Goya and Colossus

Goya and Colossus Jose de Goya y Lucientes was born on March 30, 1746, in Fuendetodos, a small village in northern Spain. At the age of fourteen he became an apprentice for a local

artist, Jose Luzan. Later he traveled to Madrid where he took interest in the last of the

great Venetian painters. After attempting and failing to enroll in the Royal Academy of

San Fernando, Goya then traveled to Rome, Italy. Then he moved on to Sagossa in 1771

where he painted fresco in several local churches, establishing a reputation. After Goya

achieves his first successful movement, he became a portrait painter for the Spanish

aristocracy. He finally enrolled in the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1780 after

having been rejected before. He was named painter to King Charles IV in 1786, and

Court Painter in 1789.

From 1775 to 1792 Goya painted cartoons (designs) for the royal

tapestry factory in Madrid. This was the most important period in his artistic

development. As a tapestry designer, Goya did his first genre paintings, or scenes from

everyday life. The experience helped him become a keen observer of human behavior. He

was also influenced by neoclassicism, which was gaining favor over the rococo style.

Finally, his study of the works of Velazquez in the royal collection resulted in a looser,

more spontaneous painting technique.

In 1792 he suffered from a serious illness that left him permanently deaf. This

began to make him feel alienated and separated from everyone else, provoking him to

paint the darkness and weakness of mankind. He began to paint his own version of

caricatures, showing the subjects as he saw them. Goya served as director of painting at

the Royal Academy from 1795 to 1797 and was appointed first Spanish court painter in

1799. During the Napoleonic invasion and the Spanish war of independence from 1808 to

1814, Goya served as court painter to the French. He expressed his horror of armed

conflict in many of his paintings, along with starkly realistic etchings on the atrocities of


Goya’s most important and well known painting is without a doubt ‘The Third of

May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid’ which Goya created as a response

to the killing by Napoleon of 5 000 Madrid civilians. Goya’s painting of Colossus is

similar in that it expresses his feelings about what he has witnessed in this period of

unrest.. It embodies the feelings he had about war and the Spanish revolt against


There are many interpretations of this piece: some see it as the whole of

humanity and war. a portrait of a Spanish Rain God. and a giant power who is wielding a

gesture of power and confidence. The most popular belief is that the man in the picture is

Napoleon. Given the date of the painting-which could range from 1808 to 1812-it most

likely depicts the Peninsula War era. The period of those four years were filled with

tumultuous events that shook the foundation of Spanish life. In the portrait, one can see

where the land is covered with people fleeing with their livestock. They are running

away from something and it is up to us to interpret what that something is. It appears that

the colossal figure is rolling in like a whirling dervish, causing people to flee. Sure, it

could be a person, a dominating figure who is terrorizing the people in this village.

However, this man could also be symbolic of something that is inanimate such as fate

that has power over the earth. Lastly, this larger than life figure could be a God who is

overseeing the people and animals of the land.

The likelihood that Colossus is meant to be indicative of tumultuous war times is

great. We can tell from other famous paintings of his that he has very strong feelings

about the war with the French and the Spanish. If a person were to look at this painting

and make a speculation as to the meaning there are many inferences one could make even

if they did not have knowledge of the historical aspect of war. It is apparent that much

unrest ensues and a gigantic figure is presiding over all living beings. While there has

been assumptions that this man is Napoleon, I tend to doubt it. I believe this figure is

meant to embody a much larger force that controls and protects-probably a God. This

man is strong force that intervenes in a time of crisis. The Peninsular War was definitely

a crisis for the Spanish. The nature of how he was painted-a very muscular build yet

shaded in such a way that he does not appear to be a human being-suggests that Colossus

is a divine being.

This is a very difficult painting to interpret. There has been much speculation as

to whether the figure is intended to be a personification of revolution, of mankind

exploding with a vengeance, danger expressing in a visual form, or if this gigantic figure

is supposed to be a protector of all human beings and animals. Whatever Colossus is

meant to interpret, it certainly is an intriguing piece of artwork. If one does not have

knowledge of the era in which this painting was complete, it is capable of inspiring them

to do some research of Spanish history!