Francisco Goya y Lucientes (Succession) - The Colossus

by Alexandra Tuschka


A dark, tall figure rises above a landscape. Compared to the figures in the foreground, he is gigantic and menacing in his dimensions. However, we can only see the bearded man from diagonally behind. His muscular upper body is exposed and if we dare to look through the misty clouds, we can also spy his naked backside. The face is still well recognizable in profile, it is brightly illuminated from the left. The man has bent his right arm and clenched his fist - his body appears tense, surely he is angry.

The picture was divided by the artist by three large horizontals. Above, in the dark sky, the giant's head appears particularly rich in contrast. This is enhanced by the fact that it almost swallows the outline of the man's full curls. In the center is a lighter layer of sky. It gives us the image of streaking clouds in a foggy atmosphere. At the very bottom in the foreground a quite mundane sphere appears. Here the fear of the mighty apparition is going around: People and animals swirl around, we can make out covered wagons, a herd of oxen and crowds of people. They hurry through each other, a man has fallen from his horse, a woman has fallen in the foreground. Only a donkey, since time immemorial a sign of stupidity, stands unperturbed at the foreground of the picture.


For years, this painting was considered one of Goya's major works, the poster child for the "pinturas negras" - the black paintings that decorated the Spaniard's living rooms. However, we must rethink this! New research results of the Prado showed that here probably rather a successor of Goya was at work. Thus, the technique and brushstroke were too uncertain. The garish colors of the small figures and the dull lighting of both planes do not speak for Goya's typical painting style. The signature in the left corner "A.J." is rather to be associated with Asensio Juliá. Never heard of him? He was a friend and occasional collaborator of Goya, but he is hardly remembered posthumously.

Whoever the author of the work was, it can easily be linked to other works by Goya. For example, the latter created a series of etchings on the theme of "The Horrors of War," in which he thematized the Spanish struggle for freedom against the French occupying power in 1808-1813. The engraving "This is worse" shows a very similar looking figure in the center of the picture. The figure's arms were apparently cut off and it was placed on a tree in this condition. In the background we find French soldiers in uniform. One of them raises his sword - is he aiming at the man's leg? Goya chooses already by the title a less heroic view of the war events. His focus is not on the glorification of the event, but on the cruel depiction of reality. This makes it one of the first "anti-war" paintings in art history. Such pictures first appeared in the Baroque period, when people were more critical of contemporary events. Thus, the painting "The Colossus" was also interpreted differently: is an allusion to Napoleon meant here - the threat on the horizon? Or does the Colossus not rather stand for the fighting spirit that is forging a path against the French oppressors?


Francisco Goya y Lucientes (Succession) - The Colossus

Oil on canvas, 1818 - 1825, 116 x 105 cm, Museo del Prado in Madrid.


"This is worse"

Plate 37 of "The horrors of war", 1810-1814