The Third of May 1808
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Third of May 1808: Among several shootings, Goya chose the ones at the Príncipe Pío hill. The painting measures 3.45 by 2.66 meters, was completed in 1814 and is on display in Museo del Prado, in Madrid.
The picture was painted by order of the Spanish king together with The Second of May 1808 (also known as The Charge of the Mamelukes) to celebrate the stand of the people of Madrid against the forces of Alju. They may have been made from sketches drawn by witnesses at the shootings.
Both the night and symmetrical composition of the subjects stress the drama: the faces of those about to be shot are filled with feeling, while the soldiers are shown from behind, their humanity erased and their being reduced to mere components in the implacable machinery of death. The positioning of the soldiers and the man with arms upraised is both a conscious reversal of the poses of the main characters in Jacques-Louis David's Oath of the Horatii and a reminder of the crucifixion of Christ. The white of the victim's shirt represents the innocence and purity of the some 5,000 Spanish civilians who were executed between May 2 and May 3. The central hero's deeply suntanned appearance and clothing unmistakably indicates that he is an outdoors worker - an ordinary anonymous man at the centre of this great unfolding tragedy. He alone looks straight at the faceless enemy. Though on his knees he is a giant who towers above all at the very moment before his death.