In preparation for assignment 4 annotations I have decided to research Goya’s famous The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid. I tried to keep in mind Terry Smith’s four ways of looking as per assignment 3 feedback.
The dark block of faceless French soldiers are in the middle of executing the local patriots, the bodies pile up beneath the kneeling man in white who raises his arms in surrender, defeated, he represents the nation defeated, he appears as a heroic martyr. His face looks desolate, he knows what is coming next. He monk preys next to him and others in the waiting crowd cover their eyes. All this plays out in front of the church which did nothing to intervene.
Goya uses broad, loose brushwork, blazing colour, and dramatic chiaroscuro lighting to stress the realistic scene. However, it may not be a scene that Goya actually saw, since it was painted in 1814, after Spain’s liberation from Napoleonic rule. The composition is chock full of Christian symbolism, perhaps this scene is taken from a variety of sources of inspiration to represent what actually happened.
Context & Meaning:
In 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces crossed the Pyrenees into allied Spain under the pretext of invading Portugal. Once in there, he started to take control of regions of Spain. King Charles IV of Spain attempted to flee to South America when he realized what was happening but was forced to abdicate before he could. His son Ferdinand VII took over rule. Napoleon invited both Charles and Ferdinand to France. Fearing their leaders would be executed, the people of Spain rose up against the army (on the 2nd May) and were brutally suppressed (3rd May). Two days later, Napoleon took control, forced both kings to abdicate. He later installed his brother Joseph as Spain’s new monarch. Ferdinand VII was imprisoned for 6 years before he was allowed to reclaim Spain’s throne.
Along with its companion, The 2nd of May 1808 in Madrid: the charge of the Mamelukes, this work was made at the initiative of the Reagent, Luis de Boubon in 1814. Both works may have been used to decorate a triumphal arch during the return of Fernando VII to Madrid, or to commemorate the celebrations of the second of May. (Museo del Prado, 2016)
The painting has quite a few different names: The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid, The Executions, The Shootings on the Príncipe Pío Hill, (for the location of the scene) and The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid. The work commemorates the arrest & execution of mamelukes/madrileños (people of Madrid) on May 3rd 1808 by the Napoleonic invading army following a civilian revolt. As Goya stated: “It is my ardent wish, to perpetuate by means of my brush the most notable and heroic actions and scenes of our most glorious insurrection against the tyrant of Europe.”
The lower left side still shows the marks of damage suffered when this canvas was transferred to Valencia in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.
“The light in his work is merciless for the simple reason that it shows up cruelty,” (Berger, J, 2001)
The focal point of the composition is the illuminated figure of the main figure whose glowing white shirt and disproportionate size immediately draws your eye. He’s thrown his arms up as though he were “throwing his whole life, in extremis, in the face of his murderers,” (Hughes, R, 2004). He is in the posture of a crucified man “linking the figure of the anonymous political martyr to that of Christ”, and this is reinforced by the stigmata on his hands.
Art historian Kenneth Clark remarked on Goya’s dramatic departure from the idealised and heroic style of history paintings in his book Looking at pictures:
One suddenly realises how much rhetoric even the greatest painters have employed in their efforts to make us believe in their subjects. Delacroix Massacre at Chios, for example: it was painted ten years later than The Third of May, and it might have been painted two hundred years earlier….. With Goya we do not think of the studio or even of the artist at work. We think only of the event. Does this imply that The Third of May is a kind of superior journalism, the record of an incident in which depth of focus is sacrificed to an immediate effect? I am ashamed to say that I once thought so; but the longer I look at this extraordinary picture and at Goya’s other works, the more clearly I recognise that I was mistaken. (Clark, K, 1960)
The French author Malraux points out that Goya paints “the absurdity of being human” and is “the greatest interpreter of anguish the West has ever seen.” (Malraux, A, quoted in Berger, J, 2001).
“Most of the victims have faces. The killers do not. This is one of the most often-noted aspects of the Third of May, and rightly so: with this painting, the modern image of war as anonymous killing is born, and a long tradition of killing as ennobled spectacle comes to its overdue end.” (Hughes, R, 2004)
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes was born in a village called Fuendetodos in Aragon, to a modest family in 1746. He studied painting from age 14 under José Lúzan y Martinez. He moved to Madrid to study with Anton Raphael Mengs. He became a court painter to the Spanish Crown in 1786, creating portraits commissioned by the Spanish aristocracy and royalty, and the Rococo style tapestry cartoons designed for the royal palace. In 1793, he had suffered a mysterious illness, perhaps a series of strokes, which left him permanently deaf. This had a profound impact on his art, which became increasingly visionary and strange. In 1799 Goya published a series of 80 prints titled Los Caprichos depicting what he called “…the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual.” (Artdaily.com, 2011) Where he explored themes of irrationality, folly, and corruption, the famous one being “The sleep of reason produces monsters”.
