Spanish Art

El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid

Spanish Art - 3 de Mayo

'El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid' (The 3rd of May of 1808 in Madrid) was painted by the famous Romanticist Spanish painter, Francisco Goya, in 1814. This painting is the sister painting to 'El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid' (The 2nd of May of 1808 in Madrid). This painting formed part of the 'Los desastres de la guerra' (The Disasters of War) collection that Goya painted in response to the Spanish uprising on these dates.

The Painting

'El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid', which measures 2.68 metres by 3.47 metres, is an oil painting on a canvas medium. The painting is set in the early hours of the morning of the 3rd of May 1808, the day after the start of the Spanish uprising. The background of the painting includes an image of a town, yet it does not distract the audience from the main focus of the painting.

The painting depicts two groups of men facing each other. The first is a French firing squad, who is stiff and poised to start firing. The other is a group of Spanish resistance fighters who have been caught by the soldiers and who are going to be shot. These men appear dishevelled, disorganized and desperate. The two groups of men are therefore juxtaposed in their state.

Spanish Art - 3 de Mayo

The central figure of the condemned men is kneeling amongst a pile of bloody, dead corpses who have already been shot by the French soldiers. The man's arms are up in the air, either in an act of defiance or in order to plead with the soldiers. This man is wearing very plain clothes suggesting that he is not a soldier himself, but a simple worker. He and the man next to him are the only figures in the painting whose face is visible.

To the right hand side of the man is a further group of men who appear to be waiting in line for their turn to face the firing squad. Also in the background, underneath the town, is another crowd of people which must be carrying torches which has been considered to be yet another group of captives on their way to be shot.


Goya himself was the person who suggested the creation of these paintings. After witnessing the acts of bravery and defiance of the Spanish resistance forces against Napoleon's French army, Goya believed that these acts should be commemorated. When the French had been thrown out of Spain and a new, provisional government had been installed, Goya made his suggestion. The government accepted and so Goya began work on the famous paintings.

Spanish Art - Royal Palace

It is thought that 'El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid' and 'El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid' were meant to form part of a series of paintings. There are records that two other canvases were going to be painted by Goya, depicting a scene where people were defending the artillery barracks, and a scene at the Royal Palace. However these canvases have not been found.

'El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid' was met with mixed reactions when it was first exhibited as it was not a traditional, historical painting of a scene of war. Goya had decided to paint his piece in an uncommon, un-heroic fashion. People also criticised his painting for being technically bad - the perspective is too flat and the distance and depth are wrong. However it was not Goya's intention to create a highly academic painting. He was more concerned with the impact of the painting.

The painting remained a part of the Spanish state's collection of artwork, and was later transferred to the Prado Museum in Madrid around 1834. During the Spanish Civil War, the painting was moved to Valencia for safety. However the painting, and its sister painting, was damaged during a road accident on the way. This is the only known time that the painting has left Madrid.

The painting is an extremely valuable part of Spanish art history and as such, the Prado Museum declared it to be one of the fourteen most important paintings in its permanent collection. It was also chosen in 2009 to become one of the paintings that you can see using Google Earth.

© Spanish Arts 2011