The Second of May 1808 (The Charge of the Mamelukes)

Francisco Goya
Keywords: May1808ChargeMamelukes

Work Overview

The Second of May 1808 (The Charge of the Mamelukes)
Artist Francisco Goya
Year 1814
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 266 cm × 345 cm (105 in × 136 in)
Style   Romanticism
Genre   battle painting
Location Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Second of May 1808, also known as The Charge of the Mamelukes (in Spanish: El 2 de mayo de 1808 en Madrid, or La lucha con los mamelucos or La carga de los mamelucos[1]), is a painting by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. It is a companion to the painting The Third of May 1808 and is set in the Calle de Alcalá near Puerta del Sol, Madrid, during the Dos de Mayo Uprising. It depicts one of the many people's rebellions against the French occupation of Spain that sparked the Peninsular War.

Both paintings were completed in a two-month time frame in 1814. Today they are displayed in Madrid's Museo del Prado.

Goya witnessed first-hand the French occupation of Spain in 1808, when Napoleon used the pretext of reinforcing his army in Portugal to seize the Spanish throne, leaving his brother Joseph in power. Attempts to remove members of the Spanish royal family from Madrid provoked a widespread rebellion. This popular uprising occurred between the second and third of May 1808, when suppressed by forces under Maréchal Joachim Murat.

The Second of May 1808 depicts the beginning of the uprising when the Mamelukes of the French Imperial Guard are ordered to charge and subdue the rioting citizens. The crowd sees the Mamelukes as Moors, provoking an angry response. Instead of dispersing, the crowd turned on the charging Mamelukes, resulting in a ferocious melee.

Goya was probably not present during the actual Charge of the Mamelukes. His supposed presence was first suggested in a book published 40 years after his death, reporting on conversations the author claimed to have had with Goya's gardener.[citation needed] His paintings were commissioned in 1814, after the expulsion of Napoleon's army from Spain, by the council governing Spain until the return of Ferdinand VII. He chose to portray the citizens of Madrid as unknown heroes using the crudest of weapons, such as knives, to attack a professional, occupying army. That did not please the king when he returned, so the paintings were not hung publicly until many years (and governments) later.

Goya chose not to paint any single action or to have any single focal point to emphasize the chaos of the drama.

Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, c. 1819–1823 suggests a familiarity with Rubens' 1636 in the Prado. Kenneth Clark considered The Second of May 1808 an "artistic failure ... perhaps he could not shake off the memory of similar compositions by Rubens".[2] Whether or not he knew copies of the hunts and battles in Munich, at least one original, the Battle of Ivry, was along Goya's Italian itinerary.

In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, when Madrid was bombed by Nationalist troops, the republican government decided to evacuate the paintings from the Prado. A truck carrying Goya's paintings had an accident, and The Second of May was badly damaged: there were tears and even pieces missing.

A first restoration was carried out in 1941 when the paintings returned to Madrid. A further restoration was completed between 2007 and 2008.

In 1814, Goya addressed the reagent, Cardinal Luis de Bourbon, offering to make works commemorating events from the War of Independence (1808-1812): "to perpetuate, with a paintbrush, the most notable and heroic actions or scenes of our glorious uprising against the tyrant of Europe". The present work depicts the popular riot of 2 May, 1808, when the people of Madrid attacked the Mamelukes —Turkish soliders in Napolean´s French Army— who were taking the younger children of Carlos IV and Maria Luisa to France. This was the beginning of the War for Independence. Along with The Third of May 1808 in Madrid: the executions on Príncipe Pío Hill (P00749), this work may have decorated a triumphal arch that adorned the streets of Madrid during the entry of Fernando VII. It may also have been used during the celebration commemorating the second of May. The left side still bears the marks of the damage this canvas suffered in 1937 when the Museum´s collection was being transferred to the League of Nations in Geneva during the Civil War.

After the expulsion of the Napoleonic armies in 1814 Goya applied for, and was granted, official financial aid in order 'to perpetuate with the brush the most notable and heroic actions or scenes of our glorious insurrection against the tyrant of Europe'. The two scenes that he recorded are not victorious battles but acts of anonymous heroism in the face of defeat. Here the people of Madrid armed with knives and rough weapons are seen attacking a group of mounted Egyptian soldiers (Mamelukes) and a cuirassier of the Imperial army. The composition, without a focal point or emphasis on any single action, creates a vivid impression of actuality, as if Goya had not only witnessed the scene (as he is alleged to have done) but had recorded it on the spot.