- Reference number
- Follower of Goya
- The Colossus
- Early Nineteenth Century
- 116 cm x 105 cm
- Género y sociedad
- On display
- Legacy of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Ouirós, 1931
The Colossus is one of the most famous paintings in the Museo del Prado. In recent years its traditional attribution to Francisco de Goya has been the subject of doubt on the part of independent scholars and those within the Museum. The wide-ranging art-historical and technical study that has been undertaken has led to the conclusion that the painting is by a follower of Goya.
History of the Painting
The Colossus entered the Museo del Prado in 1931 as part of the bequest of the collector, Pedro Fernández Duran (1846-1930), whose family, the marquises of Perales and Tolosa, had owned it since at least 1841. In 1874 the painter and restorer, Vicente Poleró (1824-1899), described it as ‘A prophetic allegory of the misfortunes that occurred in the War of Independence’ and attributed it to Goya. It has been generally interpreted as an allegory of the Peninsular War. The giant has thus been seen as a personification of Napoleon’s armies invading Spain, or as the ‘spirit of the Pyrenees’ that rises up to destroy the French troops, in accordance with the patriotic poem of 1808 by Juan Bautista Arriaza. On other occasions it has been read as depicting a natural disaster.
Composition and Technique
The composition, whose starting point is Goya’s majestic and profound image of The Seated Giant, uses conventional formulae that are not consistent with his work, such as the monotonous and repetitive manner of depicting the different spatial planes. The execution of the small figures and animals, almost none of which is fully defined and whose proportions and scale are not coherent within the overall perspective, also differentiate this painting from works certainly by Goya. The X-radiograph of the painting shows the problems that the artist had in establishing the position and pose of the giant. It was initially placed frontally, resulting in major changes during the execution of the work, which are unusual in Goya’s oeuvre. The painting does not reveal his direct, transparent technique, which made use (particularly in his late work) of the generally warm tone of the preparatory, or ground, layer to model the forms of the figures and the landscape with economy and directness. In The Colossus, by contrast, the manner of painting is dense and opaque; the strokes are applied in an indecisive manner in successive applications of different colours and without visual use of the tone of the ground.
This technique, the modelling of the animals and figures and even the dress, bring the painting closer to the work of Goya’s followers, who generally derived their compositions from his paintings, drawings or prints. The recent proposal that the marks at the lower left corner of the painting can be read as the initials ‘A J’, corresponding to those of the artist Asensio Juliá (ca.1760-1832), opens up new possibilities for the attribution of The Colossus. Juliá was Goya’s only recorded follower and assistant and is documented as working with him from 1798 until an unspecified date. Goya painted Juliá’s portrait on two occasions. Juliá also worked as an independent artist at the Escuela de la Merced, a branch of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, as Director of Ornament from 1818 to his death. This links him directly with Miguel Fernández Duran, Marquis of Perales and Tolosa, who was President of the Escuela between 1821 and his death in 1831, and was possibly the first owner of the painting. It also suggests that The Colossus should be dated to that period.