Exhibition / Youtube videos – Melancholy: A New Anatomy – 29 September 2021 – 20 March 2022 – Treasury, Weston Library – Bodleian Library

29 September 2021 – 20 March 2022

Treasury, Weston Library

About the exhibition

‘Who is not a Foole, who is free from Melancholy?’, asked Robert Burton, 400 years ago, and answered his own question: ‘all the world is mad, is melancholy, dotes’.

Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621, is a huge and innovative encyclopaedia of mental and emotional disorder, as understood in the late Renaissance. 

A scholar and clergyman in Christ Church, Oxford, Burton was one of the early users of the Bodleian Library and left many of the books in his own substantial collection to the Bodleian.

The Anatomy examines the causes and symptoms of melancholy or, as we would call it today, depression. Its remedies range from good food and exercise, to laughter, reading, friends, and music. Its closing page recommends that the reader ‘be not solitary, be not idle’, and the distraction provided by reading the Anatomy itself is one suggested cure.

Four hundred years later – as our mental health faces many challenges – this exhibition revisits the Anatomy, using objects from the Bodleian Libraries to highlight common experiences and connections over time.

Curated by Oxford experts in mental health research and the humanities, the exhibition shows how Burton’s holistic and multifaceted conception of cure finds surprising echoes in contemporary psychiatry and prescriptions for mental health.https://www.youtube.com/embed/fiwzWSEc7lA?rel=0

Watch each of our curators discuss their research area in more detail on our YouTube playlist

  Virtual exhibition opening panel

Watch the opening panel on YouTube

Chair: Niall Boyce, Editor of The Lancet Psychiatry

Speakers:

  • Professor John Geddes, Head of Department of Psychiatry
  • Dr Kathryn Murphy, Faculty of English
  • Sister Stephanie-Therese, Sisters of the Love of God
  • Sir Philip Pullman CBE

Introduced by Richard Ovenden OBE, Bodley’s Librarian

Learning resources

Melancholy: A New Anatomy exhibition trail

This exhibition trail, designed for secondary school pupils, explores the themes of Melancholy: A New Anatomy including the role of diet, reading and writing, outdoor spaces, faith-informed therapy and social contact for good mental health.

Through a series of nine questions, students are consider the legacy of Robert Burton’s 400 year old work and its relevance to modern therapeutic ideas and practice, and are prompted to reflect on their own experiences.

A separate sheet of suggested answers is provided for teachers.

 Download the exhibition trail

 Download the exhibition trail answers

Acknowledgements

Generously supported by The Guy and Elinor Meynell Charitable Trust

 Curators

More information on the Boldeian Library website

New book – Disease and Disability in Medieval and Early Modern Art and Literature, eds. Rinaldo F. Canalis and Massimo Ciavolella – Brepols, April 2021.

 
 
Humanity has always shown a keen interest in the pathological, ranging from a morbid fascination with ‘monsters’ and deformities to a genuine compassion for the ill and suffering. Medieval and early modern people were no exception, expressing their emotional response to disease in both literary works and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the plastic arts. Consequently, it becomes necessary to ask what motivated writers and artists to choose an illness or a disability and its physical and social consequences as subjects of aesthetic or intellectual expression. Were these works the result of an intrusion in their intent to faithfully reproduce nature, or do they reflect an intentional contrast against the pre-modern portrayal of spiritual ideals and, later, through the influence of the classics, the rediscovered importance and beauty of the human body?
The essays contained in this volume address these questions, albeit not always directly but, rather, through an analysis of the societal reactions to the threats and challenges that essentially unopposed disease and physical impairment presented. They cover a wide range of responses, variable, of course, according to the period under scrutiny, its technological moment, and the usually fruitless attempts at treatment.
 

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction and Epidemiological Perspective — Rinaldo F. Canalis and Massimo Ciavolella
 

Part I. Medieval and Transitional Periods

 
  • The Art of Medicine in Byzantium: Disease and Disability in Byzantine Manuscripts — Alain Touwaide
  • Miracle and the Monstrous: Disability and Deviant Bodies in the Late Middle Ages — Jenni Kuuliala
  • Leprosy, Melancholy, Folly and their Representations in French Medieval Literature — Gaia Gubini
  • Malady in Literary Texts from the Medieval and Early Modern Periods. Some Hypotheses on a Paradoxical Constellation — Joachim Küpper
  • Fevers, Botches and Carbuncles: Describing the Plague in Late Medieval and Early Modern Medical Treatises — Lori Jones
 

Part II. The Early Modern Period

 
  • The Role of Architecture and the Decorative Arts in Renaissance Medicine — Francis Wells
  • Art in Disease and Disease in Art: Reflections on Two Early Modern Paradigmatic Examples — Manuela Gallerani
  • The Mal Franzoso: Between Art, History and Literature: Paracelso and Della Porta — Alfonso Paolella
  • The Ailing Artist — Roberto Fedi
  • Nicolas Poussin`s The Plague at Ashdod and the French Disease — Efrain Kristal
  • ‘Yet have I in me something dangerous’: On the Interplay of Medicine and Maleficence in Shakespeare’s Hamlet — Sara Frances Burdorff
  • Textures of Lesions – Textures of Prints — Domenico Bertoloni Meli 

 

More info on the editor website

New book – Medieval Communities and the Mad: Narratives of Crime and Mental Illness in Late Medieval France, by Aleksandra Nicole Pfau, published by Amsterdam University Press, 2020

Aleksandra Nicole Pfau, Medieval Communities and the Mad: Narratives of Crime and Mental Illness in Late Medieval France, Amsterdam University Press, December 2020.
 
Ebook in Open Access available here: https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/43136
The concept of madness as a challenge to communities lies at the core of legal sources. This book considers how communal networks, ranging from the locale to the realm, responded to people who were considered mad. The madness of individuals played a role in engaging communities with legal mechanisms and proto-national identity constructs, as petitioners sought the king’s mercy as an alternative to local justice. The resulting narratives about the mentally ill in late medieval France constructed madness as an inability to live according to communal rules. Although such texts defined madness through acts that threatened social bonds, those ties were reaffirmed through the medium of the remission letter. The composers of the letters presented madness as a communal concern, situating the mad within the household, where care could be provided. These mad were usually not expelled but integrated, often through pilgrimage, surveillance, or chains, into their kin and communal relationships.
 
 
More infos on the editor website