The ‘Guernica’ is a large sized oil based painting done by Pablo Picasso in 1937. In this painting Picasso used monochrome colours of white, grey and black. The painting mainly features gored images of mutilated human body, a bull, horse and flames. It is believed that the painting largely symbolizes the themes of violence, chaos, pain and suffering. The creation of the painting was motivated by the invasion and bombing of Guernika a small town in Basque, Spain by the Germans and Spanish Nationalists. Initially, Picasso was commissioned by the Republic Spain to create a painting that espouses the Paris World Exposition. For months he lacked motivation to create the painting as requested. However, following the bombing of Guernika that left more than 1, 500 innocent civilians dead and large amount of properties destroyed, Picasso was motivated to create a painting that reflects this sad state of affairs.
Overall, Picasso’s painting is characterized by a number of symbols. Key among them include; a bull, a mother with a dead child, pigeon, horse, a light bulb and a soldier with dismantled body parts. Over the years, the interpretation of the symbols in the painting have varied. Nevertheless, there are common interpretations that have been validated by Picasso. According to Picasso, the bull prominently featured in the painting with a white head and a dark body symbolizes cruelty and darkness. The bull seems to be astonished by the horror and violence surrounding it. The horrific glare of the bull further symbolizes the pain and anguish that innocent civilians were subjected to in the course of the unwarranted bombing perpetrated by Nazi Germans and Spanish Nationalists sympathisers.
Underneath the bull, is the image of a mother in anguish clutching on to a child who appears to be dead. It seems that the mother is letting out a loud cry following the demise of the child as her mouth is wide open and her head is facing upward. This image symbolizes death, pain and the untold suffering brought about by violence. Alongside the wailing woman is the image of a soldier with dismantled body parts. The dismantled parts of his hands , head and left forearm are evident in the painting. Similarly, this image represents the tragic effects of war. Perhaps, one of the peculiar symbols in this painting is the image of the dead soldier holding a flower and a broken sword in one of his hands. The flower and broken sword in the hands of the soldiers epitomizes a sense of hope amidst war and destruction.
At the midpoint of the painting is the image of the horse. Within the Spanish culture a horse is often considered to be a strong, noble and stable animal. In this case, the horse’s head and upper body parts appear to be slanted thus representing instability and weakness. On top of the horse, is an image of a light bulb. Considering the context, this is an enigmatic symbol that is believed to represent the technological advancements during that time. It is believed that part of the reason why the Nazi Germans bombed Guernica was so as to try out their advancements in military tactics and weapons. Another symbol in the painting includes that of a pigeon between a horse and bull which is said to present the notion of broken peace.