The Most Disturbing Painting

The Most Disturbing Painting


There are some strong contenders like: “The Judgement of Cambyses” by Gerard David, Hieronymus Bosch’s rendering of Hell, Henry Fuseli’s “Nightmare”, and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. But there’s only ever really been one painting that has seriously disturbed me — this one. Francisco Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son”. What you’re seeing here, is the legendary Spanish painter’s depiction of the Greek Titan Cronus, who after usurping power from his father, was told a prophecy that one of his own sons would do the same and usurp him. In order to prevent this, every time his Queen Rhea bore a child, Cronus would eat it. Unfortunately for him, in the end Rhea conspired to hide away their youngest son — Zeus; who eventually fulfilled the prophecy, exiled his father and ended the reign of the Titans. The story is a well known Greek myth, but look at how Goya handles it. Some key changes jump out right away. First, in the myth Cronus devours his children by swallowing them whole. In fact, they remain alive in his stomach. Goya’s painting is a much more gruesome affair. He takes some inspiration here from Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish baroque painter who depicted the same event as well. In Rubens’ “Saturn”, the Titan seems to be sucking the life force from his child. Even for such a terrifying subject matter, Rubens displays all the drama, richness, even beauty, that marks the Baroque style he helped to make famous. In Goya’s version, that beauty is gone. We’re left with a frightened, crazed monster discovered in the dark as if by some explorer with a torch, who wandered into the wrong cave. Saturn — Cronus’ Roman name — has already chewed off the head of his child. His black mouth opens around the elbow of the left arm, ready to bite it off at the joint. His angular body is crouching in an awkward position, his hands dig into the spine, blood runs down his child’s arm and neck and shoulder a startling primary color. And if we take a closer look, we noticed that this is not a child at all — but one of Saturn’s kids grown up. There’s something even more terrifying in knowing that the victim knew what was happening and tried to fight back. But what’s most disturbing of all, I think, is when and where this painting was found. Late in his life, Francisco Goya purchased a house on the outskirts of Madrid, called “La Quinta del Sordo”, or “The Villa of the Deaf” after its previous owner. An interesting coincidence, since by that time in his life, Goya was deaf too. His physical and mental health declining, Goya painted 14 murals often referred to as “The Black Paintings”. Directly onto the interior walls of his home. “Saturn devouring his son”? Was in the dining room. The photographs you’re seeing now were taken over 50 years after that time. Goya never mentioned the paintings himself. He never intended for anyone to see them but to this day, people still puzzle over the meaning of “The Black Paintings”. Why was Goya creating these pessimistic and fantastical scenes in the solitude of his home? To understand this it might help to go back through Goya’s career. He grew up in Zaragoza, Spain. The fourth of six children in a lower middle-class family. By all accounts, he was a light-hearted and joyful kid as he studied painting in Zaragoza, Madrid and Rome. His first serious job was at the royal tapestry factory where he created tapestry cartoons to adorn the palaces and stately homes of the city. These tapestries take their cue from “The Rococo Style”, elegant, playful, light scenes of both nobility and peasantry enjoying the normal activities of their day. Goya eventually became the court painter for King Charles IV, a disappointing monarch unlike his father Charle III, who was beloved by the people for enacting reforms that began to bring secular enlightenment values to Spain. In 1793, an unknown illness left Goya deaf. Though he still took commissions from his royal clientele, this disease was a dark turning point in his life and art. You can see it in “Yard With Lunatics” from 1794 bodies grapple and cry out in anguish. The difference between this and the tapestry cartoons, is shocking. His hearing gone, Goya began to see the country around him with a grim clarity in a series of etchings called Los Caprichos or The Caprices, he sends up a Spanish culture that is both tragic and comic. A student of the Enlightenment himself, Goya sees the country backsliding on the road to modernity. The King is withdrawn and the people are superstitious and too stupid to know what they need. You can see him fusing all the corners of his imagination the quest for anatomical truth, the need for social critique and an obsession with beasts and creatures. It’s all summed up in this one aptly titled “The Sleep of Reason produces monsters”. In the following years, things got worse for Spain. Napoleon invaded the country and brutally massacred those who resisted his campaign. Goya was witness to the bloodshed and it affected him deeply. His painting on the subject, the 3rd of May 1808, is a revelatory depiction of war, resistance and brutality. Before this, war was a highly composed theatrical subject in painting. Here, Goya gives nothing but brute force; it’s emotion unmediated by artifice. It would be five years until Spain regained its throne. In the interim resistors developed The Constitution of 1812, which called for liberal reforms like: national sovereignty, freedom of the press and free enterprise. But on gaining power, the new King Ferdinand VII squashed the Constitution right away, and arrested those who made it. Goya, withdrew, disheartened the country which in his youth had reached toward a new world, was now swallowed again by autocracy. Scarred by war, scarred by illness, he began to paint nightmare scenes onto the walls of his home. In one, a young man is being eaten by the father he was prophesied to usurp. By now Goya knows progress isn’t assured and when it’s defeated, it’s not painless It’s horrific and slow and the victim can feel it happening. There are a lot of ways that you can read “Saturn devouring his son”. Maybe Goya was trying to exorcise the demons of his mind or the demons of his country. Or maybe he was just trying to paint honestly about one terrifying facet of man’s nature, using the skills and techniques he learned and pioneered through a lifetime. “The Black Paintings” changed the history of art, but what’s maybe scariest of all is that Goya didn’t care. He doesn’t care how we read this painting because he didn’t paint it for us or for anyone. “Saturn devouring his son” exists beyond interpretation. It’s brute force horror without mediation. A monster looking out from a dark wall in a dark room, …chewing… Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching. This episode was brought to you by Squarespace

