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Francisco de Goya - Saturn Devouring His Son

von Alexandra Tuschka

In front of a dark background we see an old man with gray hair and delusionally widened eyes. His mouth is wide open, in his hands he holds a human torso, which he hastily wants to shove down his throat. Head and arms of the body are already missing, a gender or age is no longer identifiable. The man himself has also already assumed a shapeless form. His body is cropped at the right edge of the picture, the forms are blurred, the anatomy is neglected.

In this work by the Spanish painter Goya, one of the earliest mythological gods can be seen - Saturn - who is here devouring one of his children. He was prophesied that one of these children would one day overthrow him. To prevent this, Saturn ate his children. With five of them he succeeds - Jupiter, however, can be saved by his mother. Instead of the infant she wraps a stone in a diaper and gives it to her husband. He does not notice the deception. Later, when many years have passed, Jupiter can actually overthrow his father and the prophecy is fulfilled. In the course of this Saturn spits out his children - together with the stone - again. Saturn corresponds to Kronos in Greek mythology. The children of the god are therefore also called "Kronids".

But there is not yet much to see of the happy outcome here. Completely focused on the delusional, this image is broken down to a cruel moment; the father completely obsessed with the thought of his preservation of power. Since Goya also witnessed several political movements during his lifetime, including Napoleon's entry into Spain, but also the policies of the Spanish monarchy which were not people oriented, this painting is often associated with contemporary events. The elites also wanted to maintain their power at all costs - and even "ate" their own people to do so. In this way, they destroyed the basis that could guarantee the preservation of power in the first place. And so a downward spiral quickly developed. The rule thus becomes hollow and the rulers are no longer sovereign. Power gives way to pure despair.

This work belongs to the famous "black paintings", the "pinturas negras", which hung in Goya's finca Quinta del Sordo, the "Villa of the Deaf", and were not intended for the public. This finca was a final retreat for the battered and ailing painter. He acquired the house in 1819 and at first painted the walls with more pleasant motifs. Later these were overpainted by the famous "pinturas negras". These are a total of 14 paintings that Goya painted with oil paints directly on the plaster of the walls. The creepy paintings were created in the last decades of the painter's life, when he was already struggling with severe depression and hearing loss. The name refers on the one hand to the heavy use of black pigments, and on the other hand to the dark pictorial motifs. Although Goya did not name the works, this pictorial theme is easily identifiable - especially through a model Rubens.

After the Baron Émile d'Erlanger acquired the finca in 1873, he had the paintings transferred to canvas, from which their quality suffered. The baron later donated the works to the state of Spain. Therefore, we can admire the "pintuars negras" as a complete collection and in a single room combined in the Prado in Madrid. However, due to their poor state of preservation, they are rarely lent to other museums.

Francisco de Goya - Saturn devours his son

Oil on canvas, 1819 - 1823, 146 x 83 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Peter Paul Rubens - Saturn devours his son

Oil on canvas, 1636 - 1638, 180 x 87 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid


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