Plate 44 of the series is inscribed “I saw it” and gives a first-hand account of the brutality of war (Goya: Plate 44/ The Folio Society)
Goya’s unflinching cycle of drawings, The Disasters of War, are the most searing works of art ever to deal with conflict, argues Alastair Sooke.
It is one of the ironies of art history that the destruction of World War I inspired so many painters and sculptors to be more creative than they had ever been before.
We Are Making a New World (1918) by the British painter Paul Nash, who was an official war artist during the conflict, is a good example: a masterful summary of the impact of the carnage upon Western Europe, it is like a grenade lobbed into the idyllic garden of the tradition of landscape painting. In place of a pretty pastoral vista, Nash summons a desperate vision of a withered and mud-choked killing field, populated only by bomb-blasted trees that stand in for the millions of human casualties.
One of Goya’s more famous prints shows three naked and dismembered corpses (Goya: Plate 39 / The Folio Society).
For years my dear friend Vic Potticary would use this expression and for all that time I would pretend to know exactly what Vic was talking about.
But, I didn’t, I had visions of Terence Stamp swinging from the yardarm (my petard) in that wonderful black and white movie about the British navy, “Billy Budd”.
I was wrong. This is the Truth…
Injured by the device that you intended to use to injure others or being blown up by your very own petard.
The phrase ‘hoist with one’s own petar[d]’ is often cited as ‘hoist by one’s own petar[d]’.
The two forms mean the same, although the former is strictly a more accurate version of the original source.
A petard is, or rather was, as they have long since fallen out of use, a small engine of war used to blow breaches in gates or walls. They were originally metallic and bell-shaped but later cubical wooden boxes.
Whatever the shape, the significant feature was that they were full of gunpowder – basically what we would now call a bomb.
The device was used by the military forces of all the major European fighting nations by the 16th century to generally battlements and castle gates.
In French and English – petar or petard, and in Spanish and Italian – petardo.
The dictionary maker John Florio defined them like this in 1598:
“Petardo – a squib or petard of gun powder vsed to burst vp gates or doores with.”
Petar was part of the everyday language around that time, as in this rather colourful line from Zackary Coke in his work Logick, 1654:
“The prayers of the Saints ascending with you, will Petarr your entrances through heavens Portcullis”.
Once the word is known, ‘hoist by your own petard’ is easy to fathom. I’s nice also to have a definitive source – no less than Shakespeare, who gives the line to Hamlet, 1602:
“For tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his owne petar”.
The phrase was popularized after Life magazine published the painting Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare by World War II artist and correspondent Tom Lea, although the painting was not referred to with that title in the 1945 magazine article.
The painting, a 1944 portrait of a Marine at the Battle of Peleliu, is now held by the United States Army Center of Military History in Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
About the real-life Marine who was his subject, Lea said:
He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day.
Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?