Francisco de Goya - The Third of May 1808

by Stephan Franck


In a kind of alley, the population of Madrid faces the Napoleonic troops on May 3, 1808. It is a painting of extreme tension: the guns are loaded, the order is given to put on the weapons, the victims of previous shootings are still lying on the ground, an escape for the cornered people is no longer possible.

The Spaniard Francisco de Goya, artist of the turn of the century of the beginning of the 19th century, created this work. On the wall are people with very differentiated styles of dress - people of all professions and classes. In the center, the kneeling man recognizes the hopelessness of his situation. With arms outstretched and eyes wide open, he stands helplessly facing the guns. The men symbolize the indiscriminate and arbitrary execution of parts of the Madrid city population. Opposed to them is the phalanx in which the uniformed soldiers have lined up. A difference that becomes apparent to the viewer, as it were, through Goya's lighting direction. The lantern is a separating element and makes the unarmed man in the white shirt appear like a saint.


This Christian iconography, which Goya intersperses here, cannot be dismissed, but alludes to the ethically and morally questionable actions of an anonymous "shadow army" of Napoleon. The incident alluded to here occurred 6 years before the painting was created. Spanish troops resisted Napoleon's subjugation, which led to an escalation of the situation and numerous shootings of Spanish citizens. During the night depicted, about 45 insurgents met their deaths.


Francisco de Goya - The Third of May 1808

Oil on canvas, 1814, 266 x 345 cm, Museo del Prado in Madrid

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