100 comments on “The Most Disturbing Painting

  1. Nero Post author

    I personally think that Ivan the Terribles painting (the one where he killed his son) is one of the disturbing paintings in history, the yellow and horrifying stare of Ivan while the terrifying look of the son as the blood drips down from his head.

    Reply
  2. Snidely Whiplash Post author

    One painting that has always deeply disturbed me is Francis Bacon's "Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X."

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  3. marika m Post author

    yeah the painting is scary but this video opening with pitch black and a crunchy chewing noise over one ominous high note is scarier

    Reply
  4. Darth Bane Post author

    Wanna see something really scary? Look up another one of Goya’s works, “Grande hazaña! Con muertos!” We all know Saturn is a fictitious legend, but I honestly don’t know whether or not that other piece, which means “A heroic feat! With dead men!” was something Goya might have beheld in real life or something he just imagined. The fact that it depicts something we know humans are more than capable of celebrating as a noble achievement, regardless of the validity of that particular image, is almost as terrifying as the image itself, which unapologetically depicts an upmost lack of respect for the dead. Instead of an ancient myth, this piece of art tells a simple story. Someone killed three men, then they took the time to put their bodies on hideous display as if they had just hunted three animals, reminding themselves of their proud victory, establishing that they have the power to get away with something like that without trying to hide it, striking fear into the hearts of any potential challengers, and vandalizing both the physical environment and the memory of the fallen. It is wrong in every sense, and for all I know, it could have happened, because the same thing has happened countless times before.

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  5. Alva Linde Post author

    This video is amazing, just as the paintings are. The use of font and music and tone of voice really made me frightened and boosted the experience, keep it up!

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  6. RoboticDreamz Post author

    I admit that painting scared the crap out of me as well when I was a little kid when it got featured in an encyclopedia article.

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  7. Joli Post author

    When I see this painting i can almost feel the arm in my mouth and the hands in my back. The scary thing is not the eating it’s the relatability of this painting the fear in saturns eyes and the pain you can see and feel.

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  8. Void_SpecialistxxX Post author

    So terrifying for me,Los Caprichos seems connected to capricorn zodiac sign.According to zodiac sign,they hate everything at some point and passionate hurting they love specially family.

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  9. pascuadog Post author

    Excellent. Congratulations. Spaniard from Madrid. I´m a Museo del Prado fan. Goya´s Black Paintings section is one of my favourites, I often revisited it. Your video has urge me to bring forward my next visit so to see this painting with enriched light. Thanks.

    Reply
  10. MrRobot600 Post author

    It's important to note that Goya didn't name his paintings. So, I don't understand why other people named this painting "Saturn devouring his son." Goya might have drawn influence from it but he molded into something specific to him

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  11. NC 13582247 Post author

    Saturn's face is me when my parents catch me eating shredded cheese straight out of the bag at 2AM on a school night

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  12. Pau Pau Post author

    I remembered when Saturn Devouring His Son was shown to us for our Art Appreciation class this semester, and I couldn't even stomach looking at it for very long. The goriness, the crazed expression, the bloody child clutched in its hands— it made me feel like throwing up and groaning at how grotesque the entire thing is. I was just lucky that we have a sympathetic prof who clicked to the next slide while explaining the whole thing 😂😂

    Reply
  13. Latioswar showdown Post author

    I think this represents change was inevitable and those scared eyes is the king trying to prevent the world from catching on to democracy he knows it will happen but not this time

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  14. Arcadian Sounds Post author

    that slightly muffled, crunch chew at the end of the story… oof, so well crafted, took me by pleaseant surpise. awesome job!

