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Saturn Devouring His Son: A Black Painting by Francisco Goya

Saturn Devouring His Son
Saturn Devouring His Son | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Often, people find something fascinating about ancient mythologies, demonology, and Greek cultures and cults. You might notice that there is a great deal of attention paid to the shady skeletons, brushes, and sacrifice bowls, despite their terrible appearance. I don't know whether these artefacts are spine-chilling to anyone, but one sure thing is that horror stories let one's present life thoughts keep away from their head. Every now and then, after an awful day, I end up watching a disturbing show, and trust me, it works. As I finish this, I have something to share with you that's been on my mind for so long. It's all about my friend. I have a close friend who, after every haunted movie based on a true story, searches the entire internet and reads books to learn more about it. Demonology was one of the aspects of the Conjuring series, and Veronica attracted her so much that she brought resources to the table to know different aspects. Occasionally, she acts creepy enough to make me feel frightened. From wishing to be in Sweden's woods to find a cult group like in Midsommar to learning the foreplay of witchcraft, she has some stupid desires which she longed for so hard. And the most surprising part of all these knocked when she began to scrutinise the Greek rituals for demons and Goddesses. Yesterday, she called me in the middle of the night to talk about a Greek mythological character Saturn, who literally ate his sons and leave his daughters. And coincidentally, I was about to write an article on a similar theme. So, was that just a coincidence? Well, I certainly don't know about it. But, I have been reading about an artist, Francisco Goya, who was obsessed with dark paintings at one stage of his life. Hence, he painted the famous Saturn Devouring His Son. Today, we are here to read about the artwork. Besides, about my friend, she is just another imaginative character of mine! (P.S. I am ridiculing. I just don't want history to be boring for you.)

General Information.

1. Artist's Statement.

Always lines never form! But where do they find these lines in Nature? For my part, I see only forms that are lit up and forms that are not. There is only light and shadow.

2. Subject Matter.

The painting, also referred to as Saturn, shows a highly terrific haunting of the mythological archetype Saturn. The subject matter of the composition shows Saturn, who is eating the body of an infant. The rough nakedness of the character, dishevelled appearance through hair and beard and wide-eyed stare shows the hysterical madness of the persona. There is no head or right arm on the infant body he holds in his hands, and he is about to bite his left arm. As he devours his body, oozes of blood flow from his hand.

Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya
Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

3. Artist.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, one of the most significant Spanish artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, painted Saturn Devouring His Son. With the long-course of career, the artist made two kinds of paintings; earlier in his life, he made jolly and lighthearted ones, and in later life, he usually painted deeply pessimistic and emotional drawings, etchings and frescoes. Born in Fuendetodos, Francisco began his painting career by studying with the painter José Luzán Martínez at fourteen. The year 1746, which is the year of the artist's birth, is historically crucial as Spanish was under the rule of Ferdinand VI. As a result, the Bourbon king Charles III (r. 1759–88) ruled the country as an enlightened monarch sympathetic to change and employed ministers who advocated radical changes in the economy, industry, and agriculture. The Enlightenment period marked Goya's artistic maturity.

Portrait of Francisco Goya by Vicente López Portaña
Portrait of Francisco Goya by Vicente López Portaña | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

4. Date.

Francisco Goya painted the composition Saturn Devouring His Son during 1820 - 1823.

5. Provenance.

In 1819-20, when Francisco recovered from another illness, he used his time to decorate his house, Quinta del Sordo (Deaf Man's House) and constituted a series of Black Paintings. Out of all of them, the Saturn Devouring One of His Sons remained spine-chilling and most terrific works.

