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He also saw what nice, respectable girls can do. This is the message carried by many of the etchings known as the Caprichos, and even by his early decorative tapestry designs of the 1770s and 1780s, before illness and deafness turned him into the stricken, black Goya, haunted by death and disaster, who speaks with such appalled and appalling clarity to our century. The Straw Mannikin, his tapestry design of 1791-92, can be read as a country amusement--four girls tossing a straw-stuffed mannequin of a petimetre, a male dandy dressed in the French fashion, up and down in a blanket. But clearly it is more than that. This doll man flopping bonelessly in the air reflects Goya's sense of the power of women--the civilian version, so to speak, of the dreadful potency of the witches and the toothless hags in the "Black Paintings" and of the evil old celestinas or procuresses who accompany his beautiful hookers on balconies or the pavements of the Paseo del Prado.
That, of course, is part of the magic and the grip of his work: its unrelenting vitality. His figures, men or women, may be mad or bad. They may be full of life, or they may just have been spitted on a French saber. But they are never limp, wooden or uninteresting. Goya's immense appetite for life always keeps rasping through their imagined breathing. That is why one can never get bored in front of them, and why every Spanish painter since has seen him, with a mixture of delight and despair, as the man against whom no comparison can be won.