History : Sep-Oct 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 17 WORK OF ART had fallen on hard times and found him- self in an extremely delicate political situation. Whereas King Ferdinand was conservative and authoritarian, Goya had been openly supportive of Napo- leon’s liberal, Enlightenment values, and had even painted figures in Napoleon’s regime. Although he had longed for the pro- gressive reforms promised by Napoleon, he also reviled the violence the French emperor had unleashed on Spain. During the insurgency, Goya had produced “The Disasters of War,” a vivid series of etch- ings depicting brutal clashes between French troops and Spanish guerrillas as well as the horrific effects on the civilian population. Astonishingly for the peri- od, the Spanish painter put his disgust with conflict and its catastrophic effects firmly above national loyalties; he re- vealed the indiscriminate savagery on both sides. Now that the old regime had been re- stored, however, the artist needed a topic that would bring him back into the na- tional fold without renouncing his be- lief in universal values of freedom and justice. He achieved this by painting two huge canvases depicting the tumultu- ous scenes in Madrid six years before. Completed in 1814, “The Second of May 1808 in Madrid” recounts the moment the uprising began. “The Third of May 1808 in Madrid” was his brutal account of the executions that followed. The scene is set on the outskirts of Madrid. Bathed in an intense light from a large, square lantern, those await- ing execution cover their eyes against the unfolding horror. Unlike the firing squad—faceless and robotic—the stocky man about to be shot is revealed in his full humanity. Kneeling on a blood-soaked patch of ground, surrounded by bodies, and wearing loose, rumpled garments, “he is one of the most vivid presences in all art,” wrote Goya’s biographer, Robert Hughes, in 2006. “In an age of unremit- ting war . . . when our culture is saturated with endless images of torment, brutali- ty, and death, he continues to haunt us.” Lasting Impressions Few have been more haunted by him than another great Spanish painter, Pablo Pi- casso. Denouncing the barbarism of aerial bombardment during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso reimagined Goya’s kneeling man for the 20th century, placing him on the right in his colossal 1937 antiwar mural, “Guernica.” Today, a copy of Pi- casso’s painting hangs at the United Na- tions in New York, where his version of Goya’s figure is an enduring reminder to world leaders that wars may change, but the pain endured by its victims remains the same. —Julius Purcell MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE THE RETURN OF THE KING SFGP/ALBUM “KING FERDINAND VII WITH ROYAL MANTLE” GOYA, 1814-15, PRADO MUSEUM, MADRID TO SOME SPANIARDS he was Fer- dinand the Desired. To others he was Ferdinand the Felon. Restored to the throne in 1814, Ferdinand VII broke his promise to respect Spain’s liberal constitution of 1812 and ruled with an iron fist. Despite his role as official court artist, Fran- cisco de Goya had good grounds to distrust the king when he painted this portrait between 1814 and 1815. Around this time, the artist was being investigated by the Spanish Inquisition—an office that Joseph Bonaparte had abolished and Fer- dinand had just restored. In 1824, alarmed by Ferdinand’s increasing- ly repressive measures, Goya fled to France, where he died in 1828.