Saint or sinner? The Death of Marat (1754) by Jacques-Louis David. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images
For the painter Jacques-Louis David, who actively supported and participated in the most radical acts of the French Revolution, the death of one of its most eloquent enthusiasts, Marat, was an unforgivable murder.
In fact, Marat was knee-deep in violence.
He passionately advocated executing aristocrats and moderates to save the Revolution from supposed enemies.
His assassin, Charlotte Corday (above), saw herself as a legitimate avenger.
David’s painting crushes such ambiguities with one of art’s great images of secular martyrdom.
In painting the horror of the crime scene, he turns Marat into a revolutionary saint.
A mesmeric physician taking advantage of his female patient. Colour lithograph, 1852. Printed: British College of Health, London.
The word mesmerism took its root from the name of FranzAntonMesmer, who wasaGermanphysicianandastrologist,whodiscoveredwhathecalledmagnétismeanimal ( animal magnetism) and which othersoftencalledmesmerism.
Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) was a German physician with an interest in astronomy, who theorised that there was a natural energetic transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects that he called animal magnetism, sometimes later referred to as mesmerism.
The theory attracted a wide following between about 1780 and 1850, and continued to have some influence until the end of the century.
In 1843 the Scottish physician James Braid proposed the term hypnosis for a technique derived from animal magnetism; today this is the usual meaning of mesmerism.
Flemish Mask Designs in the Grotesque Style (1555)
A selection of stunning mask designs from the hand of Flemish engraver Frans Huys, rooted in the “grotesque” style and composed of shapes inspired from creaturely and vegetative forms (forming a style that would later become known as “auricular”).
Huys apparently based these prints on original designs by the sculptor and architect Cornelis Floris (1514-1575), who is credited with inventing this particular Flemish version of the grotesque style in about 1541.
The prints come from a set published in 1555 by Hans Liefrinck (about 1518-1573), an important Antwerp publisher and print-seller.
The volume – bearing the full title of “Pourtraicture ingenieuse de plusieurs façons de masques, forts utile aulx painctres, orseures, taillieurs de pierres, voirriers, & tailleurs d’images” – is thought to have contained at least 18 images and, as the title suggests, seems to have been intended as a kind of sourcebook for craftsmen and artists looking for inspiration/templates.
A distinct black shape, tumbling in the updrafts of a mountain crag – a raven at play.
The ‘gronking’ call of a raven is one of the most evocative sounds of Britain’s uplands. The raven is probably the world’s most intelligent and playful bird. In the world of myth, it is a bird of paradox, and something of a dark clown.
Its association with playful intelligence is perhaps exceeded by its image as a bird of death. Its harsh call, and its presence in remote wild places and at scenes of death, has earned it a reputation as a bird of ill-omen.
After all, the old collective noun for a group of ravens is an ‘unkindness’. Yet there is so much more to the raven.
An old Scottish name for the raven is ‘corbie’, which is thought to have been derived from the Latin ‘corvus’. One Scottish legend reflects the dark beliefs about this bird. It tells of an evil hag called Cailleach who appeared in the form of a number of birds, including the raven, and feasted on men’s bodies.
This large crow appears again and again in Celtic lore. In Welsh folklore, Bran the Blessed (Bran is Welsh for raven) is a kind of primordial deity and guardian of Britain whose totem is a raven.
Bran ordered for his own head to be cut off, after which it could still speak words of prophecy. Eventually it was said to have been buried beneath Tower Hill, at the Tower of London.
The presence of ravens at the Tower is an echo of this legend and the prophecy says that if the ravens ever leave the tower, Britain will fall (hence their wings are clipped, just in case!).
Interestingly this Welsh word appears in Scotland, and Strath Bran, in the north of the Trees for Life Target Area translates as ‘Strath’ or Valley of the Raven. They are still present there today.
Arthur, another legendary guardian of Britain, is also associated with ravens. In Cornwall, which is also steeped in Celtic lore, it was believed that Arthur didn’t really die, but was magically transformed into this bird.
The Celts were a warlike people, and the presence of ravens on the battlefield would have been very familiar to them. The Irish goddess, Morrighan, had a number of different guises. In her aspect as bloodthirsty goddess of war, she was thought to be present on the battlefield in the form of a raven.
Odin, the chief of the Norse gods, was accompanied by a pair of ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), who would fly far and wide to bring news to Odin. One of Odin’s names, Hrafnagud, means the ‘Raven God’.
In the Old Testament, the raven is the first bird Noah sent to look for land, and Elijah is described as being provided for by ravens. They are used as a symbol of God’s providence in both the New Testament and in Christian art.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have observed the keen intelligence of this bird.
It has a well-documented habit of deliberately revealing the whereabouts of deer, so that wolves can find their quarry, and leave spoils, which the ravens could eat.
Even some modern deer-stalkers report that ravens will help them to locate deer, as the birds know that they will receive the ‘gralloch’ or guts after the deer is killed. However, there was apparently a belief among some stalkers that three ravens was a bad omen.
The indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest of North America were well aware of the raven’s multifaceted nature, and Raven was revered as a major deity and something of a trickster. He features frequently in the distinctive artwork of these people.
There is probably more folklore concerning the raven than any other bird in Britain.
While some of this is somewhat sinister, the more we get to know this playful and intelligent bird, the more respect we might realise it deserves.
Detail from Jan van Neck’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Frederick Ruysch (1683), showing Ruysch in the centre with an infant cadaver.
When visiting Frederik Ruysch in Amsterdam in 1697, Tsar Peter the Great kissed one of the specimens from his anatomical museum, and afterwards bought the entire collection.
Three hundred years later, the Dutch crown prince, Willem Alexander, when visiting St Petersburg, was withheld from seeing Ruysch’s work. Diplomats had decided the prince had to be spared the sight of the ‘macabre, deformed foetuses’ that Ruysch had preserved.
If he had heard this, Frederik Ruysch would have turned in his grave.
Not that he would have been surprised to hear that his preparations had survived three centuries, for he would have expected nothing less. Nor would he have been astonished to find a prince taking an interest in his work.
But he would have been dismayed to hear his specimens described as macabre, since it was precisely the beauty of his preparations that earned Ruysch long-lasting fame. For centuries, friend and foe alike have agreed that he should be credited, above all, with making anatomy an acceptable pursuit.
A depiction of one of Ruysch’s displays, featuring infant skeleton’s weeping into handkerchiefs, as featured in Alle de ontleed- genees- en heelkindige werken…van Fredrik Ruysch.
Children are frightened by clown-themed decor in hospitals, a survey suggests. How did the smiley circus entertainers become a horror staple?
Anyone who has read Stephen King’s “It” would probably never choose to decorate a children’s ward with clowns.
And it probably comes as no surprise to horror fans that a University of Sheffield study of 250 children for a report on hospital design suggests the children find clown motifs “frightening and unknowable”.
It is the fear of the mask, the fact that it doesn’t change and is relentlessly comical
One might suspect that popular culture is to blame.
In It, made into a television movie in 1990 and re-made as a cinema release in 2017 Stephen King created a child-murdering monster that appeared as a demonic clown.
King’s It has sparked a slew of schlocky movies over the past 20 years, known as the killer clown or evil clown genre.
Examples include Clownhouse from 1990 where three boys at home alone are menaced by escaped mental patients who have taken on the identities of clowns they have killed.
S.I.C.K., Killjoy and the Camp Blood Trilogy are other low-budget examples of the genre.
But perhaps the highlight is 1988’s Killer Klowns from Outer Space, with the tagline “In Space No One Can Eat Ice Cream”.
Highlights from the illustrations in the 1665 edition of Fortunio Liceti’s De Monstris, originally published, without the illustrations, in 1616.
Liceti’s work, although not the first on the topic of deformities in nature, was perhaps the most influential of the period.
In the wake of the book there was a huge rise in interest throughout Europe in “monstrosities”: pygmies, supposed mermaids, deformed fetuses, and other natural marvels were put on display and widely discussed, becoming the circus freak-shows of their time.
However, unlike many of his contemporaries Licenti did not see deformity as something negative, as the result of errors or failures in the course of nature.
Instead he likened nature to an artist who, faced with some imperfection in the materials to be shaped, ingeniously creates another form still more admirable.
‘It is said that I see the convergence of both Nature and art,’ wrote Liceti, ‘because one or the other not being able to make what they want, they at least make what they can.”
The Mandrake, Mandragora officinarum, is a plant called by the Arabs luffâh, or beid el-jinn (“djinn’s eggs”).
Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae).
Mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine, and hyoscyamine.
The roots sometimes bifurcate, causing them to resemble human figures. Their roots have long been used in magic rituals, and today are valued by members of neopagan religions such as Wicca and Germanic revivalism religions such as Odinism.
The roots of Mandrake were supposed to bear a resemblance to the human form, on account of their habit of forking into two shoots which form a rough figure of a human.
In the old Herbals we find them frequently figured as a male with a long beard, and a female with a very bushy head of hair. Many weird superstitions collected round the Mandrake root.
It was common belief in some countries that mandrake would only grow where the semen of a hanged murderer had dripped on to the ground.
And it was believed to cause death to whoever dug it up, as the plant would let out a shriek upon being dug up, which none might hear and live.
Therefore if you would dig up a Mandrake you should either do it from a distance using string, or tie the string to your dog and let him pull it up. Of course, then the dog would die from the terrible scream from the plant.
In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the author makes use of the legend of the mandrake’s scream, and anyone tending mandrakes wears earmuffs to dull the sound.
As an amulet, it was once placed on mantel to bring luck and happiness. Bryony roots were often cut into fancy shapes and passed off as Mandrake.
Small images made from Bryony roots, cut to look like the figure of a man, with millet seed inserted into the face for eyes, were sold to the foolish and uneducated.
They were known as puppettes and were credited with magical powers.
Italian ladies were known to pay as much as thirty golden ducats for these artificial Mandrake amulets.