Monday, 23 March 2009

Inside Bedlam

William Hogarth - A Rakes Progress showing Bedlam (1796) Wellcome Library, LondonHow's this for another catchy title? Inside Bedlam: with the family of ‘mad-doctors’ is an exhibition in the First Floor Gallery, Royal College of Physicians, London, which continues until 29 May, admission free. The above detail from William Hogarth's landmark series of engravings A Rakes Progress (1796) is the perfect illustration to capture the early days of Bethlem Royal Hospital - the world’s oldest institution caring for people with mental illness - from which the word Bedlam derived. A dynasty of four physicians ('mad doctors'), the Monros, reigned over Bethlam for more than 120 years! During that time the hospital changed from a fashionable freak show with the inmates on public display, chained and naked, to a therapeutic asylum (title link). At a guess, the descendants of those insensitive toffs who paid to gawk at Bedlam inmates now visit the Tate's Turner Prize show instead, to sneer at what loony artists are up to.


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