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Truth and War

On May 2nd 1808 the people of Madrid revolted against the French troops

occupying their city. The following day the French retaliated. In the remembrance of

this event Francisco de Goya painted The Third of May. The horrific scene takes place at

night on a deserted hillside. The feeling of horror is conveyed by the churoscuro use of

lighting. Painted with intense emotional expression the Spaniards stand before there

deaths. The soldiers before them lined up with guns in hand and ready to fire. The

Spaniard facial expression and body language differ slightly which conveys the

methodical process of execution that each victim faced before and after their death. It is

uncertain weather or not Goya acctually witnessed these events. In any case his

depiction of this event paints a horrific and dramatic picture, which evokes emotion that

is quit undeniable. As in some of his other works Goya represents the brutal truth of

warfare.

Goya’s earlier work consists of the irrational or macabre, exploring worlds of

dark fantasy. Paintings such as St. Francis and Borgia Exorcising or The Bogeyman is

Coming represent his preoccupation with the unknown or strange. Goya’s work focuses

on both the potentials of human behaviour and the strang and unusual qualities of fantasy

and reality. Observing an earlier painting such as The Bogeyman is Coming in

comparison to the Third of May, Goya makes a shift in subject matter from an imagined

fantasy to a real life event. Although this change has occurred his element of the

macabre are still present. The immediate impression of The Third of May is of terror and

immoralized human behavior. The central figure holds out his arms like a man crucified

with the body language of defiance. Bright whites and yellows are used in contrast to his

surroundings contributing to the dramatic image. The Spaniard’s faces are drawn in

detail giving each figure an identity. Their facial expressions show fear and despair. No

longer is Goya using elements of horror and drama to represent an imagined event. This

is a picture of reality, an event that occurred with every amount of terror and emotion that

…pics were somewhat alike but their approach and effect were quit

different.

Likely to be influenced by Jacques Callot’s earlier works such as Les Caprices,

Les Bohemiens, and Les Grandes Miseres de la Guerre, Goya completed The Disasters of

War. These were the accounts of violence that Goya recorded during France’s presence

in Spain. It consisted of eighty etchings and wasn’t published until 1863. In these

etchings Goya illustrates the horrible war-like violence that took place in Spain. These

images are done with the same pitiless honesty that Goya used in the Third of May.

Obscure, curious and irrational elements were still apparent in his art. In his eighty-two year life span Goya painted images that were sinister, dark,

dramatic and tragic but at the same time intriguing and truthful. Goya’s depictions of

war were honest delving into human behavior and wars brutal immoralizing of human

action. Goya found violence and degradation in life and humanity. His portrayal of these

elements in his paintings communicated to his viewers the undeniable truths of

humanity.

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