Goya: Bearing true witness

Morgan Meis in The Easel:

We have probably all seen images from Goya’s so-called Black Paintings whether we realize it or not. The image known as Saturn Devouring His Son (Goya did not title these works, the titles came from later art historians) is especially ubiquitous. The painting depicts the ancient Greek and Roman mythological story in which Saturn (Kronos in the Greek) eats his own children. You’ll remember that there was a prophecy. One of the children of Saturn would overthrow him. Saturn’s solution to this problem was to eat all the children. This worked for a time, until, inevitably, it did not. But that is another story.

In this painting by Goya we see Saturn in all his horrifying, polyphagous glory. The scene is rendered in muddy colors: ochre, brown, black and gray. The figure of Saturn emerges from the darkness and murk, grasping the torso of his son with clenching hands. Saturn has already bitten off the head and is gnawing now on the left arm. There is a certain stringiness of bloody flesh and sinew as Saturn chews and pulls. The scene is awful. And what makes it worse is the look on Saturn’s face. He, too, looks terrified. Wide-eyed, wild-eyed, Saturn gazes directly at the viewer of the scene, as if begging us to intervene in some way, or, perhaps, simply to go away.

More here.