Francisco Goya: The Second of May 1808, The Charge of the Mamelukes (1814)

(Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)

This painting (and its companion piece) shows an important episode in the history of Spain. From 1788 to 19 march 1808 Spain was ruled by the ineffectual king Charles IV. Because Spain controlled the access to the Mediterranean, France (with its new leader Napoleon) was very interested in Spain. In 1795 the Prime Minister of Spain Manuel Godoy y Álvarez de Faria entered in an alliance with France and declared war against Great Britain. The alliance however proved disastrous for Spain and caused the Crown Prince Ferdinand to attempt to overthrow his father as king of Spain. At this time Napoleon intervened and forced both Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII of Spain to abdicate and installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as King Joseph I of Spain. The new king Joseph I of Spain was deeply mistrusted by the Spanish people and when the French Marshal Joachim Murat attempted to move Infante Francisco de Paula (brother of Ferdinand VII) and Maria Luisa of Spain (daughter of Charles IV) to the French city of Bayonne, the people of Madrid rose up in revolt on 2 May 1808 (the Dos de Mayo Uprising). The insurrection quickly sprea to parts of the city and Murat sent French soldiers to supress it. The painting shows the fighting which broke out on Calle de Alcalá street in Madrid. The Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard (A cavalry squadron of the French Imperial Guard) was ordered to charge the Spanish rebels. This cavalry squadron was dressed in an Ottoman way together with a white turban. The Spanish rebels saw these French troops as Moors (Muslims from North Africa who had ruled Spain from 711-1492) and turned on the charging Mamelukes, resulting in a ferocious melee. The revolt was suppressed in Madrid by the French but it spread throughout Spain resulting in the outbreak of the Peninsular War (1808-1814). Painting from 1814.