Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Children Report

Art through the Ages

1. (Ch. 27) What is the interpretation of Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Children?

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The interpretation of Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Children is based on the myth of Saturn who feared that his children would overthrow him, so he devoured them one by one to avoid that risk. Goya lived many centuries after this ancient myth of antiquity originated. However, his own contemporary situation reflected the old myth in terms of the way the powerful rulers of the time were frantically lashing out, trying to preserve their own power by destroying the least possible threat. The wild-eyed and frenzied look of Saturn in Goya’s painting, produced between the years of 1819 and 1823, reflects what was happening in his own time. The effects of the French Revolution had spread throughout Europe and Spain had gotten to enjoy the Napoleon’s conquests. Goya’s painting reflected the insane frenzy for power.

The Protestant Revolution had led to wars throughout the Continent over the previous two centuries (Laux). The French Revolution had led to immense bloodshed in an attempt to instill a new order based on Reason (Holsti). Napoleon had invaded country after country in response, and the Spanish Inquisition was trying to root out crypto Jews to protect the country and the Church from (Elliot; Roth). In short, there was chaos, suspicion, carnage, and revolution everywhere. Goya was reflecting that reality with Saturn symbolizing Europe eating its own children in a crazed effort to save its own life. The image is disturbingly haunting and rightly so. The times in which Goya lived were not easy for anyone.

2. (Ch. 27)) How does the work of Goya relate to artistic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Use examples to support your writing.

The Baroque period followed the period of Renaissance art. During the Renaissance, Christendom—i.e., the West aka Europe—was one: united in one faith, though consisting of several states. At the end of the Renaissance, a period in which the humanist style was popular, the Protestant Reformation and Scientific Revolution occurred. Europe broke apart as religious wars were followed by new doctrines and worldviews throughout the Continent. The Enlightenment and the Age of Romanticism followed. The Baroque came about as a kind of counter-Reformation style of art: it was anti-Puritan and full of drama and depictions of grand sweeping imagery and the tension in life. Goya’s work falls into this period, representing the horrors of the world when order and reason is lost. For example: His Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1799) shows a man asleep at his desk as his thoughts and dreams turn into nightmarish shapes and shadows reflecting the reign of chaos in Europe at this time as men seemingly forgot how to live civilly (Schaefer).

Like other Baroque era painters, Goya used shade and shadow to convey meaning. It helped to illuminate some of the menacing aspects of his works—as in Saturn Devouring His Children. However, painters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio used shade and deep shadows usually to highlight some human aspect of their works. Goya was interested in what could be called the gothic elements of human society. In this manner, his works anticipated the Romantic Era. The Romantic Era re-introduced the concept of the gothic to the West. The gothic had already been introduced centuries earlier—i.e., in the presentation of gargoyles on cathedrals from the 11th and 12th centuries. Goya was both reflecting the past truths of society and nature and anticipating the Romantic obsession with passion and irrationality.

3. (Ch 27) How did Daumier impact French society in the 19th century?

Daumier was a caricaturist in his early years. He mocked the polite society that emerged in France following the destructive years of the French Revolution and its immediate aftermath. Daumier sympathized with the poor. He reflected the hypocrisy of the upper classes, of the industrial revolution, and of the law. As he aged, he took up painting and adopted a Realist or Naturalist style. This style helped him to depict the poverty of the working classes in very evocative terms, for example, as he did in the Laundress. His style and charm helped him to win a following (Kleiner).

French society at the time was undergoing its own changes. There was a giant push for more democratization. The working class was being exploited. The industrialists were the ones doing the exploitation. Daumier helped to shed light on this era by mocking those in power and drawing sympathy to the plight of the working class. He himself died in penury, so his life certainly was lived in line with his sympathies. His politics and political cartoons helped to lay the foundation for more criticisms of the system and society of the times. There were calls for reform in all parts of society. Workers wanted unions to protect them from the industrialists. Children were being forced into work at an early age just to help support the family. Educational opportunities were scant. Daumier helped to shed light on these issues and raise awareness about the social problems of the times (Kleiner).

4. (Ch 27) Compare Manet’s Olympia and Millais’s Ophelia. How does each work represent the artist and his period?

Manet’s Olympia mocked the academic tradition of the 19th century. It showcased a nude woman (Olympia) who was but a pale shadow of the idealized beauty of Venus, the perpetual muse of the academic painters who felt that all art must reflect the classical values. Manet wanted to reflect the modern world. That is why in his picture of Olympia, the nude woman is a normal looking woman—she is not idealized or mythical—she is real. The black servant holding out a bouquet of flowers echoes that reality. There is something squalid about the scene. It is meant to be a slap in the face of polite artistic society (Kleiner). The painting is certainly not even close to showing beauty idealized as like that of Titian’s Venus.

Millais’ Ophelia is rooted in a similar realism, but one less offensive in design. Millais wanted to showcase the reality of nature, the flowers, the stream, the details—all of it is just right. Ophelia, a character from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, is drowned. In the play, she goes mad and dies in the stream (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not). The representation of this scene is shocking—but not as shocking as Manet’s Olympia, which showed nudity in such a realistic way that people were shocked. Manet exposed the prudery and Puritanism of 19th century French society. Millais’ Ophelia does not come near to expressing as much—but it does show that realism was on the rise and that the classical or neo-classical design was coming to blows with a desire for more realism that did not shy away from disturbing characteristics. Manet represented nudity in a realistic way. Millais represented a possible suicide. Neither subject was one that people were used to seeing—so in terms of subject both were a bit on edge.

5. (Ch 28) How did Rodin impact later generations of sculptors?

Rodin focused on using sculpture to reflect emotion. His sculptures, like Despairing Adolescent are not realistic but more like exaggerated forms—embellishments meant to draw attention to a concept—similar to what Goya was doing with his subjects. In Aphrodite, Rodin was focusing on contour and line rather than on detail to convey the beauty and elegance of the subject. The statue was meant to be large and seen from afar. That is why detail was not so important—the spectacle is what mattered. This approach to sculpture was much different from that of, say, Michelangelo who take great pains to make his people (like David) as exact in detail as possible. But whereas Michelangelo was focusing on an idealized form of beauty—humankind in its most perfect form, Rodin was focusing on impressions and attempting to evoke an emotion (Kleiner).

Thus Rodin impacted later generations by emphasizing the impressionistic and surreal. His sculptures were less concerned with realistic proportions and more with creating an impression. He was an artist of the modernist movement in this sense. He helped to cement the status of the impressionists, the surrealists, the abstractionists, and even in this way helped to pave the way for those in Dada, who would reject all art theory, all artistic pretensions and relish in the nonsense of pretension and the meaninglessness of all art. Rodin did not quite go this far, but he did at least somewhat open the door for a less rigorous approach to art, form and beauty. Aphrodite is a marvel because it seems to defy gravity; however, in terms of realistic beauty it does not even come close to something like the Madonna of Michelangelo in terms of realism. Aphrodite is a form, a phantom, a shape: there is nothing realistic about her and there is not supposed to be. Rodin helped to pave the way for symbolists of future generations, linking their art with ideas and feelings rather than with realistic representations.



Works Cited

Elliott, J. H. Spain, Europe and the Wider World: 1500-1800. Yale University Press,


Holsti, Kalevi. Peace and Conflict: Armed Conflicts and International Order 1648-1989.

NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art through the Ages. Wadsworth, 2013.

Laux, John. Church History. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1943.

Roth, Norman. Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Univ of

Wisconsin Press, 2002.

Schaefer, Sarah. “Goya, the Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”






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