Cindy Contreras: Third of May by Francisco Goya



Francisco Goya created an image of a huge political event in his Third of May painting. This painting was created 6 years after the political turmoil in Spain. If Francisco Goya were to do his painting during the political violence in 1808; he would have most likely been shot. Currently, the painting can be found at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. Its size is 266cm x 345cm.

The background story to the painting is that Spain was facing a decline of power in the late 16th century. They were desperate for support from an outsider in the case of an English invasion occurred. The king of Spain asked Napoleon to help protect Spain from a possible English invasion. In 1808, Napoleon agreed and immediately replaced the Spanish king with his brother. Napoleon betrayed the Spanish and many were disappointed.

Goya’s painting was created with oil on canvas during the Romantic period. It represents the response of the intense political environment the existed in 1808. On May 2nd, people began war with Napoleon’s soldiers and shot one of them. The following day, May 3rd, was the day the Napoleon’s soldiers rounded up and shot hundreds of Spaniards in Madrid. The shootings on the third of May occurred in front of Mount Principio in Madrid. The snapshot created in the painting was caught the day after the people of Madrid rebelled. Goya captured the events in his paintings via witnessing them through a telescope he had at home. In both the Second of May and Third of May an observer can see Goya’s talent for memorizing movement.det arms

There are many important observations to take note of when interpreting Goya’s famous martyr. The middle man dressed in white in the center of the painting is very symbolic. He represents the innocence of the common man who was a victim of the round up shootings. The colors of his apparel are yellow and white which have a sharp contrast to the color around him. The white shirt he is wearing reinforces the notion of the common man being guiltless. This character in the center of the art piece is raising his arms showing that he is pleading for his life. On his right hand there is a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus Chris through the stigmata on his right hand. This man in the center is surrounded by darkness which implies that there is no escaping the soldiers.det faces

The second area of focus is the locals that surround the man dressed in white and yellow. Some locals have their hands places over their face showing fear and distraught. Other locals are looking directly into the face of Napoleon’s soldiers. The locals who are dead on the floor show an element of time. In other words, it shows how people were lined up and shot one at a time while other locals watched waiting their turn. The red blood of the dead men on the floor sharply contrasts the yellow shade of the floor in the painting. The only people that Goya made face expressions for were the locals.det bodies

The following area of interpretation is the soldiers on the right side of Goya’s painting. There soldiers are represented only by uniforms. The funs they are holding take a large amount of the painting.

det soldiers There is no face expression shown for the soldiers which shows the evil in the event. The shade of color the soldiers are painted with is similar to the black sky that surrounds the people in the painting. Goya placed the soldiers very close to the locals in his painting which exemplifies the power Napoleon’s soldiers had over the people in 1808.

Finally, the background ties the middle man, locals, and soldiers together. In the background there is an outline of a church casted away as a shadow. It shows how not even the church and religion could help the locals from the evil brought by Napoleon. Along with the church there are shapes in the background that allow the observer to recognize common architecture in Spain. In the center of the painting there is a lantern which shows the hope that existed before Napoleon took rule of Spain. The center man and the lantern are the only elements Goya choose to emphasize with a light. Goya’s great scale and composition allow the painting to overall tell the story of May 3rd 1808.

Goya’s Third of May painting is more focused than the Second of May painting. In his Second of May painting there is less emphasis on the face expressions of the people. It is also difficult to decipher who the soldiers were and who the people were. The Second of May painting represents an element of chaos and tragedy. It illustrates the blood encounter between the people of Madrid and the Napoleon army that occurred when the French soldier was shot by a sniper. This painting is very important because it has a strong influence on what occurred the third of May. Some elements from this painting that transferred to the Third of May are the following: architectural structure of Spain in the background, element of light and dark, the use of the color white in the center of the painting, strong movement, and a dark sky.

More of Goya’s Famous Paintings:

BBC The Private Life Of A Masterpiece – Goya’s Third of May 1808 (1/4)

 Goya’s Third of May by Oxford University’s Press:

Suggestion for Open Discussion Questions: (1) Do you agree/disagree with my interpretations? (2) Is there an element of Goya’s painting you would like to highlight? (3) Did Goya do well with capturing the emotion of the political environment for 1808? (4) What other concepts from class can we apply to this painting? (5) In comparison to Goya, what other artists that we have studied use the same or different artistic techniques?

Works Cited

Cumming, R. (2013). Famous Paintings: The Third of May 1808. Retrieved 04 05, 2013, from Master Piece Cards:

Weems, E. E. (2006). The Third of May. Retrieved 04 04, 2013, from Soya:

Wikipedia. (2013, 04 13). The Third of May 1808. Retrieved 04 14, 2013, from Wikipedia:

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One Response to Cindy Contreras: Third of May by Francisco Goya

  1. Kristen Mouris says:

    I think Goya’s depiction of the man helps bring out the emotion of the attack. Compared to the firing squad who are faceless killers, the man’s face shows fear and surprise. He holds his hands up to proclaim his compliance. From his dress we can tell that he is simply a local and has no weapons or military affiliation. The white of his shirt symbolizes his innocence and purity. I also believe the white of his shirt contrasts with the potential red of his blood. Since this painting reflects a moment in time, the viewer can infer that this man will be killed and can imagine for themselves what the aftermath of this moment would look like. It reminds me of various paintings of the French Revolution in which blood seeps through the white shirts of the fallen. I think in this case the use of white is a very powerful choice.

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