El tres de Mayo, Goya (ENG)

El 3 de mayo, Goya (1814)19th of september 2009

« El tres de Mayo » (1814)

Francisco de Goya


El 3 de mayo, Goya (1814)


Goya was indeed a Modern painter. Both in his message and his technique.

At the twilight of the 18th century, he annouced, threatened and lucid, the two centuries to come, in History and in painting. In the late painting (1814),  « El tres de Mayo », completed by the painting « El Dos de Mayo », Fransisco de Goya pays a tribute to the patriotic rebellion of people from Madrid against the french invadors. These two spectacular paintings were destinated to the reestablished nacional power.

Yet in these « patriotic » pieces, the painter forsees.

Goya represents (or, more precisely, witnesses) the anguish provoked by the Napoleonian European conquest. This fear had been experimented by all the enthusiatic followers of the French Enlightment. A desillusion increasingly sudden with each battle of the French Emperor.

Through the main character of the picture, the white man holding a christic position with stigmates in his hands, Goya represents his own fear and doubts towards the events that marked the start of the 19th century. His painting his destinated to the rebels of these bloody battles. However, his image is also addressed to the anonymous soldiers, painted in an undefined way, in a dark and hardly sketched row. Some of these french soldiers are veterans of the Revolucionary wars, the so called « soldiers of Year 2″, that defended their ideal against crispations of an old world and obsolete monarchies.The face of the main character  is perfectly tighten towards the soldiers. His eyes are wide open, looking towards his executioners, searching their eyes, begging a response, a justification of their acts.

This atitude reflects the misundertanding, the deep gap that gushed between an ideal and the reality of its execution. These eyes wide open, looking fowards, are a metafor of a fear towards the futur, of an anguish towards Democratic State that can commit atrocities. In this peculiar repression in Spain, Goya foresees the danger of modern Law, supposedly representing the people, that legalizes the killing. The way that Napoleon decided to impose the French Revolution ideal, through conquest and repression, can’t convinced the painter. Goya is sceptical towards the Reason, the Freedom that emerges in a blood bath.  In my opinion, the birth of these paintings is to be search not merely in the tribute to the rebels from Madrid but also in the expression of a desillusion. From his enthusiasm towards french Enlightment, Goya came to a fear towards its consequences. And they are terrifying, as the History of next two centuries would testify.


And Goya is a pictural genius that could communicate the importance of his message through an innovative form.

The old way to produce and to understand painting is obsolete on the edge of the 19th century. It symbolises an old world, an old ideal inherited from the Renaissance, 400 years ago. New challenges are at stake when Goya is painting. Then, new problems, functions and ambitions for Art are emerging.

The painting changes its nature as the image is meant to become democratic as much as Knowledge and Power. The People, very idealized, becomes both the protagonist and the main spectator of the canvases. But the concrete consequences of this cultural shift on painting is what interest me here. This process of « massification » of the world led the painter to solely possess the painting. The image isn’t anymore compelled by an idea nor illustrate an ideal; it is for the humans and by them. This process will lead to the pure form, the abstraction of beauty: the two dimensions of the canvas.

However, Goya doesn’t seek mere formalism, he is using it in order to sustain his message. The form sustain and elevate his creation.With Goya, the paint collides with the canvas. The materiality of the paint is physically there, on the textile, and the painter is present throught his thinking (in the narrative of his image) and his traces, the gestures of his paintbrush. Symbols are not War.  Painting the war can be two things: political propaganda or expression of an impression. And canonical symbols of the pictural tradition don’t allow the painter to communicate an impression embedded in the flesh. Goya’s images carry an haptic function: it is also addressed to spectator’s senses.

There’s the blood and the paint. The paint can represent blood as it could be blood. The paint-blood is Goya’s. The canvas, close, sweats and bleeds.In classical religious paintings, Christ’s blood is merely pictorial, a visual blood, cold and distant. Its representation seeks to illustrate an historic event, to testifiy the truth of the crucifixion. The blood in Goya’s painting isn’t allegorical, it is dripping from the open wounds, on the canvas.The skull of the dead rebel in the foreground, leaning in front of the other prisoners, is bleeding. But the blood doesn’t belong to the image: it stick to its support. Red, white, flesh, blood are just colour stains, paintbrush gestures. The painter, beyond his canvas, is dripping blood. I think that, when Goya paints the blood, he is pouring the rebel’s blood collected that night, on the mountain of Principe Pio. It is inside and outside the image. It is as much Illusion than Real. It is part of his memory and part on his hands.