The Madhouse

Francisco Goya
Keywords: Madhouse

Work Overview

The Madhouse
Spanish: Casa de locos
Artist Francisco de Goya
Year 1812-1819
Medium Oil on panel
Dimensions 46 cm × 73 cm (18 in × 29 in)
Style   Romanticism
Genre   genre painting
Location Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid

The Madhouse (Casa de locos) or Asylum (Manicomio) is an oil-on-panel painting by Francisco de Goya. He produced it between 1812 and 1819. It shows a mental asylum, with its inhabitants in many different poses.

Marked by Piranesian and claustrophobic architecture, the painting's only light source is a barred window high up on the wall, clearly meant to repress the figures below. These figures are distinct characters, all engaged in grotesque and pitiable behaviour - one wears what seems to be a wild-feathered headdress, another is fighting in a tricorne hat, another makes a gesture of blessing to the viewer, whilst many of the others are naked.

The subject of psychiatric institutions was a hot topic in the salons of the Spanish Enlightenment and so this painting could be meant as a denunciation of then-current practice in that area. Even if it is not, Goya was always attracted to representing madness, deformity or perversion. Some of the figures can also be interpreted allegorically, as a gallery of parodies of powerful figures in society, such as the clergy or the army (the man in the tricorne). It develops the topic of 'the world of dreams' ('mundo al revés') and is related to Goya's engravings series Los disparates.

Goya had already touched on the issue in his 1793 painting Yard with Lunatics, but The Madhouse shows greater variety, with less mad, less picturesque, more individualised and more characterised figures, shown more humanity and clearly marked as poor victims of marginalisation and rejection.

In many ways this version of a lunatic asylum is more conventional than Goya's earlier eye-witness account of The Yard of a Madhouse. It has been compared with Hogarth's scene in Bedlam in the Rake's Progress and some of Goya's deranged men, like Hogarth's, wear traditional attributes - a crown, a feathered headdress and tarot cards. But Goya's Bedlam is a much more horrifying sight, a place of darkness only partially lit, with the postures, gestures and expressions of the inmates indicating their pitiful condition. This is a dramatic and compassionate expression of the kind of scene he saw in Saragossa.

Goya's life-long concern for the plight of the insane as well as of prisoners and his continued interest in the physiognomy of madness is evident from the many drawings he made of various conditions of insanity.