Take a look at the painting “Yard with Lunatics” by one of the most successful and influential Spanish Romantic painters of all time, Francisco Goya. What do you feel when you look at this painting? Happiness and joy are certainly not the emotions you would feel.
“Yard with Lunatics” is a painting that depicts exactly what it says; a dark courtyard filled with people who have lost their minds completely, but all of them are very different from each other. But there is more to it than just some deranged people doing their thing.
In this article, let’s dissect the painting and find out its detailed meaning of it, along with why is this painting so creepy and what was the reason the painter made this painting.
About the Painting
“Yard with Lunatics” was painted by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya between 1793 and 1794. The dark and gothic look of the painting is partly due to the medium as it’s an oil-on tinplate painting.
The painting is small in size, only slightly bigger than an A4-size paper. There is a reason, a very subtle one as to why this painting is so small. We’ll get back to it in a separate section of this article.
Goya made this painting when he witnessed something similar in one of the asylums in Zaragoza, a city in Spain. But the painting has more than just a visual account of an asylum. The painting shows the mental state of the artist.
Goya’s Mental Condition
If you take a look at the paintings Goya made at the start of his career, you would not believe that the same artist made this bleak, dark, and depressing painting. While most of his previous paintings were filled with lively colors depicting bright scenes, “Yard with Lunatics” is the polar opposite of those paintings.
The reason for this sudden shift was an undiagnosed disease the artist had contracted in 1792 which made him deaf. The disease took a heavy toll on the mental health of the artist. Many historians believe the Goya might have suffered from Ménière’s disease in which the affected individual experiences hearing loss.
Other historians claim that Goya was suffering from mental diseases, most probably depression or psychosis. But none of these diagnoses can be considered remotely active since the artist has been in a coffin for centuries (and his skull was stolen as well, so all that remains is his body without the head).
Composition of the Painting
There is a lot going on in the painting. There is not much in the background of the image; the viewers look at the inside of the asylum with a large, windowless wall. Goya has chosen muted and dull colors to add to the effect of the painting. The middle portion of the canvas is darkly filled to show the lack of light in these areas.
With a limited amount of highlights, the artist has shown that this courtyard barely gets any natural light. And where there is light, Goya has used it brilliantly to give this painting the “creepy” nature of it.
The Scene with the Lunatics
The subject of the painting are the inhabitants of the asylum; the lunatics and what they are doing. There are a bunch of them in the painting, most of them are just lost in their madness.
At the center, two nude men are wrestling while the guard or the warden is about to whip them. Another half-nude man is crawling on the floor while another man is standing in the back with his hands up. The rest of them are just in the background, lost in the darkness both metaphorically and physically.
But the two most important lunatics are the ones who are looking at the viewers directly. The man on the left with his arms folded and the man sitting on the left are the two reasons why this painting feels so creepy and disturbing.
The Uncanny Smile
The two men on either side are looking directly at the viewer; one of them has a surprised look on his face with his mouth and eyes wide open while the other one is just sitting silently with a menacing smile. The way these two men are looking at the viewers makes them feel uncomfortable.
The Intent of the Painting
Why did Goya paint “Courtyard with Lunatics?” There was something that he wanted to show, something he wanted us to see that we do not normally see. The lunacy of people takes different forms.
Some people become violent (as the people engaged in a fight), and some people are lost in the darkness behaving like animals (like the people in the background). But some people are different.
The two people in the front are seeing something that we do not see. They see the demon in us. The way the person on the left looks at us is almost like he is scared to see something in us. It is like he is seeing the devil with us.
The other person looks at us with a menacing smile, almost telling us that he knows the lunacy that hides in us. He looks at us with intent. He communicates with us, telling us that we are not too different from them. We are all lunatics. Ours is hidden, theirs is visible.
This is what makes the painting so terrifying; the people in the painting are more like a reflection of what hides inside us, what we can be if the madness took over. And the two people in the painting know that.
Why the Painting is Small in Size
Why would a painter who used to paint banners, tapestry, and large paintings for the Royal court paint something so small? The size of the painting is very important in adding to the effect of the painting.
The small size of the painting makes it look like a small window. The viewers feel as if there is just one, small window in this place from where you can take a look at these lunatics. It makes the space feel even more congested, dark, and claustrophobic.
So that is the reason why this painting creates such an impact on the viewers. This is the reason why you get a weird feeling as you observe these lunatics. In a way, in a very twisted way, this painting is like a mirror.