But as time progressed, Napoleon's regime became increasingly less "heroic," and the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya took to exploiting the more atrocious side (and no doubt the more accurate side) to the story, producing a little propaganda of his own. In a controversial indictment of Napoleon's cruelty, Goya created a painting memorializing the victims of his troops' brutality. The painting's title, The Third of May, 1808, stands out as a direct reference to the real, contemporary historical event.
After the French invasion of Spain, an insurrectionist group arose to fight back for their homeland. The rebels were quickly defeated, and the French soldiers took them captive, disarmed them, and executed them. These were common citizens, not military captains, aristocrats, or people of political authority.
Goya's painting has a black backdrop and is only lit by a lantern placed on the ground. The Spanish prisoners have all the light shining directly on them, symbolizing God's presence with them and their cause; and each illumined face has a different expression of fear and sadness. None of the soldiers' faces are seen. They are stripped of their humanity as they all lean forward, single-file, pointing their bayonets and preparing to fire. They are not really pictured as human beings but more like heartless robots, all identically lined up to perform the inhumane act. We see the grossness of their deeds already committed on the far left in the image of the dead bodies piled on the ground. Next to them, a priest prays for mercy, a sign that he is a devout man not deserving of such cruel treatment. All of these men are helpless civilians about to be coldheartedly executed; the scene stirs great emotions in us as the viewer. But the painting's emphasis is on a single rebel in particular, who is seen clothed in pure white with his arms outstretched. He is completely vulnerable, baring his chest (and his heart, no doubt as spotless as his shirt) to his executors and holding out his arms in a likeness to the crucified Christ. His hand is even marked with the stigmata of the sacrificial Lamb of God. The painting passionately commemorates the death of these Spanish patriots, imagining them as martyrs and saints and imagining their executioners as ruthless, tyrannical animals. Goya viewed war as only destructive. His painting shows only death and suffering and no heroism or honor.