Artibus et Historiae no. 7 (IV)

1983, ISSN 0391-9064

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WERNER HOFMANN - Picasso's "Guernica" in its Historical Context

In order to lead up to the complex character of this work, we outline the history of paintings of people suffering from the convulsions of war. This history begins with Goya, who in his Desastres de la guerra pointed out various ways to express this concept; 1) the eyewitness report, 2) the ennobling of suffering by recalling the passion of Christ, as well as, 3) allegorical or symbolic expression. All three ways were made use of in the 19th century, at times combinations of them. The most important was the eyewitness report, a form which with the hell of World War I reached metaphysical heights especially with German artists - Beckmann, Grosz, Dix, and others. The way Picasso marked off snatches of real history with symbols, recalls furthermore the collage technique, which made John Heartfield's commentaries on the Spanish Civil War so forceful. However Guernica cannot be interpreted quite so straightforwardly. The horse, for example, may well represent the suffering Spanish people. However it also bursts with aggression. The oppressed victims upsurge oppressing each other.

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