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Fig 5.6 – The Third of May

Text: Page 239

The peace symbol (Fig. 5.5) acted as a reference to the painting The Third of May by Francisco Goya, the romantic and most important Spanish painter of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Third of May, also known as the Peasant before the Firing Squad, commemorated Spanish resistance to the armies of Napoleon during French occupation of 1808. Goya, with the hands of the peasant reaching above his head in a cross-like fashion, provided an archetypal symbol of the horrors of war. Holtom took the image and “put a circle around it” and created the peace symbol.

In 1958, in a London-to-Aldermaston march for nuclear disarmament, Bayard Rustin, an ally of Martin Luther King, Jr., marched with the protestors. Inspired by how a symbol mobilized the British peace movement, Rustin brought the peace symbol back across the Atlantic. It was adopted by the civil rights movement, the antiwar and countercultural activists in the United States and around the world.

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