Spanish Art

Saturno devorando a un hijo

'Saturno devorando a un hijo' (Saturn Devouring his Son) was a painting that was painted by the RomanticistSpanish painter, Francisco Goya some time between the years of 1819 and 1823. This painting forms part of the collection of paintings called 'Las pinturas negras' (Black Paintings), painted by Goya on the walls of his home, 'la Quinta del Sordo'.

The Painting

Spanish Art - Saturno devorando a un hijo

The painting, measuring 1.46 metres by 0.83 metres, is based upon a Greek and Roman legend. In the legend it had been predicted that the god Saturn would be overthrown by his children if they grew up, just as he had done to his father, Caelus. Fearing this fate, Saturn decided to prevent his children from getting older by eating them as soon as they were born. Saturn's wife, Ops, eventually could no longer stand her husband eating all of her children and so she hid her sixth child, Jupiter, on the Greek island of Crete. As the prophecy had foretold, when Jupiter became old enough, he overthrew his father.

Goya's painting is therefore a depiction of Saturn in the process of devouring one of his children. The painting is quite gory as the child is already missing his head and arms, as they have been eaten by Saturn.

Saturn himself is about to take another bite of his son. He is painted like a demon, emerging from the dark background with wide eyes and open mouth. It is thought that originally Saturn had been painted to look aroused by the whole experience, but due to either the test of time or a later modification, this detail is no longer visible.

The painting is quite dark, as were most of the paintings in the 'Pinturas negras' collection. However the bright sections of the paintings come from the use of white paint for the child's skin, as well as Saturn's eyes and knuckles. The red of the blood is also very distinctive as it stands out so clearly on the white body of the child.

Spanish Art - Saturno devorando a un hijo

There have been many interpretations of the painting, the most prominent of which is that it was meant to represent the current situation in Spain. During this time, Spain was being run by the King and tyrant, Fernando VII and many wars and battles were happening across the country. Saturn could therefore be assumed to be the Spanish homeland, killing off all its children. Other critics draw a parallel between Saturn and Goya himself, who had six children, of whom only one, Xavier, survived.


'Las pinturas negras' were originally painted on the walls of Goya's home; 'Saturno devorando a un hijo' was painted on the dining room wall. As such, they were very personal paintings and not intended for public exhibition. These paintings therefore were not named by Goya, but were named later on in history. This painting for example has been known by many different names such as 'el Saturno', 'Saturno devorando a un hijo', 'Saturno devorando a su hijo' and 'Saturno devorando a sus hijos'.

However due to their importance in the development of Goya's style and work, they were eventually moved onto canvas. After Goya's death, the 'Quinta del Sordo' changed hands many times before ending up in the possession of Baron Emile d'Erlanger of Belgium in 1874. By this time, the 'Pinturas negras' had deteriorated significantly which led to the baron having them transferred from the walls onto canvases with the help of the curator Salvador Martinez Cubells, from the Museo del Prado, a museum you can fin in every Madrid city guide.The paintings were then put on display at the Universal Expo in Paris in the year of 1878.

Following this, the paintings were donated to the Spanish government. The paintings suffered a lot of damage from the tests of time as well as the transfer process and so many of the paintings required extensive restoration. However, 'Saturno devorando a un hijo' was one of the luckier paintings, only requiring minor touch-ups.

© Spanish Arts 2011