Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor Deborah Gare

Second Supervisor

Professor Charlie Fox


What does it mean to reinterpret a violent event on a motionless, silent, two-dimensional canvas; where that event is compressed as an instantaneous flash that belongs not to the documentary, but to the imagination? In this thesis, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937), the artists’ searing response to the Francoist bombing of the Basque town of Gernika during the Spanish Civil War, is treated as a case study through which the efficacy of imagination for historical interpretation is tested. Guernica offers a way of understanding a past reality not through the literal, but through abstraction and creative invention: incongruous lines, deformed shapes, ruptured perspective—faculties of the imagination. Picasso’s vision of the bombing of Gernika is an invented one; dislocated from spatial, lived reality because of its fragmented assemblage, yet fundamentally linked to the realities of Gernika: to hightechnology warfare, the demoralisation of civilians, and state-sanctioned atrocity. With specific reference to and analysis of Guernica and its corresponding historical reality, this thesis shows how it is possible to glean knowledge about the artwork’s corresponding historical reality, demonstrating how the imaginative treatment of an intensely violent past may be considered useful to historical interpretation.

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