Posts Tagged ‘A Brief History of Mental Illness in Art’

A Brief History of Mental Illness in Art By Ferris Jabr


images include:
  • Saint Bartholomew Exorcising, circa 1440-1470
  • Portrait of Joan the Mad by Juan de Flandes, circa 1496 – 1500

“Juana (also known as Joanna and Joan) of Castile was born in Toledo, Spain on 6 November 1479, the third child of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Not long after her marriage to Philippe “The Handsome,” Duke of Burgundy, people of the court began referring to her as Juana “The Mad” (la loca)…

  • Extraction of the Stone of Folly by Hieronymus Bosch circa 1488 – 1516 (
  • The Madhouse by William Hogarth, 1773

“The eight paintings in William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (1733) tell the story of Tom Rakewell, a young man who follows a path of vice and self-destruction after inheriting a fortune from his miserly father. It was Hogarth’s second ‘modern moral subject’, and followed the hugely successful A Harlot’s Progress (1730)…

  • The Madhouse by Francisco de Goya, circa 1812 – 1819 (Web Gallery of Art)
  • Salpêtrière by Armand Gautier, circa 1857

1857 lithograph by Armand Gautier, showing personifications of dementia, megalomania, acute mania, melancholia, idiocy, hallucination, erotomania and paralysis in the gardens of the Hospice de la Salpêtrière. Reprinted in Madness: A Brief History (ISBN 978-0192802668)

  • Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy by Théodore Géricault circa 1881

Gericault’s Monomaniac series once consisted of ten portraits of the mentally ill, however, only five have survived into the present day. The surviving paintings include the Monomanie du commandment militaire (Napoleonic veteran suffering from the delusion of military authority), Monomanie du vol des enfants (A compulsive kidnapper), Monomanie du vol (A kleptomaniac), Monomanie du jeu (A compulsive gambler) and Monomanie de l’envie (A woman suffering fits of neurotic jealousy). The term ‘monomania’ was first coined by French psychiatrist Jean-Etienne Esquirol, and it was an exclusively nineteenth century term referring to a person who was outwardly well, but harboured one obsessive fixation.

  • Philippe Pinel à la Salpêtrière by Tony Robert-Fleury, circa 1876 (
  • Reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait With A Bandaged Ear, circa 1889
  • The Scream by Edvard Munch, circa 1893 (WebMuseum at ibiblio via Wikimedia)
  • Portrait of German writer Heinrich Mann by Max Oppenheimer, circa 1910 (Wellcome Collection via Wikimedia Commons)

“Max Oppenheimer seriously rivalled Kokoschka as a portrait-painter. In 1911, rows erupted between the two artists over who could lay claim to the invention of the ‘psychological portrait’. Oppenheimer’s depiction of the German novelist Heinrich Mann in a state of nervous enervation, with flickering eyelids, rigid limbs and splayed fingers, was declared a “Kokoschka-copy”. Heinrich was brother to Thomas Mann, who continually engaged with the themes of mental illness, incarceration and freedom in his fiction writing.”

  • Jackson Pollock’s Psychoanalytic Drawings, circa 1939-40
  • Rhythm 2 by Marina Abramovic, circa 1974
  • Diary Drawings by Bobby Baker, circa 1997 (via Wellcome Collection)


(This post inspired by “Depictions of Mental Illness in the History of Art,” a recent presentation by Fernando Espi Forcen and Carlos Espi Forcen at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco)