The siege of Zaragoza

The siege of Zaragoza

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Title: Episode of the siege of Zaragoza: assault on the monastery of San Engracia, February 8, 1809.

Author : LEJEUNE Louis-François (1775 - 1848)

Creation date : 1827

Date shown: 08 February 1809

Dimensions: Height 150 - Width 128

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet / J. Schormans

Picture reference: 81EE1378 / MV 6859

Episode of the siege of Zaragoza: assault on the monastery of San Engracia, February 8, 1809.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Schormans

Publication date: September 2006


The siege of Zaragoza


Historical context

Since 1808, Spain had been engaged in a complex and cruel war between the French occupiers and the rebels animated by a strong dynastic (attachment to the Bourbons), national (hatred against the occupier) and religious (Napoleon was readily perceived as an enemy of Catholicism). Lejeune portrayed in The Assault on the Monastery of San Engracia the fierce struggle and the motivations of the Spanish people. The Spanish Civil War was indeed the first of the national wars; Goya's prints reflect its relentlessness and horrors.

Image Analysis

As the text of the 1827 Salon booklet (n ° 674) reports: “The Aragonese, refugees in this city, the women, the soldiers led by Palafox, defend it with heroic courage; in each house they fight from room to room and even on the roofs; rifle shots are still coming from the top of the tower of San Engracia ruined by our artillery which has just overthrown part of the cloister of this church to open a passage for us. On entering through this breach, the author, who had been wounded an hour before during the assault on the convent of Saint-Augustin, received a second wound and fell at the foot of General Lacoste, and of Colonel Valazé who helped him to raise. The statue is that of the virgin Maria Mercedés who begs the Lord to forgive the murderers of her son ”. Lejeune offered the place of honor of his composition to the Aragonese fighters, but undoubtedly it is the Latin inscription Miserere dominates ..., readable on the base of the statue, which gives the painting its full meaning.


Memories of the Napoleonic wars under the Restoration remain among the strongest sources of inspiration for Romanticism. Lejeune, an officer as much as a painter, gives us here a painting that is both autobiographical and historical. The nostalgia for the great imperial epic, combined with a critical analysis of the savagery of the Empire, makes this play an exceptional document for both the understanding of the Spanish Civil War and that of the Restoration. The atrocity of the siege of Zaragoza became legendary at the same time as the taste and admiration for a picturesque Spain that artists were beginning to discover during the Romantic period grew. More than a simple remembrance of the siege of Zaragoza, this composition by Lejeune seems an expiatory ex-voto for an episode devoid of the nobility of so many other achievements of the Napoleonic wars.

  • battles
  • Spain
  • Great Army
  • napoleonic wars
  • Goya (Francisco de)


Yveline CANTAREL-BESSON, claire CONSTANS Bruno FOUCART Napoleon Images and history: Paintings of the Palace of Versailles (1789-1815) Paris, RMN, 2001. Roger DUFRAISSE and Michel KERAUTRET Napoleonic France External Aspects Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1999.Gunther ROTHENBERG Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars 1796-1815 Paris, Autrement, 2000 Jean TRANIE and Juan-Carlos CARMIGNANI Napoleon: The Spanish Campaign: 1807-1814 Paris, Pygmalion, 1998 Jean TULARD (dir.) Napoleon dictionary Paris, Fayard, reed. 1999.

To cite this article

Robert FOHR and Pascal TORRÈS, "The siege of Zaragoza"

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