Updated: June 13, 2011



These Study Guides on War and Art were originally prepared for a course entitled "Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History" given in the Department of History at The University of Adelaide between 1989 and 1999.

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"The Third of May"




Francisco Goya y Lucientes, The Disasters of War, ed.Philip Hofer (New York: Dover, 1967).

Hugh Thomas, The Third of May 1808 (London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972).

Gwyn A. Williams, Goya and the Impossible Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984).

Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revoltuion (1789-1820) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), "Goya and the Spanish Revolution," pp. 286-387.

Goya in Perspective, ed. Fred Licht (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1973).

Eric Young, Francisco Goya (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978).

Richard Schickel and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The World of Goya, 1746-1828), (Time-Life International, Netherland N.V., 1972).

Pierre Gassier, Goya : A Witness of his Times (Chartwell Books, Inc., Secaucus, New Jersey, 1983).

F. Licht, Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper of Art (London, 1980).


Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828)


Guerrilla war in Spain portrayed by Goya's "The Disasters of War". Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). Portaitist of royal court and then official court painter to King Joseph Bonaparte 1808-13 then reappointed royal court painter under restored monarchy in 1814. Career evidence of skill at not offending whoever in power despite his liberal political views. Influenced by 18th C French enlightened ideas (known as afrancesados in Spain) and made critical and satirical etchings exposing injustices of ancien régime in Spain: "Los Caprichos" in 1797 - "Sleep of Reason". Encapsulated opposition to both wild mob and French retribution in "The Second of May" and "The Third of May". Second of May (Spain's national day) celebrated uprising of Madrid people against French garrison protesting against removal of Spainish king and replacement by Joseph Bonaparte.

"Los Caprichos" (1799) - "The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters"

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:Guerrilla Warfare in Spain.


Napoleon did not always succeed militarily. When he abandoned his innovative strategies he lost. In particular in Russia in 1812 (could not use mobility and dispersion of forces in Russian plain where he was dependent on supply lines and depots, also massed forces which were too unwieldy to control, 600,000 men) and Spain 1807-13 (could not control strong points and sweep countryside as well, easy victim of harrassing raids by irregular troops).

The war in Spain (in Britain also known as Peninsular War) interesting because the presence of French troops provoked an unusual military response - guerrilla warfare, Spainish for "little war" (correct terminology- "guerrilla" means little war; "guerrillero" means someone who participates in such a war or guerrilla in our language). Good example of an entire people spontaneously resisting foreign occupation. Became a war of Spanish independence. Model for modern anti-colonial movements today: USA in Vietnam, USSR in Afghanistan.

Spain invaded in order to control Portugal which was permitting the British to evade the Continental Blockade. Occupation of Madrid in May 1808 prompted riot against Marmeluke (i.e. Egyptian) mercenaries on May 2. Slaughter of French troops which was followed by French retribution against civilians on May 3. Immortalised in Francesco Goya's painting "Tres de Mayo". Outburst of patriotic riots, lynchings and formation of local committees of resistance "juntas". Following collapse of independent Spanish government and defeat of army resistance to Napoleon was taken up by local guerrilla bands who attacked small groups of French soldiers, slaughtering them and torturing them, and then disappeared into the countryside. Very original and significant strategy for popular resistance against better equiped and well-organised regular forces. Guerrillas never attacked sizable French forces. Only small groups which they outnumbered sometimes 50 to 1. Viscious treatment of French soldiers and collaborators. If they could not ransom them they were painfully executed and mutilated and then hung up as warnings to other French soldiers. Problem for professional soldiers, used to some laws of warfare, to fight undisciplined irregular forces who do not play by the rules. Moral problem raised by this kind of warfare: killing "civilians", responding to terror with terror.

