Courtyard with Lunatics

Goya, Francisco

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on tin plate

Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary
  • Date of entry: Jan-20-1998
  • Last revised: May-04-1998


In a dark, stone enclosure numerous figures of indeterminate age and gender huddle in shadow while others crawl or writhe toward the murky foreground light. The visual center of the painting is the fierce struggle of two naked men whose grappling is made more agitated by the flailing whip of a dark, fully-clothed figure. Opening above the pen-like enclosure and the tormented figures is broad, white space, glowing with intense light--a shocking contrast to the darkness of this 18th century "snake pit." (See film annotation of The Snake Pit.)


In 1793, after recovering from a serious illness that left him deaf, Goya decided to complete a series of works on subjects that interested him. In a letter to Bernardo de Iriarte he explained that he chose these subjects both as a gesture of intellectual freedom and to "distract my mind." He wanted to work without the strictures imposed by commissions, and to pursue subjects "in which fantasy and invention have no place." This painting is his record of conditions in an institution at Zaragoza.

Primary Source

Goya and the Spirit of the Enlightenment (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989)