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Doubt, the sequel: Goya and 'Colossus'

February 18, 2009 | 11:22 am

'Colossus' Late last month, Madrid's Prado Museum issued its report on whether or not "Colossus" (c. 1810-12) -- a hallucinatory picture of a lumbering giant striding across a ravaged landscape as a stampede of diminutive men, women and children flee in terror -- was indeed painted by Goya, as had long been believed. Spain's preeminent museum acquired the unsigned painting nearly 80 years ago. But the Prado had stunned the art world in April with the news that it no longer believed the attribution of an iconic work in its great collection.

The painting is an inventive metaphor for war's horrific upheavals, dating to the era when Napoleon invaded Spain. The blow-back against the Prado's announcement was so strong that publication of a full review was ordered.

I haven't read the museum's report -- it's not posted on the Prado website, alas -- but apparently critic Barbara Rose has. In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal she tartly dismissed its claims. ("Shaky" was the operative word in the headline.) The suggestion that the masterpiece was executed by Goya's otherwise modestly gifted studio assistant, Asencio Julia, reportedly also has been repudiated by a variety of notable scholars of Spanish painting, including Fernando Checa, ex-director of the Prado; NYU's Jonathan Brown; British professor Nigel Glendinning; and Spanish scholar Valeriano Bozal.

Over at Time magazine's art blog, Richard Lacayo was generally persuaded by Rose's column. I am too. Prado director Miguel Zugaza defended the reattribution to "circle of" or "follower of" Goya in El Pais yesterday. Maybe his museum will post its argument online and provide fuller transparency for what remains a highly controversial claim.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Victor Lerena / European Pressphoto Agency