Like modern guerrilla wars Spanish war incredibly violent and brutal. French did not or could not distinguish between guerrilla and civilian. Similar problem for Americans in Vietnam. Hence innocent civilians killed in reprisal or revenge. As described by Geoffrey Best, began the typical cycle of "oppression and outrage, atrocity and counter-atrocity; pillage, marauding, starvation, maiming, torture and murder." (1)

"The Colossus" (153K) - Napoleon?
1. Geoffrey Best, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe, 1770-1870 (1982), p. 174-75.


War and Art

"Second of May" and "Third of May" 1808


Francisco Goya's depiction of the Spanish guerrilla war (1808-) against the French.

G authorised by Regency Council in 1814 to commemorate uprising of people in Madrid against Murat's Fr forces. fighting in Puerta del Sol in central Madrid against Egyptian mercenaries, the Marmelukes (in turban). Soldiers were pulled from their horses and attacked with knives and bare hands.

Execution of Spanish patriots by Fr troops on outskirts of Madrid following day. Horror of scene, ruthlessness of executioners. One of the most powerful indictments of war ever painted. Mistake by Fr to execute without trial. Made war inevitable. Faceless anonymous soldiers obeying orders. Focus is peasant with arms upraised (Christ-like with right hand pierced) with unforgettable expression on face - horror, pride, resignation. To his right Franciscan monk. Long file of other victims strectching back towards church buildings. Die on knees (like apostles or saint). Blood encrusted head of dead man lying.

Staurn Devouring its own children - the French Revolution turning on itself?

"The Disasters of War" (c. 1820, published 1863)


Popular revolt grew and was supported by monarchist peasants, traditional nobility, priests. Became a guerrilla conflict with collapse of official opposition. Local groups took matters into own hands. By 1811 perhaps 30,000 guerrillas harrassing French troops. Cycle of attack and reprisal. Produced rule of generals, terror and counter-terror, massacre, rape, famine (1811-12 during which G witnessed suffering which appeared in Disasters) which devastated Spain. Famous series of etchings known as "The Disasters of War" depicting the atrocity of war based to some extent on eyewitness experience of the war. Depicts the atrocity of war based to some extent on eyewitness experience of the war. Critical of both sides in conflict. Shows a very pessimistic view of human nature and horror at barbaric behaviour. Like many enlightened intellectuals had some admiration for Napoleon until his actions offended the principles of 1789. Possible that Napoleon is the "Colossus".

"The Disasters of War" first published posthumously 1863, original title "fatal consequences of the bloody war in Spain against Bonaparte". 85 etchings of various subjects on the brutality and idiocy of war, the abandonment of moral values respecting life and property, and the meaninglessness of war. However, also some etchings which seem to admire the heroism of the Spanish people. Ambiguity.

Five main groups (1):

  • No. 1 - Frontispiece
  • Nos 2-47 - horrors of war
  • Nos 48-64 - famine (ravaged Madrid September 1811 and August 1812)
  • Nos 65-78 - images of beasts and monsters to pillory the reactionary restoration of Ferdinand VII
  • Nos 79-85 - concluding pieces
"Disasters of War": 37 - "this is worse" (102K) - French execution, mutilated man impaled on a tree
1. Captions and description from Gwyn A. Williams, Goya and the Impossible Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), pp. 153-56.


No. 1 - Frontispiece

Nos 2-47 - the Horrors of War

  "Disasters of War": 34 - "for a knife" (85K) - Spanish execution


Nos 48-64 - famine (ravaged Madrid September 1811 and August 1812)

64 -"cartloads to the cemetery" (102K) - famine


Nos 65-78 - images of beasts and monsters to pillory the reactionary restoration of Ferdinand VII

