||Tami Sutcliffe (C) 2007|
Chronicle of Higher Ed.
New York Times
Is this visual image
art or information?
Goya was commissioned to paint this work to commemorate Madridīs stand against the forces of Napoleon six years earlier, in 1808. Goya did not personally witness this scene.
But even without any context for this image, a viewer can still construct some meaning here. This is not abstract. Based on image size, color and perspective, a viewer immediately recognizes that this is not a photograph of an actual event. Some elements such as landscape, lighting effects and recognizable objects and actions can be identified. To describe this visual image using only words, one might say it seems to be a rectangular representation of at least four faceless people aiming guns at a single man in a white shirt. Two bloody human bodies lie at the bottom of the image. Three or more people seem to be surrounding the central targeted figure, on either side. Their roles are not clear. The emotions of the people in the image seem to include terror, sorrow, and fear.
"Almost all the painters who have treated such themes have been illustrators first and artists second. Instead of allowing their feelings about an event to form a corresponding pictorial symbol in their minds, they have tried to reconstruct events, as remembered by witnesses, according to pictorial possibilities. The result is an accumulation of formulas. But in The Third of May not a single stroke is done according to formula. At every point Goya's flash lit eye and his responsive hand have been at one with his indignation." - Kenneth Clark, Looking at Pictures.
GOYA, Francisco. Los Fusilamientos del 3 de Mayo. (The Shootings of May Third 1808.)
 Oil on canvas. 104 3/4 x 136 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid
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Editor: Tami Sutcliffe
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Last updated 10.26.06