In the video, The Private Life of a Masterpiece – Goya’s The Third of May, the impact and importance of Goya’s painting is discussed. The Third of May, depicts a possible scene that could have happened in Spain, on the third of May, 1808 when Napoleon’s French army invaded. The painting was the first painting which actually made the victims of war the heroes. Goya’s painting has served as inspiration for artists for two hundred years, and his is considered the “Father of the Modern Era.”
Francisco de Goya began his career painting with portraits of royal and the wealthy. He was the principal court painter to the King and his duties were to preserve in paint the monarchy, this is considered his ‘bright period’. His creativity turned dark when he lost his hearing at the age of 47. Goya’s perception changed and he began to paint depicting trials and pain people experienced instead of royal commissions of royalty. In his early dark work his paintings appear as if they were practice for his masterpiece, The Third of May.
Napoleon marched into Spain with his troops to bring everyone along with the enlightenment of France whether they wanted to go or not. The painting shows the brutality of war in ways that had not been shown before; the moment before a firing squad shot innocent men. The principle figure in the painting is easily identifiable not only by a white shirt, but also by his arms thrown in the air in surrender. To further proclaim innocence, Goya painted the man’s hands with markings which resemble stigmata, the piercings Jesus Christ suffered when he was nailed to the cross. Goya was so insightful in this piece that there is a single lantern on the ground which is only illuminating the central figure; the man in white. Around the central figure are others who seem to be praying for mercy, but also a few men who had already been shot and were dead. They were painted as if they were coming out of the painting in a three dimensional effect and Goya had used paint in such a way that it looks like real blood. Every portion of the painting, from the buildings and sky in the background, to the bleeding corps in the foreground to the central figure are wrought with emotion and feeling of the massacre of the scene. To make the emphasis even stronger on the victims, Goya painted the French firing squad with the face turned away and down, as if they were ashamed of what they were doing, but were too fearful or programmed to not follow orders.
Goya only had two months to complete the painting which as a massive undertaking due in part to its size. The painting is nearly nine feet wide and just over twelve feet tall. Goya also painted The Second of May which depicts the actual rebellion of Spaniards against the French invasion, while The Third of May shows the aftermaths and the defeat of Spain. Goya completed both painting in the two month time frame; the time between when the French unoccupied Spain to before King Ferdinand VII returned. The speed with which Goya completed the paintings are visible through x-rays which show thick layers of paint on the canvas, and the blending of colors as Goya used the wet technique where bottoms layers where not allowed to dry before another layer was applied. The speed with which is completed these masterpieces does not detract from their beauty or portrayal of the moment, in fact there is passion in the strokes as Goya lived through the invasion and may have witnessed scenes just like this one.
The Third of May has influenced most artists in the last two hundred years, who feel that the painting is an ideal model for the tragedies of war on the victims. From Manet to Picasso to Reina Sofia, many great artists have created their own interpretation of The Third of May. Goya’s interpretation and homage to the true heroes of war will continue to influence and impact how people see war.