He married Josefa Bayeu in 1775, sadly they had many pregnancies and miscarriages during their life together. He was the court painter before, during and after the war but images he created during and after the war were much darker, both emotionally and visually, than anything he had done previously. He saw many of the war atrocities first hand, prompting him to create a series of anti-war etchings Disasters of War (Desastres de la Guerra) from 1808, these intended for private consumption and were not published until much later in 1863. Goya focused on how war brings out the basest human instincts. The two public paintings 2nd May & 3rd of May present a more politically charged version of the actual historical events. Some of the details of the painting can be seen in the etchings.
John berger speaks of the honesty goya, saying that he was a commentator more interested in events than states of mind. That his work has a culmination effect from one event to another. ‘The way he composed was theatrical. His works always imply an encounter…. One doesn’t analyse th processes of vision that lie behind an etching by goya; one submits to it’s climax’. (Berger, J, 2001)
Goya’s, commentary, his underlying theme was the ‘consequences of man’s neglect [.. ] of his most precious faulty, Reason’. ‘Reason as a discipline yielding Pleasure derived from th Senses. In Goya’ s work the flesh is a battleground between ignorance, uncontrolled passion, superstition on th one hand and dignity, grace and pleasure on th other. ‘ (Berger, J, 2001)
He draws the ‘abuse of human possibilities. What man was capable of doing to man’. (Berger, J, 2001) The argument on if goya was an objective or subjective artist, was he haunted by his own imagination or by what he saw of the decadence of the Spanish court, the ruthlessness of the inquisition and the horror of the peninsular war. Berger points out that he consciously saw himself as being typical of his time and although he used his fears as a starring point in his work, ultimately they were objective and social. He states that modern writers such as Malraux take a different stance, that goya paints ‘the absurdity of being human’, ‘the greatest interpreter of anguish the West has ever known’. Berger feels that Goya was a prophet of atrocities to come, in that he could foresee the consequences of man’s decent. And that Malraux and others are ‘disillusioned intellectuals’ seeing more of Goya’s despair than is present in the work itself. Berger does not believe Goya to be a Romantic artist, he merely borrows from the romantic vocabulary ‘without being affected by the Romantic predicament’. He states that ‘one of the most interesting confirmations that goya’ s work was outward-facing and objective is his use of light. In his works it is not, as with all those who romantically frighten themselves, the dark that holds horror and terror. It is the light that discloses them…. The light in his work is merciless for the simple reason that it shows up cruelty. ‘ (Berger, J, 2001)
Berger’ s point is that Goya was honest in facing the facts whilst still preserving his ideals.
‘the inestimable importance of Goya for us now is that his honesty compelled him to face and judge the issues that still face us. ‘ (Berger, J, 2001)
The painting has had tremendous influence on artists since the 1800s, for example Manet, Picassco, and many war photographers.
Picasso was ardently anti-war, in his Massacre en Corée he depicting an assassination by firing squad during the Korean War and you can clearly see the influence of the 3rd May here.
Manet made several versions, this one was cut into four pieces and reassembled by Degas:
Edouard Manet, 1832 – 1883
The Execution of Maximilian
Oil on canvas, 193 x 284 cm
I found this video of a talk by Irishman Eamonn McCann on the importance of Goya’s painting on artists throughout history. The talk takes place in reference to a new rendition of Robert Ballagh’s ‘pop art’ version of the painting entitled, “The Third of May – After Goya, 1970″, this one has the buildings replaced by Derry buildings in the background. He draws parallel of the Irish Bloody Sunday massacre in the 1970s with Madrid in 1808. The setting has poignant resonance with another date.
Its the corner of Glenfada Park where just feet away Jim Wray, William McKinney, Gerard McKinney and Gerard Donaghy were shot and fatally wounded on 30th January 1972.
Artdaily.com. (2011) 200 Prints by Francisco de Goya, From His Most Important Series, on View in Valladolid At: http://artdaily.com/news/43852/200-Prints-by-Francisco-de-Goya–From-His-Most-Important-Series–on-View-in-Valladolid#.WMaiqU2yrcs
(Accessed on 13 Mar 17)
Berger, J. (2001) Selected Essays. New York: Vintage
Clark, K. (1960) Looking at Pictures. Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York
Google Cultural Institute. (2017) Goya At: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/entity/m02y23?col=RGB_89763C
(Accessed on 13 Mar 17)
Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing
Hughes, R. (2004) Goya. London: Vintage
McCann, E, Video. (2014) Talk: Bloody Sunday March Events for 2014 At: https://vimeo.com/86397793
(Accessed on 15 Mar 17)
Museo del Prado. (2016) The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid or “The Executions” At: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/the-3rd-of-may-1808-in-madrid-or-the-executions/5e177409-2993-4240-97fb-847a02c6496c
(Accessed on 9 Feb 17)
Riding, A. (2006) ‘Picasso Comes Home to Spain’s Pantheon‘ At: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/10/arts/design/10pica.html
(Accessed on 15 Mar 17)
The Art Story. (2017) Francisco Goya At: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-goya-francisco-artworks.htm
(Accessed on 13 Mar 17)
Vereycken, K. (2004) Francisco Goya, The American Revolution, and the Fight Against the Synarchist Beast-Man. Fidelio Magazine, Vol 13, Number 4, Winter 2004