There’s Nothing Romantic about Romanticism, or is there? Conclusion Goya’s ‘The 3rd of May 1808’

Part one




‘3rd of May 1808 ‘ by Francisco de Goya

The key belief of Romanticism was the value of individual experience and individualism.  What characterised the Romantic period was the heroic view of the human struggle.  Romanticism brought to the forefront the human struggle against the violent forces of nature.  The major difference between neo-Classicism and Romanticism is the fulfilment of the hearts desire, whilst Classicism puts faith in intellect.  Romanticism then, is a way of feeling, it gives way to full expression, whereas Classicism is a way of thought.

Aesthetically and historically, Goya’s painting, ‘The 3rd of May’ is the reverse of David’s ‘Oath of the Horatii’.  The latter sets up the hero, who is willing to die for the cause.

Oath_of_the_Horatii Jaques Louis David
Oath_of_the_Horatii Jaques Louis David

Goya gives us the anti hero: the victim whose death becomes almost by chance a rallying point for those struggling against oppression.  Goya’s style has few clear outlines and his soldiers echo the reverse of David’s.


The central figure raises his hands in surrender: the pose is that of crucifixion: a sacrifice.  The corpse lying in the foreground in a pool of blood, echoes the gesture of the central victim.  The artist has effected an ‘overkill’ by shortening the distance between the bayoneted guns and the victim.  The source of light comes from the lantern, which radiates light onto the white shirt of the victim, whilst emphasising the whites of the eyes in the terrified faces of the onlookers.

Taken from an original essay by Lynda Roberts and subject to copyright (Bibliography and notes not supplied online)

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