GOYA y Lucientes (Francisco de) (1746-1828)
Oil on paper
H. 24.5 cm; W. 32.5 cm
Zaragoza, Collecion Ibercaja
On 2 May, 1808, the population of Madrid (which had been in a state of unrest for a couple of weeks due to the presence of the French troops) staged an uprising. The combats raged in the streets; city governor Joachim Murat decreed martial law. In the evening, a military tribunal met with instructions to distinguish between the insurgents and the rest of the population; all those who were caught bearing weapons were to be sentenced to death. Nearly 400 prisoners were executed on 3 May. At the fall of Napoleon, Francisco de Goya, a painter attached to the Spanish court planned to “immortalise in art the most memorable and heroic scenes from the glorious insurrection against the great tyrant of Europe”. At the beginning of 1814, the council of the regency ordered two paintings, one depicting the uprising of 2 May and the other its suppression on 3 May. The first painting depicts a confrontation at the Puerta del Sol at the heart of the fighting, between the insurgents and the Mamelukes of the Garde impériale and its elite cavalry. Not having been part of the events, the painter worked from reports. The sketch for the painting differs from the final version (Prado Museum, Madrid) in that it is a dense composition in constant movement which does not settle on one figure in particular, seeming to highlight the strength of will and the sacrifice of the insurgents. In many ways this work is a source for later representations of conflicts, and it moves away from classical painting exalting the spontaneous action of the people, here the real heroes. Ferdinand VII made no mistake about it in thanking Goya, despite the latter's liberal sympathies.
Emilie Robbe (tr. AM, PH)
This painting is shown as part of the exhibition Napoleon et l'Europe at the Musee de l'Armee in Paris, which runs until 14 July.