THE CHARGE OF THE MAMELUKES
The painting I’ve chosen is The Charge of the Mamelukes, also called The Second of May 1808, by Francisco de Goya. It was painted six years later, in 1814. It’s an oil painting on canvas and its dimensions are 268,5 cm x 347,5 cm. On the 24th February 1814, Goya sent a letter to the Regency of Spain, informing of his pretension of painting scenes of the Spanish insurrection against the French. The Regency of Spain was directed by infant Luis María of Bourbon. The government paid Goya a salary and the cost of the materials. Goya didn’t witness the events occurred in 1808, but he looked for information to paint The Charge of the Mamelukes and The Third of May 1808.
During the Spanish Civil War, this painting was moved many times because El Prado Museum was evacuated by the republicans because the city of Madrid was being bombarded with incendiary bombs by the Nazi aviation (Germany was allied with the nationals) and finally it ended in Geneva. When it was moved some fragments were damaged, because the truck which carried it had an accident in Benicarló. When the Civil War finished, it came back to El Prado Museum and some parts were restored in 1941. But, as we can see on the next photo, the scratches weren’t restored and they only painted them with red because they decided that the damages wouldn’t be evident because the predominant colour in this piece is red. In 2008 the last restoration of the piece took place and the scratches were completely restored, as we can appreciate on the first image. Nowadays, the painting is located in El Prado Museum in Madrid.
The Charge of the Mamelukes before being restored.
After 1941 After 2008
The painting represents one of the episodes which took place near Puerta del Sol in Madrid on the Second of May 1808, when the people of Madrid tried to stop the move of the royal family to France. These quarrels gave origin to the general uprising of the Spanish people against the French. In particular, in this scene a group of citizens of Madrid are attacking a group of Mamelukes, Egyptian soldiers hired by the French. In the centre of the painting there is a Mameluke soldier who is falling down of his horse. In the bottom right corner a Spanish man is killing a horse. The faces of the Spaniards are expressing anger and indignation and the French and their horses are showing fear. The work of art is full of blood and in the lower part there are a lot of dead people.
Goya shared the liberal ideas of the French Revolution and he was against the wars, because they led to big atrocities. With the Spanish man killing a horse, Goya wanted to represent that, because the horses only do what their owners want. He also used a lot of blood, terror and dead people to emphasize that. One important purpose of the painting is to criticize violence and war craziness during the Peninsular War. The war caused a great impression on Goya. He wanted to show his pacifist attitude and to teach a lesson to human irrationality.
The foreground of the painting is very detailed. The background is a little blurry and there we can see a crowd of citizens of Madrid pushing the French and some buildings of Madrid, but they are very blurry because Goya wanted to focus all the looks on the action. He used loose brush-strokes and big colour stains, as if the violence of the action had invaded the painting. Goya wanted to represent that there was a big chaos.
The movement and expressivity of the figures show a powerful image to the viewer. Goya painted the head of one of the horses with green as the effect of shadow.
If we observe to the clothes of the Spaniards, we can see that they are clothes from different regions. They represent the diversity of people who rose up against the French.
The Charge of the Mamelukes is a romantic piece, because it represents freedom, it reflects the wish of liberty of the Spanish people. It represents feelings, the feelings of the Spanish people, who are angry, and the ones of the French soldiers and their horses, who have fear.
Goya had an internal conflict, because he was a patriot, but he also thought that the French occupation was the only way of modernizing Spain. When the war ended, he had to show his patriotism, in order to avoid problems with Ferdinand VII due to his liberal and enlightened ideas, and he offered to paint this painting and The Third of May.
The painting is related to a series of etchings made by Goya, called Disasters of War. Goya didn’t like the atrocities of the war, his paintings became sadder and darker and he painted scenes of vile assassinations committed by both sides.
The Third of May 1808
Disasters of War
Disasters of War
I like this painting because there is a lot of action and because it is a critic against the war. I like it because it says that war creates injustices and atrocities. I also like how Goya managed to reflect the horses’ fear.