Representations of Insanity in Art and Science of Nineteenth-Century France: From the Demonic to the Degenerate
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This thesis seeks to analyze depictions of insanity in the nineteenth century, especially in France. Through research into the history of psychiatry and the history of image culture, I intend to explain the changing views of madness. Varying genres of art are used to explore these ideological shifts. At the beginning of the century, the impact of the Enlightenment and the Revolution brought about a new found humanitarian view and treatment of the insane. These views are exemplified in the evolution of medical drawings that correspond with contemporaneous scientific treatises. The sympathetic treatment in Géricault’s portraits of the insane in the 1820s was part of a movement that also led to changes in legal status, as seen in the development of an insanity defense. In this same era, Romanticism marked a shift from sympathy towards the mentally ill to a fascination with non-rational experiences by artists such as Henry Fuseli, Francisco Goya, and Eugène Delacroix. These artists were the first to utilize the depiction of the insane as an aesthetic counter to the classical ideal. By the fin-de-siècle, the rise of social Darwinism led to theories of degeneracy, in which the insane were grouped with criminals and prostitutes as biologically deficient. The insane, through the lens of depictions of degeneracy, existed mainly in “scientific” studies and popular imagery. There was, however, a counter offensive in the arts, in which cabaret culture embodied this demeaning ideology as a subversive gesture against the bourgeoisie. Thus, I will demonstrate that the view and representations of the insane in nineteenth-century image culture corresponds to the manifestation of social, political, and economic factors.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Insanity in the Enlightenment: emergence of positivistic sympathy and hope for the mentally ill -- Georget and Gericault: legal impact of the humanist approach -- The romantic fascination with madness -- Degeneracy and hysteria: the schism -- Conclusion