    Reply
  15. Aitana Ruiz Serrano Post author

    Well imagine seeing it in a school trip being only 8 years old :))))))) Now I appreciate it and I'm able to admire his technique and importance, but I used to be terrified of even walking into that "dark paintings" 'room

    Reply
  16. Main Stream Gaming Post author

    I was doing research in school about Kronos, and I went on wiki and saw this picture. So I was talking about it to my friend, and the teacher came over and I almost got in trouble.

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  17. M.Moonbeam Post author

    This, and the 3 studies by Francis Bacon are the only paintings that have ever disturbed me, they all contain such visceral emotions, what emotions they are exactly I don't know and that uncertainty is why they give me a fear/disgust reaction.

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  18. benjamin_L 2 Post author

    Well i guess i'm gonna have nightmares for 5 years and i'm never gonna be able to trust anybody anymore because i'm to paranoid

    Reply
  19. lyco46 Post author

    I wonder why 🐈🥩🐕🥓🐬🥩🐖🥓🐋🥩🐈🥩🐄🥩🐄🥩🐑🥩🐠🥩🐠🥩🐅🥩🐊🥩

    It’s disturbing when we can eat plants instead of this clearly evil 🐬🥩🐕🥩🐖🥓 unnecessary 🌱 behaviour of brutally murdering each other’s ‘children’ by eating their flesh when we can eat plants instead

    Human is the name for an ape

    FEAR 🥩

    Reply
  20. Ray Last Post author

    The longer I think about it the more disturbingly accurate I think the story of Saturn is. Every existing ruling class is threatened by the ascend of the next one. But the only way to stop the loss of power is to drown progress in blood every few decades. And as horrifying as this may be, they have always done it, in the end. The painting makes a lot of sense if you look at it like that. Saturn really does devour his sons in real life.

    Spain experienced that quite painfully in the first half of the 20th century, culminating in several decades of fascist rule which still mark the country.

    Reply
  21. B00STed Post author

    i'm pretty sure that's a picture of Tarrare that ate baby due to his disease i think it was but yeah that's not Saturn and Tarrare was French not Spanish and this happened during the war in the late 1700s

    Reply
  22. Devin Giltner Post author

    Goya has a bluntness that focuses more on raw emotion, and honestly never strikes me as beautiful, but is certainly outstanding and demands the eye's attention.

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  23. Do you know the way? Post author

    The monster face similar to Albert Einstein because of his nose, hair and the eyes too serious don't argue with me ok 0:48

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  24. Sofia the Greatest Post author

    In school we had to do a assignment about Greek and Roman mythology, and then me and my friend came across the painting…

    Reply
  25. hemorrhoid crème Post author

    this and Repins "Ivan the terrible and his son" painting are the most emotionally haunting pieces imo (and they're both oddly related to sons too)

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  26. Insertbasicnamehere Post author

    My old history teacher had this painting in his room I had to look at it almost ever single day

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  27. hallmark Post author

    Funny, when I think of political movements devouring and murdering their own children I usually think of the leftwing of most places today.

    Reply
  28. akio Post author

    I remember being with one of my friends in a park and there was a dude who was dangerously intoxicated. Her mom told us not to go around him and i asked my friend why. She said her mom would tell her that they were cannibals waiting for children (we were like 6 and didn't really understand the perception of drugs and alcohol) and this painting was used a lot as an example. Scared us both as little kids.

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  29. anitabiba6 Post author

    Watching this right after going to Museo Del Prado here in Madrid and seeing this paintings in person. It was trully striking, this one, and the "Execution" paint were the ones that most impacted me.

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  30. Dan Guillou Post author

    Kronos was strong and beautiful in his youth, when he was the rightful ruler of the kosmos. Here he is warped by age, senile and insane. It isn’t only fated that he should pass the throne to the next generation, it is natural and just. But he can’t. He’s too terrified of letting go. You can see in his eyes that he is aware of the horror of his actions, and his position, but he can’t help himself.

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  31. Jovan Jeffs Post author

    Looking at this painting in the Museo Del Prado in Madrid was such an experience. It made me feel anxious, like I was in danger. However, I could not pry my eyes away from it. The space around Saturn is a pitch black, enveloping him except for his glowing eyes. This painting is on the lower level of the Del Prado, lurking underneath the brightness and idealism of the Renaissance and Baroque paintings on the first floor. I would definitely recommend visiting.

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  32. TonyRedgrave1501 Post author

    The Doom Metal Band "The Obsessed" used this painting as the artwork for their album "Lunar Womb".

    Reply
  33. pretty spectrum xxx Post author

    His mouth looks like he's trying to scream for help while being unable to stop eating his child in such a brutal way. Like he's being forced to eat the whole corpse by his own body

    Reply
  34. Lilly T. Post author

    I LOVE this. Im not entirely sure why, bit his paintings are so satisfying. I couldn't oggle over them for hours

    Reply

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