The shooting of the rebels on the night of May 3, 1803 by Francisco de Goya

The shooting of the rebels on the night of May 3, 1803 by Francisco de Goya

This picture is not only a masterpiece of Goya, but also one of the highest achievements of European historical painting, its paradigm. It recreates a real event. After the battle of Puerto del Sol, the surviving Spaniards were executed on the night of May 3 at the hill of Principe-Pio.

But the unconditional certainty of the historical fact is translated into a universally significant symbol of heroism and suffering, courageous confrontation with blind and brutal force. Force, devoid of individuality, for the chain of French soldiers is anonymous – we do not see their face.

In the group of Spaniards, each image is individual, each carries a whole world, tragic and doomed. In the picture there is forever a moment before the shot, it finds here a duration, painful and endless.

Standing on the ground the lantern separates both groups, so that the figures of the French soldiers are perceived as dark silhouettes, and a bright merciless light illuminates the Spanish patriots, living and dying, the flow of blood spreading over the earth, corpses and those who will now be just as immovable. But while these people, pressed by an invisible and merciless force to the slope of the hill, are filled with the highest intensity of feelings.

It reaches the limit in the central figure of a mighty Spaniard who throws words of anger or curse into the soldiers’ face. The gesture of his high arms, which causes association with the crucifix, overshadows the whole group of the doomed, and the bright flash of the white patch of his shirt, arguing with the cold light of the lantern, illuminates their last moments. Behind them stands a deserted hill, and further, in the depths, against the backdrop of the dark sky, the outlines of the Madrid buildings and the church are visible – dumb and indifferent witnesses of the human drama.

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