He did not include the signifying props and fatti outlined in theIconologia as he did with the other tondi. Allegory of Industry both invents and reveals the image of women in the Spanish working class. It reflects the construction of a new Spanish feminine civic identity. This new identity shaped and propagated by the Economic Society and the junta de damas, the women’s council of the Economic Society, was a critical part of the Society’s desire to reconstruct the Spanish nation culturally and economically (Smith 75).


    The Sociedades Económicas sought to promote the modernization of Spain through changes and advances in economy, industry, and education. It emphasized and promoted women’s role in modernizing Spain politically and economically through production, consumption, and education (Smith 75). Women of the lower classes would play their part in modernizing Spain by becoming workers in industry, specifically of textiles. Elite women would participate by becoming active consumers of Spanish goods (Smith 77). This class-based emphasis on women’s role in modernizing Spain increased women’s visibility in the public sphere and in the artistic eye.

    Having been in close relations with its foremost figures, Goya would most certainly have been aware of the activities and main issues at the heart of the Economic Society (Glendinning xxi). Manuel Godoy, who commissioned the allegories, was supportive of the Sociedades and chose these socially progressive themes to exhibit his enlightened taste to visitors (Viejo 37). All four of Goya’s allegories illustrate the cardinal enthusiasms of the Sociedades Económicas.

    The Sociedades aspired to modernize Spain economically and intellectually and promoted women’s roles in society as workers and equal contributors. The evolution of allegory during the eighteenth century reflected the progressive values of patrons and artists and the agenda of the Economic Society. Late eighteenth-century allegories served to promote the economy, arts, and sciences essential to the Enlightenment modernization of Spain.

    Women have traditionally taken on the role of personification in painting, but Goya’sAllegory of Industry is particularly telling of its time. Allegory of Industry deviates from the conventional representation of women as allegories. It exemplifies the new visibility of the eighteenth-century working-class woman and illustrates a shift in woman’s role from bearer of meaning to producer of goods. The figure’s existence is firmly rooted in the reality of women at work in eighteenth-century Spain. Their image contributed in the construction of a new feminine civic identity that encouraged women of upper and working classes to participate in the rebuilding of the Spanish economy. By taking his inspiration from Las Hilanderas and imparting the image with contemporary sensibility, Goya developed an entirely new iconography of industry that reproduced the encouragement and actuality of working women’s role in modernizing eighteenth-century Spain.

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    Figure 1: G.B. Tiepolo. Industry Triumphing over Idleness. 1733.

    Figure 2: G.B. Tiepolo. Residenz: ceiling fresco, staircase: Apollo and the four continents, 1753.

    Figure 3: G.B. Tiepolo. Detail of ceiling above staircase of Residenz, Würzburg.1753.

    Figure 4: Goya. Allegory of Science. 1797-1802. 227 cm. Tempera on Canvas.

    Figure 5: Scientia. Plate 188 from Ripa’s Iconologia. Ed. Hertel, Augsburg, 1758-60.

    Figure 6: Science. Plate 269 from Ripa’s Iconologia. Ed. Tempest, London, 1709.

    Figure 7: Goya. Allegory of Agriculture. 1797-1802. 227 cm. Tempera on Canvas.

    Figure 8: Agriculture. Plate 54 from Ripa’s Iconologia. Ed. Hertel, Augsburg, 1758-60.

    Figure 9: Agriculture. Plate 6 from Ripa’s Iconologia. Ed. Tempest, London, 1709.

    Figure 10: Goya. Allegory of Commerce. 1797-1802. 227 cm. Tempera on Canvas.

    Figure 11: Commerce. Plate 54 from Ripa’s Iconologia. Ed. Tempest, London, 1709.

    Figure 12: Goya. Allegory of Industry. 1797-1802. 227 cm. Tempera on canvas.

    Figure 13: Industria. Plate 147 from Ripa’s Iconologia. Ed. Hertel, Augsburg, 1758-60.

    Figure 14: Diligence. Plate 91 from Ripa’s Iconologia. Ed. Tempest, London, 1709.

    Figure 15: Diego Velázquez. The Tapestry Weavers, or The Fable of Arachne. 1657. 220 x 289 cm.