Archive for September, 2010

Analysis: Goya’s “Courtyard with Lunatics”

September 29, 2010

Previously we analyzed Goya’s famous painting: “Saturn Devouring His Son,” which has become one of our most frequently visited posts. Now, it has been requested that we analyze another, earlier, work by this painter: “Courtyard with Lunatics” (see Image File #24). This 1793-94 painting is said—by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes himself—to be part of a multi-image project intended to pursue subjects devoid of fantasy or fiction. The paintings reflect not only deep truths but also subjects of deep importance to the painter. This painting displays, in Goya’s words: “…a yard with lunatics, and two of them fighting completely naked while their warder beats them, and others in sacks—a scene I witnessed…” 

But is there more to this visual statement of realism, this art for which there was no intended buyer, no patron, this work intended for the painter’s private collection? 

This is, in our breakthrough analysis, an abstract painting, “abstract” in the sense that this realistic snake-pit-like scene contains and conveys a hidden story the telling of which allowed Goya to vent his emotions—his shock, dismay, and frustration—regarding taboo subjects, and to express himself in a way that would cloak the extremeness of his political incorrectness. We see him displaying his disguised and yet unvarnished grim perspective on the society in which he lived. And we see also Goya in the background of the scene, the man with hands raised and apart, palms up, as if saying: Look at this awful truth I am revealing. 

The central figures—men—are locked in a desperate and uneasy embrace that appears more synergistic than fiercely combative—like a love-hate relationship—with feet spread apart and clinging to ground while the only fully- and well-dressed figure, also male, flogs the pair. This action at center stage is taking place directly behind the married couple in the foreground; they either intentionally ignore it, or they are oblivious due to the sexual tension between them. Others present are fully aware of the spectacle involving the three central figures, and they react in one of three ways: simply observe the drama, enjoy watching, or take the opportunity to break the synergetic balance that the flogger is maintaining even as he appears intent on ceasing the struggle. At least one of the interlocked figures will soon be brought to his knees by the figure on the floor. 

The man and woman in the foreground represent average citizens. The other secondary figures represent businessmen. The man with the whip represents bankers/financiers. The central figures represent Church and State. 

Goya may have been deaf and psychologically tormented, but he was not blind and not a lunatic. This is a work of pure genius.

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