Francisco bought this house in 1819 to the banks of the Manzanares River opposite Madrid. Leaving the city and moving into the house, Quinta del Sordo was his way of getting away from Ferdianand's oppressive climate, as well as to avoid being under close supervision by the Inquisition, which he had reason to fear due to his personal relationship with Leocadia Zorilla de Weiss, a relative by marriage to Javier. In 1812, Leocadia's husband abandoned her because of her infidelity, while in 1814, she gave birth to a daughter, Rosario, who almost unquestionably belonged to Goya. The date of the move to Quinta del Sordo is unknown, but Leocadia was sure to be there since a portrait of her stood by a tomb decorated the wall of the house with fourteen black paintings by Francisco.

I will tell you the entire history and provenance of the circumstances and the paintings in the later sections.

6. Location.

Currently, Saturn Devouring His Son painting resides in Museo Del Prado.

7. Technique and Medium.

Saturn Devouring His Son is a mural painting, which Francisco painted on one of the house walls, La Quinta del Sordo. With the massive use of dark pigments and black in the mural, the artist used a sombre-subject matter with heightened tension. The privacy and intimacy of the home allowed the artist to build the characters with great expressiveness. He painted directly on the walls with a mixed technique, as a chemical analysis revealed the use of oils. In 1873, Baron Émile d Erlanger acquired "la Quinta" and had the paintings reproduced on canvas. There was an enormous amount of paint lost in the process, making the works look drab. However, the canvas is now safe in the Prado Museum.


Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes

Year Painted



Mural Painting




Mythological Painting


Pinturas de la Quinta del Sordo (Pinturas Negras), Planta baja


143.5 x 81.4 cm


Not on sale

Where is it housed?

Prado Museum

Detailed Description of Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son.

About the Artist: Francisco Goya.

Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (the artist's full name), was born on 30th March 1746, in the province of Saragossa, to a master glider of limited means. He went to the school at Saragossa and took an apprenticeship under Jose Luzan. I have already discussed this brief introduction of an artist in the previous section. In 1763 and 66, Francisco went to Madrid to take part in competitions at the Royal Academy of San Fernando, but he was unsuccessful twice. When he left Saragossa, he took out some extensive religious decorations, the most notable fresco in the vault over the Coreto at the east end of the Cathedral of El Pilar. His series of wall paintings here in the Charterhouse of Aula Dei was also quite a success for the artist. We do not know much about the artist in those days.

Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta Francisco Goya
Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta, Francisco Goya | Source: The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund, Mia

In 1771, Francisco married Josefa, and he began to work in close associations with his two brothers-in-law, Francisco Bayeu and Ramon Bayeu, in Madrid. Francisco Bayeu was already in favour of the Court and was a famous and influential painter in the reign of Charles III. So he managed to obtain a series of commissions for tapestry cartoons of scenes from admired life for his brother Ramon and his brother-in-law Goya. In the timespan between 1775 and 1791, Francisco executed sixty-three cartoons with attractive bright colours. In 1780, after his election to the Royal Academy of San Fernando, the artist got a commission of fresco a dome and its pendentives over a section of El Pilar, Sargoassa. In this way, Francisco had a good career from the beginning. However, it was only in 1783 that his fame widened as a portrait painter, after he painted Charles III's chief minister, the Conde de Floridablanca, with himself in the foreground. With a series of commissions for portraits, Francisco received a stream of success, and he occupied the position of court painter of Charles III.

Now that you briefly know about the life of the artist, let me take you to the next section, which will tell you more about the artwork, Saturn Devouring One of His Sons.

History and Background of the Artwork.

After the restoration of Ferdinand VII, Francisco gave up his residence in Madrid and brought a property on the other side of the river Manzanares, close to the Puente de Segovia. The house was a small and unpretentious building of two stories with windows to give a commanding view of Madrid. The rural home where he loved to entertain his small group of friends became known as the House of Deaf Man, whose domestic arrangements were controlled by his second cousin, Leocardio Servilla. She lived with Rosario Weiss, born in 1814, under the same roof as Francisco. In 1819, Francisco suffered from a severe illness, but it didn't stop his productivity during the last years of his life in Spain. His work during this period included engravings of thirty-three plates for a series, Tauromaquia, of which 18 were titled Proverbios, and a few scattered plates, including Colossus. He was also busy creating the most fantastic inventions ever devised by an artist for the walls of his Quinta.

