Yard with Lunatics

7:00 AM

Yard with Lunatics, Francisco de Goya, 1794

Francisco de Goya’s Yard With Lunatics [also: Pen of Crazies] is a testament to the chilling apathy of isolation, a diving-bell-and-butterfly horrorscape doused in blasphemous flair. A gradient crescendoes from light to dark as brightness dies in the corners of the courtyard, then glows anew near the “lunatics’” feet, showing a rightful link between the outside world and the trapped while simultaneously emboldening the shadow of each patient’s despair. Two nude men fight in the center; their struggle resembles an embrace. A warden, whose somber clothing matches the shadows, whips the men apart. This clearly evokes the concept of slavery. He gazes up at the sky, as if doing God’s work, while a crawling woman stares into his unseeing eyes. Look down.

Save this woman and the fighting men, none of the damned exchange glances. A lack of meaningful interaction, in Goya’s mind, was the worst of physical and emotional entrapment. He would have agreed with Virginia Woolf’s Septimus that “communication is health.” Each ‘lunatic’ has a distinct personality, an inner world waiting to be understood. Are those blue dots merely blemishes, we wonder, or a bow in the grimacing woman’s hair? Goya claims to have witnessed this scene as a child; perhaps the painting’s tidbits of individuality are memories, or perhaps they were added to evoke the terror he felt, a shiver of prophecy foretelling a drowning self. Goya painted this piece two years after he went deaf. He surely feared that the limitations of his physicality would entrap his soul, forging a distance between himself and those he needed. Man is a social animal, and this anguish glimmers deep within every one of us. As Wordsworth writes: “Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear/The longest date do melt like frosty rime.” Whether in body or in mind, you, too, are made for melting.

We are all born mad, I think, and hide our strangeness in different ways. We must find solace in our mutual insanity. And remember: Time is short and feeble. You were not made to raise yourself above others, to hurt others. You must see past the cages of the flesh; you must seek to understand. The only victory is compassion. 

You Might Also Like