Cutting out the stone of madness

The_Cure_of_Folly_Bosch.jpg

At Bioephemera, Jessica has a fascinating post about depictions of madness in 15th-17th century art, during which time mental illness was popularly attributed to the presence of a "stone of madness" (or "stone of folly") in the head.

One of the earliest depictions of this is found in the above painting, Hieronymous Bosch's The Cure of Folly (The Extraction of the Stone of Madness), and similar scenes were subsequently depicted by other Renaissance artists.

As Jessica explains, historians of art and medicine are in dispute about the underlying meaning of the paintings. Were they depictions of real procedures, or allegorical statements about the human condition? Did medieval quacks claim to cure madness by removing stones from the head, or were they aware of the placebo effect?

Find out more at Bioephemera.

More like this

The Cure of Folly (The Extraction of the Stone of Madness) oil on board attributed to Hieronymous Bosch*, c. 1475-1490 Museo del Prado, Madrid At one point or another, Hieronymous Bosch must have turned his paintbrush to every bizarre practice known to the fifteenth century Dutch mind, and this…
Surgeon, attributed to Jan Sanders van Hemessen, c. 1550. Museo del Prado, Madrid Over at Biophemera, a ScienceBlog I've somehow overlooked to date, biologist and artist Jessica Palmer ponders a question raised by a number of Renaissance paintings depicting surgeons removing "stones of madness"…
(This is a guest post written by Mo, the Neurophilosopher.) I'm very pleased to announce that the fantastic Bioephemera has been "acquired" by ScienceBlogs. When I first started reading it, I knew that I had found a unique blog, and it soon became one of my favourites. (More below the fold...)…
Self-expression is a human ideal, but just as you can be a virtuoso with a hammer, you can be a hack with a paintbrush. On Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer questions the value of painted canvas when the painters "neither recognize nor are particularly interested in" the scenes they produce. In the…

The book 'Madness: A Brief History' by Roy Porter is a very interesting read in this regard. What I found interesting was the way much of delusional or hallucinatory content were traced to religious modes of thinking (even pre-Christian religions). It was a useful source to flick through when I was writing coursework essays on certain phenomenology associated with schizophrenia.