During the last couple of years, he decorated the house with frescoes, now housed in the Prado Museum. When these artworks were in an exhibition in the Trocadero during the Paris Exhibition of 1878, they produced varied feelings among the viewers. Hamerton describes them as

"Goya's mind grovelled in a hideous Inderno of its own- a disgusting region, horrible without sublimity, shapeless as chaos, foul in colour and forlorn of light, people by the vilest abortions that ever came from the brain of a sinner."

He further, stated,

"Francisco surrounded himself of these abominations of devilish satisfaction and rejoicing in a manner altogether incomprehensible to us, in the audacities of an art in perfect keeping with its revolting subjects."

Among all these paintings and artworks we are talking about, Saturn was the most horrible. I would like to show you the Rubens version of the artwork before we continue discussing the famous "Black Paintings" series, which included the famous Saturn Devouring His Son.

Rubens' Version of Saturn.

We are not discussing the entire history of Rubens' version of Saturn, but you must know the basics. In 1636, Rubens painted Saturn. The artist used a traditional iconographic representation of Saturn by clasping a scythe in the right hand and setting it upon the clouds in a cosmic landscape. The clear muscles while the man boults down that little boy are terrific. You might see that the Rubens gave an idea of a mythological scene with a conglomeration of expressions.

Rubens Saturn
Rubens' Saturn | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

There is smoothness in the painting with realism, still intact with no blood flowing, like by Francisco.

Now, let me show you the famous black paintings of Francisco in detail.

Black Paintings by Francisco Goya.

The Black Paintings were a series of oil compositions, Francisco painted directly onto the walls of two of the rooms of the country house, La Quinta del Sordo, between 181-20 and 1823. All these paintings have a subject matter, blackened and overpowered by the sparkling visual punch and power of expressivity. These are not commissioned by anyone to Goya but define his own taste as he put up with his influence upon contemporary Expressionism and Surrealism, and delineating things, which have absurd, violent, and irrational models. The personal considerations which made the artist create such paintings might be his age, poor health and affair with Leocadia Zorrilla. It is not his depression shown in these Black Paintings, but his scorn for the Inquisition that was abolished in March 1820 amid a moment of hope among liberals who had made Ferdinand VII swear to follow the Constitution of 1812.

The Black Paintings is a series of fourteen paintings in rooms measuring 9.02 x 4.51 metres. The Ground Floor room includes Saturn Devouring one of His Children, Judith and Holofernes, Una manola: doña Leocadia Zorrilla, Two Friars, Two Old Ones Eating Soup, Witches' Sabbath, Saint Isidro's Pilgrimage.

Saturn Devouring One of His Sons
Saturn Devouring His Son, Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Judith and Holofernes (Goya)
Judith and Holofernes (Goya) | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Una manola: doña Leocadia Zorrilla by Francisco Goya
Una manola: doña Leocadia Zorrilla by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Two Friars by Francisco Goya
Two Friars by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Two Old Ones Eating Soup by Francisco Goya
Two Old Ones Eating Soup by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Witches' Sabbath by Francisco Goya
Witches' Sabbath by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Saint Isidro's Pilgrimage by Francisco Goya
Saint Isidro's Pilgrimage by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

The upper Floor Room includes Man Mocked by Two Women, The Reading, Fight with Cudgels, The Pilgrimage to Saint Isidro's Spring, The Fates, The Drowning Dog.

Man Mocked by Two Women by Francisco Goya
Man Mocked by Two Women by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

The Reading by Francisco Goya
The Reading by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Fight with Cudgels by Francisco Goya
Fight with Cudgels by Francisco Goya | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

The Pilgrimage to Saint Isidro's Spring by Francisco Goya