27 January 2009

Did Goya paint "The Colossus"? Does it matter?

The giant, fierce figure of The Colossus as he rises above a fleeing crowd of people, carts and animals is one of Spanish artist Francisco de Goya's most dramatic and famous pictures – at least it was until yesterday, when Madrid's Prado museum declared he had not painted it.

The museum has said the giant - whose clenched fist is seen as a symbol of Spanish resistance to Napoleon's army during the Peninsular wars - would continue to hang in its place but confirmed that a plaque attributing the painting to Goya would be changed.

Experts at the museum now believe The Colossus was painted by one of Goya's assistants, whose initials may appear in a corner of the canvas.

The final decision to remove Goya's name from the painting followed a lengthy study by the Prado expert Manuela Mena, which the museum published yesterday...

Mena said X-rays of the picture had allowed her to spot significant differences between this and other Goya works.

Not least of these was the discovery of the top half of the faded initials "AJ", scribbled in the bottom left-hand corner, which she said may point to it being the work of one of his assistants, Asensio Juliá...

The Prado's expert, however, also claimed the quality of The Colossus was far below that of Goya's other masterpieces.

"Seen in the right light, the poverty of the technique, of its light and colour, along with the considerable difference between The Colossus and his other masterworks, become clear," she said in the study.

Mena said doubts about the picture's authenticity began to surface when restoration work began more than a decade ago. Restorers discovered then that the quality of the materials used was not up to Goya's normal standards.

See also this editorial.

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