Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819–1823

Saturn Devouring His Son is a painting by Francisco Goya. It is part of a series of 14 painting called “The Black Paintings”—so named because of their dark pigments and somber tones—completed during the later years in his life when he had become isolated, bitter, and fearing both madness and death. These “Black Paintings” were murals he painted directly onto the walls of his home. Saturn Devouring His Son was located in his dining room.

Goya himself never named these paintings. He never discussed these painting with anyone and never intended for them to be viewed by the public.

The dark and disturbing piece depicts the myth of the Titan God Cronos, Romanized here as Saturn, who, obsessed with preventing a prophecy in which he is overthrown by his son from coming true. promptly eats each of his children moments after birth.

Most artistic renderings of the myth depict Cronus with a powerful and God-like appearance and distinctly unsympathetic disposition and the child is usually an infant as in the stories. Here Goya has painted Cronus as a dirty and dishevelled madman appearing almost ashamed of his act. Here his child in not a baby but a full-grown man headless and dripping blood.

The disturbing nature of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son is exactly what makes it such a fascinating work, and among my favorite paintings. What disturbs us about it is how human Goya has made this inhumane act. It is not a God devouring another God who will later rise to power and overthrow him as he did his own father. No, this is a God made in man’s image. This is a father murdering his child out of fear and jealousy. This is a final, disgusting, and evil act.

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