Recently while studying Goya’s painting May 3, 1808 I got this terrible feeling that I was missing something or that something was wrong and I couldn’t see what it was.
Here is Goya’s painting 3 May. It shows random civilians being executed after French troops were attached the day before.
I stared at the picture for along while and then it struck me, their stance looked all wrong.
Now those soldiers are members Napoleon’s Old Guard who were veterans so they knew what they were doing.
Why was the stance wrong? Well lets look at the soldier closest to us
He is leaning forward, holding a musket with the bayonet fixed. He has to be unbalanced and his head is tilted forward rather than sideways.
I checked all the literature I could find. No mention of the soldiers weapons in Goya’s painting on the internet. Nothing in the art books immediately to hand.
So? Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the weapon was light, no recoil, easily handled. I went hunting for the weapon used by the Napoleonic forces. And then things got worse.
The weapon in the picture was carried by all French forces up till the middle of the 19th Century. It was mass produced and named the Charleville 1777. Interesting aside, it was used extensively in the USA until the Winchester replaced it.
It is a front loading, flint lock musket and when it is fired a huge plume of fire rises out of the weapon. Wearing that hat, the soldier would have scorched his eyebrows, if he was lucky.
I found a youtube video of a modern French man firing a Charleville. Note the motorbike in the picture.
I slowed the video down and got this image.
The stance is more upright, the head tilted back and away from the flame which is not what the soldiers in the Goya painting are doing.
What did surprise me is the lack of recoil and little upward kick.
Manet did a painting of the execution of Maximilian in Mexico, one of Napoleons more spectacularly failed expeditions. Manet was more precise in his painting, a tribute to Goya.