By Lisa Adamowicz Kless
Sometimes, art gently moves you. Other times, it uses brute force and knocks you on your ass.
For me, it was the latter that inspired an epiphany. It happened when I came face to face with a monster created by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Allow me to explain.
I had the extreme good fortune to visit Spain for eight days in 1993. A starry-eyed teenager abroad for the first time, Spain had me at “bienvenido”. I was immediately and deeply in love with the country and its culture. I spent days and nights speaking faltering Spanish, missing home and wishing I’d never have to leave, all at once. And if the heavens hadn’t already smiled upon me enough, one lovely spring day, a visit to the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid was on our itinerary.
Wandering amongst the collections was exquisite. I’ve always loved art in many forms, so while other kids were grumbling and wishing we were on the bus, headed back to the hotel, I was wide-eyed and soaking it all in. Then, my perception was forever altered. Unexpectedly, I was in front of a large painting that made the breath catch in my throat; it was equal parts terrifying and captivating. “Saturn Devouring One of His Sons” is one of Goya’s “Black Paintings”, as they came to be known. This particular piece is roughly 5’ by 2.75‘, and depicts Saturn eating a bloody, headless, one-armed human torso. With its gruesome subject matter and its substantial size, it’s not much of a leap to imagine that this painting immediately caught my attention. It was Saturn’s eyes that really froze me in my tracks though. Goya painted the eyes and the expression on the face with so much skill that madness pulsates off of the canvas.* In fact, I was half convinced that Saturn might pause his cannibalism for a moment to leap from the painting. I was awestruck. I remember the rest of the group beginning to walk on while I stood there, transfixed, wanting to get out from under that awful stare, yet still riveted. I finally had to break away to catch up with my group, but I walked away fundamentally changed. In those few minutes, “the power of art” became tangible. There have been plenty of other times that wonderful art has moved me since. Yet decades later and an ocean away, nothing trumps the moment that Saturn made my blood run cold and I was awoken to the sheer force of great art. Mil gracias, Goya. Mil gracias, Prado y España.
*According to information on the Museo del Prado’s website (www.museodelprado.es), this painting was originally part of a mural in a house Goya lived in. These works were painted on the walls, and later, the house’s new owner had the paintings transferred to canvas. It states that “the works suffered enormously in the process, losing a large amount of paint.” This only heightens the impact of my experience for me; I can’t fathom how amazing the original must‘ve been.