The other day, Jessica O’Neal posted about the Greek Titans and it reminded me of one of my favorite paintings of all time: Saturn Devouring his Children (also known as Saturn Devouring his Son, but I was taught the first title in school, so that’s what I’m stick with here!) by Francisco de Goya. For those of you who are unfamiliar, here is a nice picture of it. (Warning: It isn’t for the faint of heart.)
Isn’t that…interesting? Gruesome would probably be a better word for it. Goya was a Spanish painter who lived from 1746 to 1828. Most of his paintings were beautiful pieces of work, but there was a time near the end of his life that the subject matter became much, much darker. This may have been due to declining health and a sense of paranoia that could have been a result of dementia or some sort of brain damage. A series of paintings that include the one above have come to be known as his “black” paintings for their dark nature – both in style/color and content.
These paintings were first done on the walls of his home between 1819 and 1823. They were later taken from the walls and transferred to canvas (I’m not totally sure how that works, but I won’t argue). They now hang in the Museo del Prado in Spain. Most of them have had to be restored, and in the process they may have been painted a wee bit darker than the original. Saturn is probably the one with the least amount of damage.
So, what is this painting about? Well, I highly recommend reading Jess’ post, as that gives a great rundown on the story of the Titans. In particular, this painting focuses on Cronus (which is just the Greek name for Saturn, and I’m a traditionalist, so I prefer the Greek names…) eating his children. Why did he do this you ask? Well, he heard a prophecy that said he would be overthrown by one of his kids. He swallowed his children in order to avoid the prophecy, but he was tricked into thinking he had gotten them all. In reality, Zeus was kept safe until the day he overthrew his father and forced him to regurgitate the other kids.
I love this painting, despite the disgusting nature of it. I was lucky enough to see it when I went to the Prado Museum and boy is it bigger than I thought it would be! It stands about 5 feet tall, which definitely lends itself to the painting. It makes it feel bigger and scarier than it already is. I was also physically affected by the painting – being that close to such a rendering of this myth actually made me a little queasy (and I don’t have a weak stomach). It was…pretty awesome! To be physically affected by anything – art, music, writing – means that the artist has done their job well.
The only qualm I have is that Cronus doesn’t actually eat his children. He swallows them whole and is then forced into throwing up each one. But the painting makes a statement nonetheless, and there are many theories as to what the meaning behind it was: the conflict between age and youth, that time conquers all (Cronus basically = father time), or even as an allegory for what was going on in Spain. Like most paintings, there are several interpretations and you should always go with the one that speaks most to you, which might not be the one that you were told is “right.”
(As an interesting side note, Goya had six sons and only one survived to adulthood. Maybe this myth particularly hit home for him, as Zeus was the sixth born of Cronus and Rhea.)
So, what do you think? Do you like or dislike the painting? Did it make you feel anything in particular when you first saw it? Are you familiar with anything else done by Goya?