"Cronus Devouring His Children"

by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)

In a time when European artists were producing dignified portraits of ancient myths and classical figures, the Spaniard, Goya, was giving full vent to his interest in the fantastic and bizarre. Here he portrays Cronus--or, Saturn, as the Romans called him--with wild eyes, chewing up one of his children. The story first appears in Hesiod's Theogony. The face shows Cronus's anxious determination to put away another potential threat to his rule. (The blood on the trunk of the victim is a touch of realism at odds with the ancient account. No blood flowed in the veins of Greek gods, but an immortal substance called "ichor." Why do you suppose Goya added it?) This painting is exhibited in the Prado Museum of Madrid, the home of many works by court artists.

Every age reveals itself in the way it portrays the ancient myths. What does Goya's portait of Cronus say about his view of the world?

Goya's Model?

About fifty years before Goya produced "Cronus," the Flemish painter Rubens was commissioned to produce this painting of the same subject for the Prado. Do you think Goya was influenced by this work? What are the similarities? the differences?

Notice the crouching attitude of Cronus, the prominence of the knee. But also notice how Rubens has placed the look of terror on the face and in the pose of the infant, and almost hidden Cronus' face by having him look down. How does this differ from Goya's handling of the subject? What is the age and pose of the victim in Goya's version?

Also note the scepter in the right hand of Cronus in Rubens' painting. Along the edge of all these grotesque elements lies the scepter, the conventional symbol of the god's authority. What has Goya done with the god's hands to give his particular slant to the image?