Goya painted two historical subjects from the Peninsular War against the French. The Second of May in Madrid, or The Charge of the Mamelukes, and The Executions of the Third of May. This painting is a forefather of wartime photojournalism, and it shows the day after the Madrid uprising against Napoleon’s invading troops, when all those found with a weapon upon them were condemned to death.
Goya has composed the picture in two diagonal lines. One is formed by the French firing squad, and the other by the citizens of Madrid who are about to be shot. He has set the scene at night, against a black background, and with a very powerful light source at the feet of the soldiers, whose faces cannot be seen. The Madrileños’ faces convey their horror when confronted by death; some weep, others are terrified, and the main figure in the white shirt reflecting the light, faces his death courageously. The red of the spilled blood gives the scene realism. It is one that the painter may well have witnessed himself. It is thought to have taken place on the Principe Pío hill, very close to his home by the Manzanares river.
Manet was inspired by this work for his painting The Execution of Maximilian, the Emperor of Mexico.
(c) (R) 2013, MUSMon com S.L.
Text (a) Catalina Serrano Romero
English translation (a) Thisbe Burns
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