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.
“I have just painted the moon on a tree in the blue-gray colors of evening. [Poet Louis] Scutenair has come up with a very beautiful title: Le seize septembre. I think it ‘fits,’ so from September 16th on, we’ll call it done.”
— Rene Magritte, Magritte: The True Art of Painting (via Austin Kleon)
“In the painting she stares out unflinchingly against a backdrop of luxuriant foliage. In the centre of her forehead, just above the two dark bushy eyebrows, is a perfectly circular round hole, within which is a rural landscape dominated by a skull and crossbones.
The face is neither frightened nor filled with despair; it is calm. She seems to say that if death and suffering can be accepted as a natural part of life then fulfilment is possible. It is one of her many self-portraits that relentlessly lay bare her pre-occupations with death and her own physical fragility.
It demonstrates her fearlessness in confronting what lies at the centre of existence: death.
By putting death in the place of the third eye, the chakra, she makes it the source of all wisdom.”