In the early 1820s, in the gloomy aftermath of the 1789 Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the French Romantic painter Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) made five portraits of patients in an asylum or clinic. No depictions of madness before or since can compare with them for humanity, straightforwardness and immediacy.  The portraits challenge us to find responses in ourselves to the face and the embodied mysteries of the other person, and to our own internal (unsconscious, disavowed) otherness: in this sense, Gericault was a "painter-analyst". The challenge could not be more urgent, in our world of suspicion of the stranger, and of the medicalisation of madness. The book sketches the history of this last process, from the Enlightenment through to the Revolution and its public health policies, to the birth of the asylum in its interface with the penal system. But there was also a new medico-philosophical conviction that the mad were never wholly mad, and their suffering and disturbance might best be addressed through relationship and speech.

chapter One|12 pages


chapter Two|15 pages

The canvases unrolled

chapter Three|16 pages

Géricault, a biographical sketch

chapter Four|13 pages

Madness in modernity, 1656–1789

chapter Five|24 pages

The Revolution, Cabanis, Pinel, the asylum

chapter Seven|13 pages

The Golden Age of alienism

chapter Eight|42 pages

Géricault and the alienists

chapter Nine|16 pages

History painter

chapter Ten|9 pages

Surplus and the limits of interpretation

chapter |28 pages

Some Conclusions