Francisco Goya: The Third of May, 1808

30 Oct

The Third of May, 1808 by Francisco Goya 1814

The Third of May, 1808 was completed by Francisco Goya in 1814 following the withdrawal of the French forces occupation in Spain at the end of the Peninsular War begun by Napoleon I. Spain’s discourse into the Napoleonic War began as a result of the Treaty of Fontainebleau in October of 1807. Napoleon’s treaty surmised to expel Portugal from Europe and to divide the southern terrain to Spain’s prime minister Manuel Godoy, who held the responsibility to govern foreign affairs and did so corruptly. Godoy was favored by the royal family, a lover to the queen of Spain, Maria Luisa, Charles IV favored Godoy to succeed his reign more than his eldest Ferdinand. Approved by Spain’s King Charles IV, Napoleon sent French forces to occupy Spain in November of 1807.

Manuel Godoy, by Francisco Goya 1801

This occupation was treacherous as Napoleon sought to over throw the monarchy and instate his brother, Joseph Bonaparte to the throne of Spain. Napoleon had grown tired of his brothers conduct as appointed King of Naples and used the Treaty of Fontainebleau as a way to control his brothers future. By March of 1808 Joseph was officially named the new king of Spain. Spain’s royal family and prime minister were incarcerated and exiled. Spain was now politically stranded without a unifying government or monarchy. On the Second of May in 1808 Spanish citizens began an uprising in Madrid against the French soldiers. Goya’s Third of May offers a glimpse into the corresponding result of the citizen uprising. Spain was a very poor country at this time. The Spanish army was ill equipped in comparison to the French. For the first time the term guerrilla was enacted, meaning “little war,” groups of citizens were fighting in the place of soldiers. During this time citizens held onto their identity as Spaniards, it was their Nationalism that drove them to survive. The Spaniards also had their faith in the Church which preached against Napoleon as a rat’s nest of atheism and freethinking. The guerrilla acts of May 2nd were the first steps made in the war for the Spanish Independence from the French.

The Second of May, 1808 by Francisco Goya 1814

Goya had lived in Madrid at the time of the uprising, and most likely had witnessed the aftermath from the executions at the hill of Principe Pio, where the composition of the Third of May takes place. Through the onslaught of the war Goya depicted a series of etchings called the “Disasters of War,” depicting the horrid and savage slaughter of Spanish citizens by the hands of the French. Four of his etchings serve as studies for the 3rd of May, as if to find a balance between eye witnessed atrocity and fictitious composition. Goya wrote to the Spanish council of regency to commission a painting which he said would : “perpetuate with his brush the most notable and heroic actions or scenes of our glorious insurrection against the tyrant of Europe.” He would depict two works through this commission request, “The Second of May, 1808” and “The Third of May, 1808.” In the Third of May we see a concentration on the victim. The gross injustice of war is clearly defined, no one wins on the lighted side of the lantern. As a representation of Napoleons occupation we see two very unfit groups of combatants.

The Kings eldest son Ferdinard the 7th took the throne at the time of Goyas commission. Having known Goya as a portrait painter of the court for many years I am to only assume that once Goya presented Ferdinard with the second and third of may he was displeased with the subjects focus. The works were not known to have been exhibited until around 1850’s, long after Goya and Ferdinard’s deaths. Goya left Spain for France soon after completing third of May, as Ferdinard began to grow suspect of Goya’s devotion to Spain after he had maintained his place as court painter under Joseph Bonaparte.



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