Reference: Harris 54, Delteil 56. Plate 19 from the First Edition (of 12); the first edition size was approximately 300. The matrix in excellent condition, defects outside image (with the binding holes left, reinforced plate mark, repaired tears at bottom, right, top margin edges, fold top corner).The full sheet, 8 1/2 x 5 3/4, the sheet 11 3/4 x 8 inches.
A fine impression, printed in sepia ink on a fine quality, soft but strong laid paper. In this impression the fine grain aquatint contrasts vividly with the highlights on the bird woman standing in the tree, the upper part of the praying woman at the left, and the sky behind the figures at the right, as indicated by Harris as characteristics of the fine impressions of the First Edition; in the subsequent (posthumous) editions the aquatint softens and breaks up, and the fine burnishing effects in the bird upper left disappear.
This plate refers to the bird hunting practice common in Goya's time, but still employed recently, of setting up a wired bird anti-decoy or frightener in a tree which hunters could get to flap its wings. Smaller birds would fly below it, and would dive and scatter when the decoy fluttered. These smaller birds would then be caught in netting or twigs set up by the hunters.
In Goya's print the bird at the top of the tree is a decoy, and is attracted by other birds. Commentators have noted this bird's resemblance to the Dutchess of Alba, and the bird just behind it to Goya's own self portrait (now in the Met in NY). An early text (the Ayala text) notes "soldiers, commoners, and monks, fly around a lady who is half-hen; they all fall, and the women hold them down by the wings, make them throw up and pull out their guts." This is what's happening at the bottom of the composition: two women (identified as prostitutes) work on a captured male bird - the bird is already plucked by one while the other pushes a rod into the bird's anus; an older woman at the left prays. This illustrates the common fate of all those deluded by love: all must fall.
Goya's commentary on this print: And those who are about to fall will not take warning from the example of those who have fallen! But nothing can be done about it: all will fall.