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Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Saturn Devouring One Of His Sons, 1821-1823, 143.5 x 81.4 cm (Prado, Madrid) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

One of the"Black Paintings" that Goya painted on the walls of his house outside Madrid, this image was originally located on the lower floor of the house known as "la Quinta del Sordo." Goya painted on the walls using several materials including oil paint. The "Black Paintings" had suffered significant damage and loss in their original location and when they were removed from the walls and transferred to canvas by Baron Émile d'Erlanger shortly after he aquired the house in 1873. Please note that Saturn is also known as Cronus or Kronus.

Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music playing) Steven: We're in the Prado in Madrid and we're looking at Goya's "Black Paintings." Beth: Yeah, we're in a room filled with them. Steven: They had been the paintings that he had made to decorate his home just outside of Madrid. Literally, they had been painted on the walls and we're looking at one of the most striking of these panels, Saturn, sometimes referred to as "Saturn devouring one of his children." Beth: It had been prophecized to Saturn that one of his sons would dethrone him. Saturn is god of time. So in order to prevent that occurrence, Saturn devours his children as they're born, but one escapes, Jupitar, and so Saturn in the end is dethroned and he can't escape the fate that's been allotted to him. Steven: In fact, one could argue that he causes his fate by trying to reverse it. So it's this terrible story rendered in the most horrific way possible and it's a reminder that this is an allegory for the ideas that Goya was thinking about at this moment. Beth: Of power? Steven: Of power and the way in which a power treats its own children, its own chargers. You know ... Beth: In order to stay in power. Steven: Goya had seen the Spanish state, the Spanish monarchy destroy the country. Beth: Well, then he saw Napolean's army destroy the country and then he saw the restoration of the monarchy destroy the country. Steven: So this notion of the cyclical nature of time, the notion of turning on one's own charges, turning on one's own children but here rendered allegorically, but in the most vivid and I cannot imagine more powerful manner. Beth: In one way, I read Saturn's bulging eyes and his Steven: desperation in one way as "I'm not going to lose my power", but on the other hand, I also feels like he knows he must do this and he's aware of how terrible it is and just sort of does it in this insane, chaotic, frenzied way. Steven: He is as Goya has rendered him almost dissolving. You can see his basic anatomy, of course, but look at his right elbow and the way in which the skin sort of wraps around and his forearm almost dissolves. His shoulder begins to dissolve. We can see his thighs and they begin to pick up the light, but then there seems to be some, an extra piece of him just above, let's see, his left hip and so there is this way in which his insanity is in a sense, he's coming apart and his interest in rendering the meat of the body, the flesh of the body, and all of its violence and all of its physicality and all of its grotesqueness. Beth: Well, I think the word "flesh" is right. There is something about his own body that looks like meat, like butchered meat and at the same time that he is butchering and eating his own son. Steven: This is the result of what Goya witnessed. This is Goya's reflection of the world that he saw. Beth: And his understanding of humanity and what it was capable of. (piano music playing)