By 1799 Goya (1746-1828) had become Principal Painter to the king of Spain and a successful society portrait painter. However personal illness and later the horrors of the Peninsular War (1808-14) turned him away from conventional subjects and to observe the darker side of Spanish life. This is a scene from the despotic reign of Ferdinand VII (1808-1833) who, in 1814, had restored the Inquisition - an organisation dedicated to the detection and punishment of heretics from Catholic orthodoxy.These 'penitents' are identified by their paper tunics and tall hats. Their only crime is 'for being of Jewish ancestry', as Goya's brief inscription makes clear. The composition seems to be derived from traditional depictions of Christ presented bound and robed, with a crown of thorns, to the people of Jerusalem. This association further emphasises the true innocence and dignity of the accused. Goya himself came before the Tribunal of the Inquisition in 1815 for depicting female nudes.