Saturn – Goya

It’s a haunting and horrific images isn’t it…cannibalism at its peak.  One of the 14 paintings known as “the black paintings” these were first produced on the walls of Goya’s farm house during his dark period after losing his hearing and becoming almost hermit like.

Painted between 1819 – 1823, this was only transferred to canvas after his death.  Any notes that the artist may have made around his own interpretation of the work were not found, therefore this is seriously open to interpretation. 

So on the face of it what are we seeing here… a big dude eating a person.

The painting is depicting the titan Saturn (the roman mythology, hiked from the Greek mythology of Cronus) eating one of his children as a prophecy fortold that he would be overthrown by one of his male children.  He was eventually pushed from his seat but Jupiter, when his wife deceived him and fled to Crete, handing him a rock wrapped in swaddling in place of the child (clearly his tastebuds weren’t up to much, but his teeth were).

This painting captures the true desperation and depravity of the act.  It’s thought that the idea of this picture came from a work of the same content by Peter Paul Ruebens, which is in comparison much more serene.

This is a more traditional example of the myth in art.  The child almost cherubim, and clearly  a babe in arms. The lack of blood and stature in this painting, making it seem more like a routine Saturn is going through as opposed Goya’s wild eyed rendition. 

In Goya’s work, Saturn is emerging from the darkness, he looks crazed and deshevelled, with his hair scruffy and wide eyes of the deranged.  We see the whites of his knuckles, clinging on to the “child” (I’ll come back to a theory on this), as the audience sees that the head and right arm has already been eaten, and Saturn taking a bite from the left arm.  The image is gruesome and almost looks as though Saturn has been caught red handed.

There are records that say that when the piece was transferred to canvas for display, Saturn has a semi erect penis, adding to the depravity of the piece, but this was lost in the transfer and due to the quality of the mural.  At time of these paintings, Goya too was descending in to a depressive madness and this painting along with the other black paintings where not intended for display, but more for his own journey through the world of mental breakdown.

Lets go back to the child, according to the myth, Saturn would be overthrown by a son and he ate each one at birth, but in this picture, the child seems to be grown.  The buttocks and legs rounded and shapely, feminine.  Which adds to the precieve madness in this image.  Had Saturn become so cannibalistic and feral that his taste for human flesh had led him to just devour all his children? Potentially.  Or had he just preyed upon a passing women.  It’s a shame that this part of the puzzle of this painting will never be defined, but either way, that is definitely not a new born that he is chowing down.

So why paint this on your living room wall? It’s not something that I would feel comfortable living with I have to say.  Although this piece of art does mesmerise me, as I find myself coming back to it often and admiring the rough lines and demented image.  The unfinished aspect adding to the desperation.  It could be said that this was symbolic to Goya (I know it’s a shocker for me to bang on about symbolism) as an indirect commentary of the Spanish civil war which pushed the “children” of Spain out and kept the current ruler in his seat.  It could have also been his fear of time devouring his life as old age set in.

Regardless of Goya’s underlying motive of the piece, I find it an interesting and intensely telling piece.  The myth is told so well, in just this image, the fear and desperation shown through the imagery.


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