Ever look at a painting for five minutes and wonder what is so special about it? This is probably because the best way to understand the painting and the artist's intention is through learning about the historical background behind it! In this blog, we will be looking at some paintings that hold great symbolism as a result of their historical backgrounds!
#1: The Third of May 1808
Painting by Francisco Goya
This painting by Goya shows a man standing in the middle holding his hands up in surrender, while some cower behind him and others lay dead. In front of him, soldiers are pointing their guns at him, ready to strike, while in the background there's a church that has been shadowed and darkened, making it almost invincible. Well, what is the meaning behind this painting? This painting takes place on the third of May, when the people of Spain led an uprising against the French and their ruler at the time, Napoleon. Since Goya himself was Spanish, he depicts the French soldiers as vicious and non-human beings. This can be seen in how he does not show their faces, as to him and to the Spanish people, they’re faceless killers. The man standing in the middle is a symbol of sacrifice, almost resembling a hero willing to die for his people, while the Church in the background shows that the Catholic Church at the time had lost its power, unable to protect its people under Napoleon's control. This is an amazing painting by an amazing artist, and it is extremely important to understand the historical background to fully understand the impact and true meaning of the painting.
#2 Saturn Devouring His Son
Painting by Francisco Goya
Now, this painting might seem very gruesome but it is painted in such a way for a reason , since it is a representation of political abyss. The painting depicts the Greek mythology of when Cronus( Saturn is his Roman name) devoured his children since an Oracle had warned him that his children would rise against him and end him. Many historical interpretations could be given to this painting, since at the time Spain was in chaos and it was “devouring” its people, as the country was going into ruins. Other interpretations have been given due to Goya’s dark past and relationship with his own sons. However, just from looking at this painting, one can identify how chaotic and dark the background is.
#3 The Death of Marat
Painting by Jacques-Louis David
This painting is also gloomy, but that’s what a lot of paintings with significant historical meaning tend to be. This painting shows French journalist, Marat, who is seen holding a letter in his hand that was written by the woman who assassinated him, Charlotte Corday. This was at the time of the French revolution and the Reign of Terror, and Marat had often written articles that got the crowd “excited” and was blamed by Corday for the September massacre. David, the painter, was a friend of Marat and his goal while painting him was to show him as a godlike figure. The artist also aimed at making Marat resemble Jesus’ position that can be seen in the Pietà by Michelangelo. David’s goal was to show his friend as a martyr who died for the French people. After his death and the production of the painting, many of the French people began to look at him as a God and thus Corday while she ended the journalist's ability to write, her goal fell short as the man was further idolized.
This article highlights the importance of understanding the true historical meanings behind the paintings, and what this meaning can bring to your life:, it interests you further and changes your view of the painting. While one can admire the colors and descriptive lines that the artist employs, I believe that understanding the purpose of the painting and why it was created in the first place is the true beauty and enchantment of any work of art.