An Analysis of Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son”

Francisco Goya’s “Saturn Devouring his Son” is one of the darkest paintings of its time. Hidden as part of his personal collection, the painting was a piece of many of his works discovered after his death and later canvassed and named for the sake of appreciation by art critics. Goya’s painting depicts King Saturn devouring his son in fear of being overthrown, a Greek myth that is often propagated through human’s greed for power.

Saturn’s visage is highlighted by the black background of the canvas, emphasizing the demonic intent in his surprised eyes. It is these same eyes that cause the viewer to question whether Saturn understood the implications of his own actions, or if it was simply his fear and anger at the reminder of his humanness. His hair is gray and disheveled, while his skin is an orange hue that is mixing with the color of the black canvas. His size is enlarged, while his hands grotesquely dig deep into the flesh of his son, similar to an animal ruthlessly killing its prey. No longer does Saturn remain as a human. This painting, in reality, depicts the evolution of King Saturn into a demon of his own making. His thirst for power led him to murder his own children, again and again, until his wife finally decided to hide one, Jupiter, away on the small island of Crete. Jupiter later grew up to kill his father and take his throne.

The demon that Saturn himself created by devouring each of his sons to protect himself changed his outward appearance to the point where he became unrecognizable. This idea can be applied to our own reality. Many critics claim that Goya was attempting to throw shade at the Spanish Government, Saturn, and the ways their neglect destroyed the Spanish people, their children. While that theory remains questioned, the idea of “destroying before you are destroyed” is not a new one. Historically, Hitler was able to use this same reasoning to convince an entire region for the ethnic cleansing of an entire race of people. Likewise, the United States was able to justify its horrific killing of Native Americans, Japanese, Iraqis, and Afghanis. “If we don’t kill them first, they will come for us, and we and our own children will be devoured by these monsters.”

Again and again, I have heard this reasoning condone brutality that need not exist. The differences that divide an entire species are so miniscule that even within the comparison of our DNA with an Ape’s, 98% of our DNA is similar on some scale. Despite our beliefs and upbringing, our tissues, organs, hair follicles, and teeth are made from the same cells and will end up in the same dilapidated state upon our death.

For that reason, Goya’s painting struck a chord with me. The representation of a human’s own demise as his greed changes him is highlighted so tragically. The human doesn’t realize it, but in reality, the greed is devouring him to the point where he stops becoming himself and turns unrecognizable, even to himself.