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Art and Images in Psychiatry
November 2003

Yard With Madmen (El Corral de Locos)

Author Affiliations

James C.HarrisMD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60(11):1068. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.60.11.1068

FRANCISCO JOSÉ DE GOYA Y LUCIENTES (1746-1828) was born in Fuentetodos, Saragossa, in northeastern Spain. The most important Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he is often considered the first modern artist. He was productive for more than 50 years and completed about 700 paintings, 300 prints, and 900 drawings. His early style belongs to the Rococo period, whereas his later style extends into the Romantic era. He became prominent early in his career and was appointed court painter in 1786, continuing in this position under 3 Spanish kings. In October 1792, he addressed the Royal Academy in Madrid, Spain, with a call for artistic liberty and greater freedom from its regimentation.1(p93)

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), Spanish. Yard With Madmen (El Corral de Locos), 1794. Oil on tin-plated iron. Courtesy of the Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Tex, Algur H. Meadows Collection, 76.01.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), Spanish. Yard With Madmen (El Corral de Locos), 1794. Oil on tin-plated iron. Courtesy of the Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Tex, Algur H. Meadows Collection, 76.01.

Goya's work took an unexpected turn later that year when he became seriously ill while away from Madrid. He returned in the summer of 1793 after a prolonged recuperation. His illness resulted in loss of vision and hearing, tinnitus, disorientation, weakness, abdominal distress, and general malaise.2 His brother-in-law also became ill and died. Goya's vision gradually returned, but the illness left him permanently deaf and depressed by the duration of his recuperation, "sometimes raving with a mood that I myself cannot stand."2(p166) He was forced to give up teaching at the Royal Academy because of his inability to communicate effectively with his students. While continuing as first court painter and Madrid's foremost portraitist, he became an independent artist and produced uncommissioned paintings, drawings, and 4 important series of etchings. The style of his compositions changed; no longer light and lyrical with bright colors, the later works were dark and often terrifying.

The precise cause of his illness is unclear. Early speculation that he had syphilis is unlikely given his productivity. Ravin and Ravin2 reviewed the limited evidence, based on letters by Goya and his friends, and suggest an infectious disease such as meningitis, encephalitis, or cerebral malaria. They note that treatment with quinine, a common remedy at the time, and its toxicity (cinchonism) could have contributed to his deafness. The natural histories of other diagnoses proposed, such as Cogan syndrome, vasculitis, Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease, and lead toxicity, are less consistent with the pattern of his recovery. Stroke, seizure disorder, hemiplegia, and schizophrenia also cannot be substantiated.

Of the 11 paintings created during his recovery, Goya's letters refer only to the work on the cover: "a yard with lunatics, and two of them fighting completely naked while their warder beats them, and others in sacks; it is a scene I witnessed in Saragossa."3(pp200-201) This characterization is not in keeping with the internationally renowned asylum in Saragossa. Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) praised it, noting that the staff "sought an antidote to the wanderings of the diseased imagination" by providing meaningful work "under the guidance of intelligent overseers."4(p217) He wrote, "[E]xperience has uniformly attested the superiority of this method of managing the insane."4(p217) Except in cases of emergency, the nurses were not allowed to beat the patients or put them in straightjackets (they were never chained) or solitary confinement.3

There were 2 categories of patients at the asylum, classified as harmful or not harmful. The harmless wore a uniform with a jacket in checkered green and brown, the royal colors of the Aragon crown. The other residents (furiosos, "the manic or raging") were either naked or put in sacks made of drill cloth. In Yard With Madmen, the locos furiosos have been released from their cells into a recreational yard. There the 2 central figures wrestle while the warder uses his rod to stop them. Other patients respond to the struggle. A bug-eyed man stands in a posture of self-restraint as if wearing a straightjacket. Another man wearing a green sack sits holding both knees, also restraining himself; behind him a smiling inmate looks up at the combatants. Another man, fully dressed in the uniform of the harmless, turns away and faces the wall. Behind the warder, a man appears depressed and looks downward while another raises both arms in a posture of lamentation. The yard is suffused with an eerie bright light. Unlike Hogarth,5,6 whose engraving of Bedlam shows common types of madness, Goya realistically portrayed the violence in the asylum.

Goya continued his eyewitness accounts throughout his life. In his Disasters of War series, one frightening scene is inscribed Yo lo ví ("I saw it"). Painted in the aftermath of the French Revolution, his Caprichos were a series of prints with disturbing images, including The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.3 A commentary in the Prado reads, "[T]he imagination abandoned by reason produces monsters; united with it, it is the mother of the arts and the origins of their marvels."3(p214)

Tomlinson  J Francisco Goya y Lucientes, 1746-1828.  London, England Phaidon1994;
Ravin  JGRavin  TB What ailed Goya?  Surv Ophthalmol. 1999;44163- 172Google ScholarCrossref
Klein  P Insanity and the sublime: aesthetics and theories of mental illness in Goya's Yard With Lunatics and related works.  J Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 1998;61198- 253Google ScholarCrossref
Pinel  P A Treatise on Insanity. Davis  DDtrans[1806]; Birmingham, Ala Classics of Medicine Library1983;
Kromm  J The Art of Frenzy: Public Madness in the Visual Culture of Europe, 1500-1850.  New York, NY Continuum2002;
Harris  JC A Rake's Progress: "Bedlam."  Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60338- 339Google ScholarCrossref