The facts behind Goya’s Third of May painting are incontrovertible. On May 2, 1808 French troops rounded up and detained in barracks all the Spaniards they found in Madrid carrying weapons. In the middle of that same night, at 4:00 a.m., they were taken in groups of 14 or 15 to a clearing at the edge of the city and executed by a firing squad.
After being left to rot for eight days they were buried in a mass grave. Goya was already at work on his portfolio of etchings, The Disasters of War, which was not published until after his death, so many of the preliminary ideas for his Third of May painting were already worked out.
In 1813 the French were finally driven out of Spain and life returned to some semblance of normal. Goya applied to the ruling regency council for a commission to paint a series of paintings commemorating the events of the war. His petition was granted, with one condition: that the paintings be finished by the time Fernando VII returned to Madrid in just two months’ time. Goya had never been a slow painter, but his large Third of May painting was finished in record time with great spontaneity. Studies have shown that parts of the work were painted over wet paint.
Here’s the link to part II:
Video courtesy of the BBC