Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Colossus

The Colossus by Goya
(actually now believed to be by his assistant).

Some imagine the giant to be Napoleon, who dashed out of the French Revolution, dazzling all with his charisma and then disappointed and derailed by proclaiming himself Emperor of France. So the Colossus has trampled yet another small community (foreground) — cattle and people flee in every direction in obvious confusion and terror.

Whatever one's opinion of Napoleon, he brought one certainty to Europe and that was war. The new French republic after 1792, with its "liberté, égalité, fraternité," presented a deadly challenge to all the other European (usually) monarchies by its very existence...

And when this suddenly-modern nation state went to war, it was with a radically re-organized army, one formed from volunteers who came from across France, nationalistic zealots eager to serve her. Opposing France's new model zealots, the old European powers reached once more for their armies composed of unreliable mercenaries, who hoped to not die and get paid...

So what about The Colossus? Is it the implacable new France, from Spaniard Goya's perspective, callously stomping out traditional rural life? The revolutionaries in Paris went on prolonged massacres through parts of rural France, de-christianizing, as they called it. ['What do you do for a living, sir?' "Who, me? I'm a De-Christianizer."] Or is it the giant force of refute, rebuttal, reaction, Europe rising to meet the French challenge?