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March 13, 2006 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Art To Know For Dinner Party Conversations

Francisco Goya
The Third of May 1808

Goya was a court painter for the Spanish monarchy, and many of his paintings were politically inspired by the French occupation of Spain. In the early nineteenth century Napoleon and his troops entered Spain, supposedly to support Ferdinand VII in the overthrow of the current monarchy. Turns out that Napoleon actually had designs on the Spanish throne, and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as leader of the country.

Unsurprisingly the Spanish weren’t too thrilled about this, and on May 2 1808 clashed with the French troops. In response the French conducted a violent slaughter of the insurgents, which Goya chose to depict here. Goya highlights the senseless of death and destruction by portraying the French as a dark, faceless mass, against the Christ-like despair of the victim in white.

Working in what is now known as the romantic period; Goya largely rejected the prevalent polished neo-classical style. As well as creating paintings in response to the invasion of his country, Goya was fascinated by the grotesque and the fantastical. Towards the end of his career, his mental and physical health failing, Goya created numerous prints and sketches depicting dark, menacing creatures. These had titles such as Saturn devouring one of his children. Nice.


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