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Yard with Madmen (Corral de Locos)

Meadows Museum, Dallas


John Ciofalo suggests that Goya’s compositional and stylistic choices in Yard with Madmen communicated particular ideas about contemporary Spanish society:

“What Goya has accomplished through his imagination is no less than a fundamental foundation of Romantic stylistic compositional devices. But are not the nude figures, the severe Roman architecture, the stable composition, also a hallmark of Neoclassicism? Yes, but Goya has intentionally included these tenets to subvert them and to express the undefinable quintessence of madness. In other words, Goya parodies buen gusto [good taste] and Neoclassicism, including the notion of a subject as an exemplum virtutis or example of noble virtue. In an uncanny design, he has created a Neoclassical shell to enable the viewer to comprehend the futility of buen gusto by entering into the terrifying house of madness in Spanish society. Perhaps the juxtaposition of buen gusto and the tenets of Romanticism – loose brush stroke, compressed space, unedifying subjects and spectator participation to the point of complicity – is a confrontation of reason and unreason, Michel Foucault’s precise definition of madness.”

John J. Ciofalo, The Self-Portraits of Francesco Goya (New York-Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 9. 


Andrew Schulz notes the precocious naturalistic intention of Goya in Yard with Madmen :

“Goya claims [in a letter to Bernardo de Iriate] that the painting depicts a scene that he had actually witnessed in Saragossa. Whether or not this is true, this statement suggests that the work was made according to a set of artistic precepts founded on direct observation rather than the idealized imitation advocated by the academy....”

Andrew Schulz, Goya’s Caprichos. Aesthetics, Perception, and the Body (New York-Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 55. 


Peter Klein comments on the significance of Goya’s Yard with Madmen :

“…he goes far beyond the contemporary pictures of mental institutions whose tradition – to a certain extent – he is part of. In contrast to these, his theme is not so much the blackness of the asylum as the blackness of madness itself. From Goya’s Yard with Lunatics one can guess at what otherwise can only be found in contemporary literature: that ‘for the Romantic generation, madness was a threatening reality,’ which filled this generation – and probably Goya’s too – with nightmarish fears.

However, there is more to Goya’s painting than this irrational, so to speak ‘Romantic’ side. Equally important and symptomatic are its rational, even scientific aspects: precisely at the time when contemporary French psychiatrists were becoming aware of the advanced practice in Saragossa Hospital, and when the epoch-making reforms in the Parisian asylums were started, Goya’s Yard with Lunatics portrayed insanity and especially manic insanity simply as such, i.e. without any attempt at allegorical moralization or genre-like attenuation; it also offered the first visual document of some of the progressive treatments of the Saragossa asylum (e.g. the fact that chains were no longer used for raving maniacs and straitjackets only in exceptional cases of emergency). Thus psychiatry did not follow art in introducing insanity as an autonomous, dignified subject…instead, at least in the decades before and after 1800, art and psychiatry were contemporary in their respective efforts.”

Peter K. Klein, “Insanity and the Sublime: Aesthetics and Theories of Mental Illness in Goya’s Yard with Lunatics and Related Works,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 61 (1998): 246.


Peter Klein links Yard with Lunatics to contemporary theories about art and psychology:

 “If it is beyond doubt, then, that Goya’s painting portrays the courtyard of manic lunatics in the Saragossa asylum, why did he choose a scene full of violence and cruelty such as rather rarely occurred there? In my opinion, two different explanations, not necessarily mutually exclusive, present themselves: one refers to the reception of this picture and its potential market, while the other concerns Goya’s idea of art.”

“Since – according to contemporary artistic theory and psychiatry – insanity and particularly mania represented an extreme form of the powers of imagination…and since contemporary opinion held that poets, philosophers and mathematicians were especially affected by mania, it is no wonder that Goya was attracted by the phenomenon of insanity and that he portrayed it in the form of mania in his Yard with Lunatics….Indeed, he may have suspected the workings of irrational and potentially creative powers in manic insanity, which could have been useful for his art, particularly after having recovered from an illness [which left him deaf] that he may have associated with madness.”

“In the aesthetic theory of that [18th] century we notice not only a growing importance and eventual priority given to the role of the emotions in aesthetic experience, but also an increasing acceptance of the unpleasant, ugly and even terrible….[T]he pleasure becomes predominant when the reader or beholder realizes the fictitious character of the literary or artistic representation of the disagreeable objects, i.e. he feels safe; like the spectator…who looks with delight from the safe shore at the distress of those on the turmoiled sea…”

Peter K. Klein, “Insanity and the Sublime: Aesthetics and Theories of Mental Illness in Goya’s Yard with Lunatics and Related Works,”Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 61 (1998): 214, 221, 224-5.

Similar subjects by Other Artists:

William Hogarth, Bedlam Asylum, plate 8 from A Rake’s Progress, 1735

Théodore Géricault, The Madwoman, 1819-20 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon)

Telemaco Signorini, The Ward of Madwomen at San Bonifazio in Florence, 1865 (Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Ca’Pesaro, Venice)

About the Artist

Born: Fuendetodos, Aragón, Spain, 30 March 1746
Died: Bordeaux, France, 16 April 1828
Nationality: Spanish