  • 65 - "what's this hubbub" - distraught people before magistrate
  • 66 - "strange devotion!" - devotion of saint's relics
  • 67 - "this is no less so" - the same
  • 68 - "what madness" - squatting figure, eating among relics, masks with shadowy figues
  • 69 - "Nothing, that's what it says" - message from the grave
  • 70 - "they don't know the way" - unseeing figures roped together and wandering over a landscape
  • 71 - "against the general good" - clerical figure with claws and vampire-like ears filling a ledger
  • 72 - " the consequences" - vampire-like creatures suck at a human body
  • 73 - " feline pantomine" - cleric bows before a cat and an owl
  • 74 - "this is the worst" - a wold writes "wretched humanity, the guilt is yours" as people grovel before it and a money-grubbing cleric
  • 75 - "farandole of charlatans" - grotesque creatures in clerical garb
  • 76 - "the carnivorous vulture" - people drive off a huge vulture
  • 77 - "may the rope break" - the Pope on a tightrope
  • 78 - "he defends himself well" - a horse attacked by dogs


Nos 79-85 - concluding pieces

  • 79 - "Truth has died" - Female figure of truth buried by clerics
  • 80 - "Will she rise again" (119K) - glowing Truth confronts hostile clerics
  • 81 - "(separated) cruel monster" - the beast of no. 40 gorging or disgorging bodies
  • 82 - "(separated" this is the truth" - peasant and female figure glowing in peaceful harmony
  • 83 - "Chained prisoner: the imprisonment is as barbarous as the crime"
  • 84 - "Chained prisoner: the imprisonment of a criminal does not demand toture"
  • 85 - "Chained prisoner: if he is guilty let him die quickly"

79 - "Truth has died" - Female figure of truth buried by clerics

Some Themes from"The Disasters of War"


A number of etchings suggest that Goya was an eyewitness to the events he depicts, certainly to the consequences on the civilian population of the war. E.G:

44 - "I saw this" - (85K) - fleeing peasants

Guerrilla war also involved church and priests:

  • 43 - "so is this" (102K) fleeing monks. Without protection of the Inquisition French and anti-clerical Spaniards pillaged and destroyed many monasteries, turned out monks, raped nuns.

43 - "so is this" (102K) fleeing monks

Also involved women:

  • 5 - "and are like Wild Beasts" (124K) - women with stones and spears attack French soldiers with guns. Woman with child on her hip
  • example of courage of women: 7 - "what courage!" - the Maid of Saragosa Young women, Augustina of Aragon firing a cannon after male gunners killed. Also fought against French during siege of Saragossa, hence the Maid of Saragossa. One of few heroic pictures.

7 - "what courage!" - the Maid of Saragosa

 Women mostly objects of rape:

  • 9 - "they don't want to" (102K) Soldier attacking girl, arms around waist, elderly women coming to her defense with dagger in upraised arm
  • 11 - "nor these" (102K), church in background, Spanish mother being dragged by Fr soldier, baby crying on ground, Behind another soldier siezes a protesting woman. Other figures crouch in shadows.

9 - "they don't want to" (102K) Soldier attacking girl

Goya perceptivley noted that terror was the best weapon of irregular guerrillas against larger and better equiped French regular army. Often used atrocity as warning. Mutilation of dead as example to others:

39 - "great deeds! against the dead! (111K) - atrocity, mutilated bodies

Goya expresses anger at the Spanish people, even though he opposed the behaviour of the French in occupying his homeland. Believed nature of war was to turn men and women into beasts (even in pursuit of just cause):

  • 16 - "they make use" (85K) - stripping the dead - unarmed and unorganised guerrillas fight with equipment stolen from the French
  • 28 - "rabble" (102K) - Spanish atrocity against Spaniard - Bodies of slain soldiers mutilated by angry peasants
  • 32 - "why?" (145K) - French execution - fallen soldiers strangle a guerrilla in order to get information. Problem of finding out where enemy is. No stage battles possible, only skirmishes.
  • 33 - "what more can one do?" (111K) - French execution, castration
  • 37 - "this is worse" (102K) - French execution, mutilated man impaled on a tree

33 - "what more can one do?" (111K) - French execution, castration

Civilian deaths due to famine as a result of blocades and requisitioning by French:

55 - "the worst is to beg" (102K) - famine