The late, great Tommy Cooper, that most English of comedians, told a joke that he had a picture and a violin, one was a Stradivarius and one was a Rembrandt but they were both worthless because Rembrandt made the violin and Stradivarius painted the picture.
I was reminded of this joke today when the Prado has finally come out and said that in all probability "The Colossus" attributed to Goya is in fact the work of his understudy, Asensio Julia.
Does it matter? Visitors to the Prado have marvelled at the gigantic work. Goya (1746 - 1828), who was the court painter to Charles 1v, regularly painted scenes depicting horror and nightmares of war (especially after the invasion by the French). These huge, frightening paintings made a great impression on the nation at the time they were painted. He became such a famous character in his lifetime, even meritting investigation by The Inquisition!
Ben McIntyre, in today's Times, argues that it matters hugely who painted it. He cites as an example the work of Hans van Meegeren, who successfully forged Vermeers by the score, speaking of him as "a crook and a liar, undermining the most sacred pact in art." But I think forgery is a very different thing.
Asensio Julia would have spent the whole of his working life in close association with Goya. He would know all Goya's work intimately and Goya would for years have watched over Julia's every brush stroke. He would have learned what was seen as a craft in those days thoroughly from the master.
I am as guilty as the next of going into a gallery to look at a name rather than a painting. When Raphael's "Madonna of the pinks" came on loan to The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, near here I went to see it and was absolutely bowled over by its beauty and intricacy. Would I have gone to see it if it had not been by Raphael? I doubt it - the name Raphael just conjures up such magic.
Ben McIntyre tells of Sir Joshue Reynolds owning what he was certain was the original Mona Lisa. Only fairly recently it was established that the wood upon which it was painted was Baltic Oak and was felled at least eighty years after Leonardo's death. I suppose it matters if you are intending to spend a few million on a painting (although I can imagine that Reynold's Mona Lisa will itself be worth a lot of money by its association).
But after giving the whole matter a lot of thought I really can't come up with a good argument as to why it matters all that much. If it is a good painting and was done under Goya's tutelage, is it really to be downgraded? I shall be interested to see what you think
The picture is of a statue of Goya in Zaragoza.