Third of May at Madrid (Executions)


Datos principales

Fusilamientos de Príncipe Pío
268 x 347 cm.
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Esquema relacional


In 1814, after the expulsion of the French troops that had invaded Spain, Goya painted these two paintings, the Second of May and the Third of May at Madrid, for which he requested a sum of money from the regency. At that time Goya was suspected of being a pro-French supporter which made him feel that he was under persecution or threat from Ferdinand VII who had been restored to the throne. Apart from reflecting the deep impression the war had on him, which also inspired him to execute his famous Horrors of War series, these two paintings meant that in some way he reaffirmed his support of the Spanish people, away from his intellectual commitments that brought him nearer to the culture and politics of the [Enlightenment#CONTEXTOS#6]. In all Goya's work the people in their anonymous mass are the protagonists and he thus depicts a collective hero rather than specific figures such as a victorious general or the king on the battlefield. This is a clearly [Romantic#ESTILOS#16], modern way of understanding war and national achievements, which are attributed to the will of the people, rather than to their leaders. In the painting of the Second of May it is the popular mass that envelopes the Egyptian guards that were part of the French troops, tragically famous for the ferocity of their attacks on the civil population. In this painting of the Executions we can see the consequences of the earlier resistance of the Madrilenian population. The way the scene has been composed determines the characteristics of the two main groups. On one side are the executed, showing their faces to the spectator and to the group of executioners on the other side. Their coarse faces reveal their fear and desperation in such a way that Goya offers us a complete gallery of portraits of fear. Each one is in a different pose according to his way of dealing with imminent death. One covers his face because he cannot bear it any longer while another opens his arms wide, offering his chest to the bullets. This particular figure constitutes a terrible dramatic element in the image as he looks directly at the soldiers and his white shirt attracts the light as if it were calling to his approaching death. The bodies of those who have already been executed lie at his feet in a heap. Behind, the others who have been sentenced to death await their turn to be shot. The other group, parallel to this first group, is made up of the French soldiers who are going to execute the patriots. The soldiers have their backs turned to the spectator and so their faces are hidden, as they are not relevant. They are anonymous executioners, carrying out an order. Their formation is perfect, in a mortally efficient line up, all moving in unison; their effectiveness is terrifying. The scene takes place outside at night in an indeterminate location although historical evidence suggests it was the Mount of Príncipe Pío, where according to the chronicles the rebels of the previous day were shot. Goya's brushwork is completely free and independent of drawing, which helps in the creation of a gloomy atmosphere through the use of lighting, colours and smoke. The composition was practically copied by the Impressionist Manet, a great admirer of Spanish art, for the Execution of Maximilian in Mexico. Both the Second of May and the Third of May have been in the Museo del Prado from its inauguration. The only time they left the museum was in 1936 when the Republicans evacuated great masterpieces from the Prado to protect them during the Civil War.


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