The figure’s legs are hidden by mountains, while his arms are shown in an aggressive position with a fist raised at his shoulder.
In a valley below the imposing giant are terrified people and cattle scattering in various directions. Created between 1808 and 1812, the oil on canvas has been part of the Museo del Prado’s collection in Madrid since 1931.
The original measures 116 by 105 centimetres or 46 by 41 inches. It is also known as ‘The Giant’ (‘El Gigante’), ‘The Panic’ (‘El Pánico') and ‘The Storm (‘La Tormenta’).
Goya painted ‘The Colossus’ during the Peninsular War and the painting shows a scene of a world coming apart and torment. The meaning of the painting is unclear and several critics have given their own views. It may represent war and conflict during turbulent times in Spain, a common theme used in the artist’s works including pieces in the ‘Black Paintings’ series such as ‘Fight with Cudgets’.
For others, ‘The Colossus’ represents a guardian looking over Spain and fighting against invaders. There is also some dispute about who may have painted ‘The Colossus’. The Museo del Prado and others believe one of Goya’s disciples may have created the painting, while others point to the style and technique as evidence that Goya himself painted the piece.
Little details in ‘The Colossus’ are also open to interpretation. The giant’s eyes appear to be shut, blind to the violence and fear it is inflicting. Among the fleeing figures under the shadow of the giant is a donkey, the only figure that is standing still as if unable to understand the horror around it.
Similar themes of terror and conflict are also depicted in Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’, a series of 82 prints made between 1810 and 1820. Like ‘The Colossus’, the prints are protests against the violence of the Peninsular War from 1808 and 1814 as well as the 1808 Dos de Mayo Uprising and other conflicts during the early nineteenth century.
Giants are depicted in other works by Goya, including a second ‘Colossus’ piece. The print was created between 1814 and 1818. It depicts a giant sitting in the dark with a barren scene around him. Unlike ‘The Colossus’, the subject does not show the same aggression. Instead, it appears to be listening to something. Goya suffered from profound hearing loss and he often reflected his anxiety about illness and deafness in his works.
‘Saturn Devouring His Son’, one of fourteen frescos Goya’s painted as part of the ‘Black Paintings’ series, also shows a giant figure of the mythical god eating one of his children. Like ‘The Colossus’, ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’ uses very little colour and black tones dominate the composition.
Francisco de Goya was one of Spain’s most influential artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Born in 1746, the painter and printmaker was a link between styles used by Old Masters and early modern artists. His early career focused on painting portraits of royals and aristocrats during his time as a court painter.
Very little is known about his intentions behind many of his works. His political views and other thoughts were often kept private. Illness in 1793 left him deaf, and his outlook and work became increasingly darker and pessimistic afterwards. Goya was recognised as the Primer Pintor de Cámara in 1799, the highest rank for a court painter in Spain at the time. Disillusioned with political and social changes in Spain, Goya moved to Bordeaux in 1824. He died there at the age of 82 in 1828.