Spanish Masters Compared

Goya's Third of May Goya's Third of May
Francisco de Goya, Spain The Third of May, 1808 1814 Oil on canvas 266 x 345 cm Museo del Prado This painting depicts the aftermath of an uprising in Spain that was put down by the occupying Napoleonic army. The French decreed that anyone who had been armed when captured would be put to death.

Goya painted the subject almost as soon as the political situation and his position as court painter allowed. Unlike previous artists' treatments of the subject of war and even its companion piece, the more conventional and forgettable The Second of May, Goya's Third of May portrayed the episode not as an epic moment in history, not as a heroic scene of matrydom, but as a brutal slaughter.

On the right stands the faceless, regimented firing squad. The stance of the central figure on the left has been likened to that of a crucified Christ. The lighting and coloring of the work heighten the drama.

During the time he painted The Third of May, Goya was also working on his series The Disasters of War based on the Penisular War, which was the first to be known as a guerilla war – blurring the distinction between civilian and soldier.

Picasso's Massacre in Korea Picasso's Massacre in Korea
Pablo Picasso, Spain Massacre in Korea 1951 Oil on canvas 110 x 210 cm Musée National Picasso This painting depicts an attack on Korean civilians by U.S. forces in 1950. The incident remained controversial for some time and was only officially investigated decades later. The change in artist patronage allowed Picasso's politically charged work to follow the incident it portrayed more quickly than did Goya's.

Following Goya, Picasso portrays the soldiers with a geometric, mechanistic, almost inhuman abstraction. On the other hand, he shows one victim with little to no abstract and the others seem to wear masks exaggerating their anguish. If Goya's central "victim" figure is considered reminiscent of depictions of Christ, then one could say that Picasso's are reminiscent of depictions of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, especially the stylized lament of those found in the Deposition from the Cross painted during the Northen Renaissance.

Compared to Goya's Third of May or even his own Guernica, Picasso's Massacre in Korea seems understated, even matter-of-fact in its portrayal. This may reflect the actual incident, or it may reflect the cumulative effect that all of the war he witnessed had on Picasso.