Goya under the microscope

Kate Edmondson, The Courtauld Gallery’s paper conservator, talks us through her fascinating discoveries whilst examining the works which form our current exhibition, Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album.

Kate, what techniques did you use to study Goya’s drawings?

To forensically study the works I focused on using a high magnification. This was essential in revealing Goya’s drawing technique, and the way he layered the black ink in different concentrations skilfully with a brush.

Goya under the microscope
Also by use of transmitted light through the paper, and raking light across the surface of the paper, I could see clearly how Goya had scraped the surface, a technique which was key to his practice, to either make alterations or to create highlights to his drawings.


Transmitted and raking light

Transmitted light and raking light

What did you discover?

Close examination of the paper furnish, colour, plus measuring the distance of the vertical chain lines in the paper, confirmed that the same paper had been used for all 22 drawings. Identifying the watermark and countermark from the fragments of watermarks which were consistently positioned in the lower left corner of most of the drawings, revealed the paper manufacturer  Blauw & Briel Company at De Herder  (The Shepherd) mill at Zaandijk, Holland. Now knowing the approximate original sheet size, Dutch Royal, helped us calculate the untrimmed size of Goya’s paper for the drawings, as 1/8th of a full sheet.


Paper size

It’s possible that Goya could have worked on single sheets, but we wanted to investigate into the theory that he worked in a sketchbook. The full sheets of paper could in fact have been cut and folded into folios or sections and sewn together to form a simple binding. We found no evidence of sewing holes but did discover some slightly rounded and worn right corners, often a result of handling book pages, which strongly suggests that the drawings could have been part of a book.

Rounded corner

After discovering that you were most likely looking at a sketchbook of Goya’s, how did you work out the original sequence of the drawings?

A really exciting discovery was ink off-set marks on the verso of some of the sheets.

Not only did this strengthen the argument for Goya working in a book, where transfer of media from one page to another is common, but by tracing the marks we could marry up the pages.

Using this techinque and by cross referencing the works that had page numbers we were able to plot the possible order of drawings in Goya’s album, which can be seen in the Gallery today.

Ink off sets

Left: Verso of unnumbered Visiones with brown ink off-set marks at top
Right: Recto of Locura, with Goya’s number 11 which matches the ink marks on verso of Visiones


This was a ground-breaking study into the works and practice of Francisco Goya. We hope we have revealed a deeper understanding of the works and the artist himself.

Further information about reconstructing Goya’s album can be found in the exhibition catalogue, available in the Gallery shop.