The death of Viriato, Madrazo

The death of Viriato, Madrazo
The death of Viriato, Madrazo

In 19th-century Spain, a strong patriotic feeling developed that extolled the virtues of the homeland and of the Spaniards; this feeling is determined by the struggle for national unity against a foreign enemy, France. During the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1814) and in the face of the passivity of the government, it was the people themselves who rose up in defense of their freedom. In this context, it seems easy to explain how art and culture fostered all kinds of works that extolled nationalism and the defense of the homeland. José Madrazo presents us in this canvas of La muerte de Viriato the story ofa hero who dies defending the people from him.


José Madrazo (1781 – 1859) is one of the most outstanding Spanish artists of the neoclassical period. The artist will be the first in a long saga of illustrious painters for Spanish art. Born in Santander, the artist was trained in France with one of the most outstanding painters of Neoclassicism, Jaques Louis David, from whom he acquired his purist and realistic style. At the beginning of the 19th century he moved to Rome to enjoy a scholarship that would allow him to study the classics and on his return to Spain he became one of the most relevant artistic figures during the reign of Ferdinand VII.

In the work that concerns us here, Madrazo represents the death of Viriato, king of the Lusitanians. When theRomans invaded the Iberian Peninsula Viriato led the rebellion until he signed peace with Rome by recognizing his right as king. Even so, the consul Cepión commissioned the assassination of the hero. Madrazo presents the work to us inside a tent where the wide curtains return us to the main scene: the lifeless body of Viriato lying in the center of the composition. Around him, a crowd crowds disconsolate before the tragedy while in the area on the right we can see the perpetrators of the murder - Audax, Ditalkón and Minuro - friends of the leader, who leave the scene with joy.

Thecomposition is clearly Neoclassical and shows the strong influence that Davidhad on his disciple. The heads of the characters appear within the same line as if it were an ancient frieze. The drawing and the line model the entire composition while the color is flat and without too much paint load, the contrasts between the green curtains in the background and the reddish layers increase the sensation of depth.

The light enters diagonally from the left of the canvas to directly affect the figure of the protagonist,however it is in the area on the right where Madrazo has placed an opening in the store – through which the light should enter – from where you can see the army that remains on the lookout waiting for news about their leader. Madrazo's work is currently in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

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