The Inquisition Tribunal

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The Inquisition Tribunal ( Escena de Inquisición ), 1812–1819. Oil on panel, 46cm x 73cm. Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid

The Inquisition Tribunal, also known as The Court of the Inquisition or The Inquisition Scene (Spanish: Escena de Inquisición ), is an 18x29 inch oil-on-panel painting produced by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya between 1812 and 1819. The painting belongs to a series which also includes The Bullfight, The Madhouse and A Procession of Flagellants, all showing some of the most terrible aspects of 19th-century Spanish life and reflecting customs which liberals (of whom Goya was then one) wished to reform but whose reform was opposed by the absolutist policy of Ferdinand VII of Spain. The work was owned by Manuel García de la Prada and is now in the collection of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.


Born in 1746, Goya moved from his home town Saragossa to Madrid in 1775. He became a cartoon painter in the royal tapestry factory and his work was brought to the attention of the Spanish royalty. He was appointed court painter in 1789. Goya went deaf in 1792 because of the poisonous component in the paints he was using. Long before he painted The Inquisition Tribunal, in 1783, he made a portrait of a six year old boy from Spanish Royal family who became a cardinal at the age of twenty three and ended the notorious Spanish Inquisition.

Historical Back Ground[edit]

The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 to keep the Catholic Orthodoxy. The first auto-da-fé took place in Seville in 1481. During this time six conversos (Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity) were burned at the stake. In Goya's lifetime he would have been quite aware of the history and strong influence that the church held on Spanish society. Though the Inquisition was winding down it was not until 1834 that it was officially ended once and for all. Goya sketched, painted and printed many scenes showing the barbarity and cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition and of the turbulent, warring, times in which he lived.

An Act of Faith[edit]

The auto-da-fé (translation: act of faith), like the one shown in the Inquisition Tribunal, was used to shame and break an accused “heretic” in public or in front of an audience. Often times, the victim had been tortured until they confessed to the crimes of which they had been accused. The accuser(s) and witnesses against the "heretic" were kept secret from the accused until the public shaming. The specific attire that the victim was forced to wear during the auto da fe detailed the crime and punishment of the accused in symbolic imagery. For instance, if a victim was to be burned at the stake the sleeveless vests, known as sambenito, had flames emblazoned on it against a black background. Often these garments also noted the victim’s name, social status, supposed crime against the church and the date of conviction. The victim was made to wear a coroza, a three foot tall pointed dunce cap, which was also decorated with details of the alleged crime or crimes against the Church, as well an inscription of the punishment that was to be meted out to the accused.

Description of Painting[edit]

It shows an auto-da-fé, by a tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition, being held inside a church. The four accused people are wearing tall, pointed coroza’s on their heads and sambenito's describing their heresies. Ringed around the accused are the clerics and Inquisitors and farther back a sea of invited guests fill the church interior, witnessing the drama. Every figure in the foreground is in the light, individualised and well-characterised, whereas the background is occupied by an anonymous mass of people shut in by darkness and a claustrophobic Gothic architecture.


By the time period in which this painting was most likely completed, Goya was long finished with painting pretty pictures in the rococo style. No longer were his artworks decorations but strong essays on the turmoil and raw emotion of man’s inhumanity to man. Each of the paintings in this series is marked by an instance of cruelty, here in the Inquisition Tribunal, the threat of being burned at the stake, symbolised by the pointed hats worn by the accused. A Procession of Flagellants another one of Goya's art works in this series shows the presence of cruelty and the use of symbolism, where blood is seen flowing out onto the white garment of figures. Its size is 46cm x 73cm (18Inches x 29Inches). It is an oil on panel. One of the most famous of Goya's paintings, The Clothed Maja, shows the titillating gaze and seductive attire of a young woman, which "upset the ecclesiastical authorities", the Spanish Church.


  • BozaL, Valeriano, Francisco Goya, vida y obra, Madrid, Tf, 2005, 2 vols. (Aficiones, 5-6), vol. 2, pages 170-171. ISBN 978-84-96209-39-8. (Spanish)
  • Stearns, Monroe, Goya and His Times, New York, Franklin Watts, Inc, 1966, pages 29 and 140.
  • Hughes, Robert. "Goya". New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print. pages 335-336.
  • Voorhies, James, "Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) and the Spanish enlightenment" The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 22 March 2014.
  • Tomlinson, Janis. From El Greco to Goya. New York. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1997. Print. Pages 14, 15, 18 and 19.

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