Why is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica painting so shocking?

Painter of Spanish origin, Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 in Spain, in Malaga, and dies on 8 April 1973 in Mougins, France. Cubism representative, along with Georges Bracque, and one of the surrealists, Picasso is perhaps the most important artist of the 20th century.


On April 26, 1937, the sky of Gernika is darkened by a batch of Luftwaffe bombers, the German military aviation, plus Italian aviatics. The Italian-German contingent destroying the city was composed of 23 Junkers Ju 52, 4 Heinkel III, 10 Heinkel He 51, 3 Savoia-Marchetti S81 Pipistrello, 1 Dornier Do-17, 12 Fiat CR 32 and probably some Messerschmitt Bf 109.

The bombing started at 16:30. For three hours, planes threw 250 kilos of bombs and incendiary bombs designed to burn at a temperature of 2500 degrees. The city was turned into an apocalyptic fireball. At 19.45, Gernika practically no longer exists. It was the first "wallpaper bombing" produced in Europe, which will open the way to others. It was a "preface" to what was to be the Second World War.

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Let's see what the painting represents (oil on canvas, 349.3 x 776.6 cm). There is a double-level decoding here: talking about a cubist work (one of the most important), the effort to decipher its meaning is double. On the one hand, because a first glance would not even tell us what is happening in the painting and on the other hand because it is a work whose meanings go beyond the punctual representation of facts. Let's begin.

The left half of the scene seems to be disposed in a setting without any particular significance: ceiling, walls, doors and windows, open to an unidentifiable exterior with some precise location. In the other half are the volume of an edifice seen on the corner and the tiles of a roof destroyed in part by fire. Let's start painting from left to right. In the foreground we see a bull, with the white bust turned three quarters to the left, his eyes and horns in front, his body black and his tail again white.

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Next to the bull, at the bottom, is a fully represented woman who screams and holds the inert body of his child. Under the head of a child, it is the palm of a hand on which the lines of life are seen and the cut head whose mouth still preserves the expression of terror. Continuing to the right, an ovoid shape appears as a big eye inside which an incandescent lamp takes the place of the pupil. Near the eye there is an oil lamp that is held by a hand that enters the scene on the right side. Below this is a dying horse (see the lance that pierced his body) holding his head turned to the bull, while his mouth is trained in a roar that highlights the white of teeth and tongue.

Behind the two animals, in a less obvious representation is a table on which one can decipher the profile of a bird that seems to scream. Below the table the white tail of the horse is seen, the body is turned to the right, the chest open with a wound of a rhombic shape caused by a lance and causing it to kneel down on the previous hoop. Below, the lance, the sword and the arrow are signs that make us recognize a fallen warrior in the fallen one. He has a stigma on his left hand as a symbol of innocence against Nazi-fascist cruelty, and in his right hand he seizes a broken bosom from which a six-petalled petal, barely visible, more like an infant drawing - from her a more prominent symbol for hope in a better future.



Then we see that he is coming out of the window, wandering like a fantasy, a feminine figure with a hand. The unusually long right hand is rushing to bring an oil lamp to light over the horse in agony and in fact across the death scene. In the last part of the painting, there are flames on the roof of an edifice, a window lit by the glow of fire; another woman blocked by fire, screaming with her arms raised, her body struck by a beam of wood in the flames, while in the foreground the lace and the left foot of the female figure I encountered lay down. A wall and an open door close the scene.

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