‘The Sick Rose’ Is Really Sick!
I was in London last weekend for a family get together and we just had time for a flying visit to the Science Museum. After being suitably wowed – the ‘Space’ exhibition is mind-blowing – I had a browse in the museum shop. When I found ‘The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration’ by Richard Barnett, I wanted to ‘whoop’ out loud at my discovery. The book is filled with absolutely beautiful illustrations of medical conditions from the nineteenth century. All the Victorian favourites are there – cholera, diptheria, tuberculosis – and the detail is incredible. If she’d been there, I think Lucy would have spontaneously combusted out of sheer joy at such perfect Regency gruesomeness!
As the daughter of a GP, I grew up in a household where there was no escape from medical magazines littered with violently graphic photographs of all manner of physical disfiguration and disease. Cornflakes seriously lose their appeal when consumed while staring at multiple examples of flaky oozing skin eruptions in glossy colour, I can tell you. Clearly medical photography proved more accurate and faster to reproduce than the hand-drawn medical illustrations that preceded them, but aesthetically, these drawings are exquisite, and remarkable both historically and medically. Fortunately they lack the visceral repulsion response that medical photography triggers – in me, at any rate – allowing for a more prolonged exploration of their rich detail. The book also stands as a historical collection of the diseases that were common in the nineteenth century, but are rarely seen anymore.
It really is a fascinating read, but if you have a weak stomach, look away now!