“Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya
“Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya depicts the Greek myth of the Titan who fears that he would be overthrown by one of his children, so he ate each one of his children upon their birth. The work is one of the 14 Black Paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823. It was transferred to the canvas after Goya’s death and has since been held in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
According to Roman myth, which was inspired by the original Greek myth, it had been foretold that one of the sons of Saturn (Cronus in the Greek original myth) would overthrow him, just as Saturn had overthrown his father. To prevent this, Saturn ate his children moments after each was born. His wife Ops eventually hid his third son, Jupiter, on the island of Crete, and deceived Saturn by offering a stone wrapped in swaddling in his place. Jupiter eventually supplanted his father Saturn, just as the prophecy had predicted.
In 1819, at the age of 73, Goya purchased a house outside the centre of Madrid where he sought seclusion. Goya produced a series of 14 works, which he painted with oils directly onto the walls of the house. At this stage of his life, Goya had survived two life-threatening illnesses; he had been left deaf after contracting a fever in 1792 and was concerned with his own mortality. He was also increasingly embittered and concerned by the civil strife occurring in Spain. Although he initially decorated the rooms of the house with more inspiring images, in time he overpainted them all with the haunting pictures known today as the Black Paintings. Uncommissioned and never meant for public display, these pictures reflect Goya’s darkening mood and internal conflict.
This disturbing portrait was one of six works with which Goya decorated the dining room. Goya never named the works he produced on his house walls. Others assigned the names to his paintings after his death, and this painting is also known as Saturn, Saturn Devouring One of His Sons and Saturn Devouring his Children.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746 – 1828) was a Spanish painter and printmaker. He was the most important Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Goya was famously successful in his lifetime, the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns.
He was born to a modest family in Aragon, Spain and started the studied of painting from the age of 14. He married at the age of 27 and after a series of pregnancies and miscarriages, only one child, a son, survived into adulthood. Goya became the court painter to the Spanish Crown in 1786, and this early part of his career is marked by portraits of the Spanish aristocracy and royalty and Rococo style tapestry cartoons designed for the royal palace.
Goya suffered a severe illness in 1793 which left him deaf. Sick and disillusioned, his work became progressively darker and pessimistic. His later paintings, prints and drawings seem to reflect a bleaker outlook. In 1807 Napoleon led the French army into war against Spain. Goya remained in Madrid during the war which seems to have affected him deeply. Other works from this mid-period of his life and work include a variety of paintings concerned with insanity, mental asylums, witches, fantastical creatures and religious and political corruption, all of which suggest that he feared for both his country’s fate and his own psychological and physical health.
In Goya’s late period he was disillusioned by the political and social developments in Spain, and he lived in near isolation. Goya eventually abandoned Spain in 1824 to retire to the French city of Bordeaux, accompanied by his younger maid and his companion. Following a stroke which left him paralysed on his right side, and suffering failing eyesight, he died and was buried in 1828 aged 82. His body was later re-interred in Madrid. Famously, however, Goya’s skull went missing, a detail the Spanish consul in France immediately communicated to his superiors in Madrid. The Spanish authorities wired back, “Send Goya, with or without head.”
- The Third of May 1808
- The Repentant St. Peter
- Saturn Devouring His Son
- Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate (National Gallery of Ireland)
- Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate (Hermitage Museum)
Explore the Prado Museum
- “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez
- “The Triumph of Bacchus” by Diego Velázquez
- “Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael
- “The Triumph of Death” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya
- “The Third of May 1808” by Francisco Goya
- “The Judgment of Paris” by Peter Paul Rubens
- “Adam and Eve” by Peter Paul Rubens
- “The Holy Trinity” by El Greco
- “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by El Greco
- Masterpieces of the Prado Museum
Saturn Devouring His Son
- Title: Saturn Devouring His Son
- Artist: Francisco Goya
- Year: 1819-1823
- Medium: Oil on panel
- Dimensions: 146 × 83 cm (57½ × 32½ in)
- Museum: Prado Museum, Museo del Prado
- Name: Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes
- Birth: 1746 – Fuendetodos, Aragon, Spain
- Died: 1828 (aged 82) – Bordeaux, France
- Nationality: Spanish
- Movement: Romanticism
- Notable Works:
Francisco de Goya Quotes
“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters”
“The slumber of reason breeds monsters.”
“In art, there is no need for color;
I see only light and shade. Give me a crayon,
and I will paint your portrait.”
“I am beginning to have more powerful enemies and more envious ones, too.”
“I have had three masters, Nature, Velasquez and Rembrandt.”
“The act of painting is about one heart telling another heart where he found salvation.”
“First be a magnificent artist and then you can do whatever, but the art must be first.”
“The act of painting is about one heart telling another heart where he found salvation.“
– Francisco de Goya
Photo Credit: Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons