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The Art of Suicide

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Health and Illness
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Men in Black
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Dismembering the Male
Mens Bodies, Britain and the Great War
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Picturing Empire
Photography and the Visualization of the
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Mirror in Parchment
The Luttrell Psalter and the Making of
Medieval England
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Landscape and Englishness
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The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel
Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in
Medieval and Renaissance Europe
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Down with the Crown
British Anti-monarchism and Debates about
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The Jewish Self-Image
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Bodies Politic
Disease, Death and Doctors in Britain,
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The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence
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The Art of Suicide
Ron M. Brown
ar+k+r o uooks
Published by Reaktion Books Ltd
y Farringdon Road, London rc+ Jt, tk
First published :oo+
Copyright Ron Brown :oo+
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No part of this publication may be reproduced,
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Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd,
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Brown, Ron
The art of suicide. (Picturing history)
+. Suicide in art. :. Art History
I. Title
yo. '::8
rsu + 8+8 +oj
Title page: John Flaxman, Chatterton taking the Bowl of Poison
from the Spirit of Despair, c. +y8o, pen and ink and wash.
British Museum, London.
Introduction y
+ Representing Voluntary Death in Classical Antiquity :+
: Self-killing from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance
Conict and Change in Early Modern Europe 88
An English Dance of Death? +:
j Preserving Life and Punishing Death +
The Century of Destruction +
Postscript :+j
References ::
Select Bibliography :o
Acknowledgements :
Photographic Acknowledgements :j
Index :y
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
wr rrr + sn+krsrr+ar, Hamlet III.i.j
Here, in one evocative piece of writing, are called up many of the
issues which cluster around the notion of suicide. Hamlets question
goes to the very heart of the matter: is there a moment when life, the
most precious of human possessions, becomes a burden which is too
heavy to bear? And, in that moment, does one have the right to make
ones own quietus? What stays the hand: fear of pain, of oblivion, of
an unknown afterlife, of eternal damnation? And what drives the
bodkin home: courage, despair or madness?
Shakespeare lends his protagonist a religious sensibility: for
Hamlet, suicide is a moral issue, validating the position arrived at by
the Christian Church by the end of the sixteenth century. The
complexity of his argument, however, has more to do with the long
history of self-slaughter, ranging as it does between the binary poles
of suicide as heroic and suicide as sinful, and of humankind as a ratio-
nal subject endowed with ultimate free will even unto death, or as a
prisoner caught in a web, woven equally of doubt and prohibition,
from which only madness can offer release.
The plays two central deaths bring the oppositions together:
Hamlet, by choosing confrontation, seeks out an end which is volun-
tary, without being self-inicted; thus, he avoids the stigma of self-
slaughter and, in true heroic fashion, ights of angels are invoked to
bear him in triumph to the rest he has craved throughout. Ophelia, his
female counterpart, validates the persistent inscription of sensibility
on the body of woman: her self-chosen death stems from loss, frailty
and the disintegration of reason, which demeans the act and dimin-
ishes her from the tragic to the pathetic.
The effective tension which surrounds the issue of self-murder in
Hamlet echoes a conict that has existed since antiquity. The status of
suicide has always been open to question. The historian of suicide can
discern little consensus in any of the issues which emerge in the
course of its long history: rather, the range of social, political and
cultural responses with which it has been greeted has reected, with
uncanny accuracy, the shifting patterns of human thought over more
than two millennia. Its representations: tragic, epic, heroic, pathetic,
judgemental, moral, didactic, comic and satiric, paint a picture of a
European culture grappling with the almost impossible task of under-
standing and coming to terms with this strangest and most persistent
of phenomena.
The imaging of suicide can be found across a wide geography, but
the parameters of the following investigation embrace a Western and
specically European cultural ambience. That my title contains a pun
and an anachronism reects on the one hand a wicked sense of
humour and a particular view of arts history, and on the other, a
central and tormenting linguistic problem. Both will eventually
become clear to the careful reader. My title also brings together two
terms which require care, both dynamic, both abstract. How they
relate to each other is a delicate question. The simple answer is that
this is a story about suicide-as-represented. It is about human death as
read through the myriad meanings given to self-slaughter. As an
answer, I realize it is also artful, as it avoids crucial questions about the
writing contained within. Sufce to say, for the time being, that given
the inestimable number of contexts for the art of suicidal death, one
must be highly dubious of any claims to universality.
The object of this book is thus to investigate how the act and the
agents of suicidal death have been described, interpreted and
constructed in images from antiquity to the close of the twentieth
century. The eld of investigation embraces sculpture, painting, illu-
mination, print, book and newspaper illustration, cartoons, and
ceramics from antiquity. I have yet to come across a suicidal image on
stained glass. In order to complete and close the narrative frame, I
have included examples from mechanical reproduction, though I have
not concerned myself with photography or television on the whole.
Factual or lmic images of suicides in the age of mechanical repro-
duction merit a separate study.
In the course of this history I shall also examine how, from Plato
and Socrates onwards, and in pursuit of its time-honoured concern
for questions of life and death, philosophy has mediated suicides
meanings in parallel with this creative process. As recently as +o the
psychiatrist Marguerite von Andics claimed that the history of
suicide is part of the philosophical tradition of the meaning of life.
Yet suicide also has a history of its own.
In order to chronicle how the act and agents of suicide have been
conceived in art, I have recognized the importance of the philosophi-
cal tradition in ascribing meaning, but the current study has put many
preconceptions aside, and has quite different objectives to theorizing
the meaning of life. Moreover, it is concerned with the historical
production and relations of meanings of suicide as they interrelate
with gender and nation, and with the dynamics of power between
words and images in high art and popular culture, as they articulate
meanings of suicide in an arc which stretches from the epic and the
tragic to the satirical and comic. The long historical span aims to
examine suicides mobility in order to hold onto the visual traces as
they connect and collide with philosophies both intellectual and
esoteric, or as they confront meaning in the abstract.
In this context, I would contend that the coexistence of the differ-
ing sign systems of art history and philosophy, and the divergent but
interrelated roles they play in making sense of suicide, provide valu-
able clues to an understanding of the underlying grammar of suicide
as it is reconstituted over time. I have chosen to ask the question of
how suicide and the suicide is imagined in visual terms. Intertwined
with this is the question of how art history and philosophy have func-
tioned together over many centuries to produce, articulate and project
notions of why people choose to take their own lives.
While the history of philosophy is well documented, and has
allowed me to discern major shifts in suicidal discourse, the objects
and images from visual culture that form the central focus of this
particular area of art history are less familiar and more difcult to
trace. In this respect I have been considerably helped in my task by
Fred Cutters Art and the Wish to Die which provides a ready cata-
logue of +8o images. His research has unearthed a vast amount of
representations of suicide, though some are concerned with self-
injury and death-by-instalments through drink or drugs rather than
self-killing per se. There is a further issue of his association of suicide
with self-destructive behaviour. I am convinced that it does not help
to knit them so closely together. My focus is on suicide alone.
The main problem with Cutters work is a fundamental art histori-
cal one. To examine images with a view to revealing how cultural atti-
tudes towards suicide are reected in art, denies the images a creative
role. My work will thus move away from seeing images as reective
and examine visual works as refractive, or perhaps extend this useful
metaphor from physics further to see these images as splitting and
diffusing meaning. Though Cutters work is a groundbreaking piece

of research it remains a somewhat idiosyncratic text aimed at, in his

own words, suicide prevention. There is little doubt that images may
invite the viewing subject to conform, resist or negotiate, and that the
reader is asked to engage with the text, and the text demands that we
refer back to ourselves. It is never a simple relationship, however.
Suicide has been pictured as beautiful, heroic, bold, as well as ugly,
criminal, cowardly.
To highlight these changes, my methodology draws on the theoret-
ical work of Paul Veyne and the notion that the objects of study have a
connection with neighbouring forces.
Clearly, for my purpose,
Veynes regard for historical patterns and the divergence and relations
that make up the object has a practical application. The very notion of
objectication allows visual representations of suicide to be analysed
in order to reveal a reworking of the signier and demonstrate the
construction of new and original meanings. Veynes theories help to
avoid the pitfalls of representing suicides meanings as universal.
Expanding upon what Veyne calls the hidden grammar underly-
ing conscious discourse, I have tried to unfold and reveal for the
reader the grammar of suicide: its ow, its punctuation, its subject
and object. My text is problem-based in the sense explored by
Foucault in The Discourse on Language, his appendix to The
Archaeology of Knowledge (+y:), and will recognize that other
schemes come into play too. Suicide is thus seen as a site for ascribing
meanings of inequality and difference. In keeping with Veynes intel-
lectual history, I have attempted to tease out meanings of suicide that
have become submerged, meanings no longer apparent, or meanings
overruled by the concreteness of historical terminology and a huge
body of scholarship that has on the whole ignored the role of the
visual in ascribing meaning.
Thus the emphasis on the ability of the image to alter attitudes
towards self-destruction will be replaced by an intertextual reexive
analysis which draws on Foucaults ideas of power and the impor-
tance of dialogues around the spoken and unspoken. A few notes in
Foucaults History of Sexuality refer to suicide as the usurping of
power. Foucault argues that during the nineteenth century a transi-
tion took place from the right to take life to one that fostered it, or
disallowed it to death.
Thus political power assigned itself to the
task of administering life. His designation of suicide as crime is
perhaps overstated, yet, in the historical study of suicide, the point of
the states ownership of the body cannot be underestimated.
The methodology does not pretend to offer an answer to the wider
art-historical problem of textual reading. Rather, I would argue that
we have to begin somewhere in order to achieve even a fractional recla-
mation of these texts as they gave rise to meanings of suicide. I also
want to try things out. In this respect I consider elds of discourse and
elds of action alongside semiotic analysis while resisting the idea of
becoming a prisoner to any particular approach. Indeed, the issue of
representation assumes the coexistence of a variety of texts, visual,
verbal, semiotic, philosophic and political, and demands a diversity of
approaches. In tandem with this, while not confronting them head on,
the book is written with bioethical questions in mind.
Throughout, the central and troubling problem of the visual
representations relationship with reality will be addressed; and in
line with recent art histories, the reception and mobilization of
images and objects will be considered a high-potential relationship.
My reading of the images examines suicide as it is resignied over
short periods of time and as it nds its way into other discursive
arenas. In particular, I investigate notions of national identity, class,
authorship, gender, sexuality and madness.
Even before the publication of the works mentioned above,
however, art history and literature had two key sources. Hans Rosts
Bibliographie des Selbstmords of +:y lists over four thousand self-
murders and remains an important source for all researchers in the
eld. Erika Tietze-Conrats unnished manuscript Patterns of
Suicide in Literature and Art has also proved a valuable resource.
None of these address the aspect of meaning. One book only boasts a
lengthy history: Georges Minois History of Suicide: Voluntary Death
in Western Culture. Minois otherwise excellent book does not actually
do what it proposes and stops short of the twentieth century. Inadver-
tently, the central question is raised of how one begins (and ends) the
process of reconstituting the contradictions and relations that make
up the various meanings of suicide across time.
The argument here is that by scrutinizing the intertextual rela-
tionships of varied patterns of visual art and a broad philosophical
practice, we can begin to establish an understanding of suicides
meanings from antiquity to the close of the twentieth century and
delineate the character of suicide(s) in representation. The function
of the pictures in establishing meaning has determined the shape of
the history which has emerged, and in the partial reconstruction that
may have ensued from this practice, the relationship of history with
philosophy, and philosophy of the least cultural kind, has played an
inuential role.

At times however, I have had only my judgement to

rely on.
Despite the lack of extant images from the periods of antiquity and
Early Christianity the amount that is available permits an examina-
tion of representations of suicide and allows the reader to begin to
reconstitute across a long history the representation, signs and traces
of this bafing way of death. Indeed, it may be that it is the very
absence of visual images which speaks volumes in these cases. The
fragments that remain from visual culture may well represent a partial
history, nevertheless they provide a picture of a history that from its
very outset demonstrates the complex nature and relationship of
objects, images and text to the reality they capture, hold and recreate.
The narrative starting point examines the earliest images extant in
order to initiate a serial analysis of suicides representations, and
reconstitute the traces of suicide and their interrelations. In addition,
I begin to explore the semantic process of words and images as they
transgure the reality of voluntary death for the contemporary
reader. From remote antiquity I believe that visual images of suicide
were loaded: replete with meaning.
After establishing the relationships from antiquity to the late
medieval period in Chapters + and :, my objective is to offer an
overview of the European scene in Chapters to . Though at times I
may be guilty of clouding geographical differences, the implications
of geography and location are considered, particularly in the period
when the western world of capitalism emerged from a feudal econ-
omy, and the violent disruption of the Reformation impacted upon
early Catholic thought. In turn, the advent of print culture endorsed
an already powerful Christian iconography in order to educate the
popular masses.

In Chapter :, special attention has been paid to the

Bible a collection of books with the widest of readership, and in this
case, one that created problems for the condemnation of suicide by
theologians and for its meanings for lay Christianity.
In this history there are gaps that emerge from the survey as a
product of absence. At times, therefore, my dialogue with suicide
attempts to dene what is and what is not being discussed. Alongside
the anomalies, the whispers and silences, a history is revealed that
demonstrates the vigour of European society and its attempts to
understand and contain self-slaughter. Where images are limited in
number a sluggish pace of change is implied though one is constantly
aware of the problem of the survival of early images. This was to
change dramatically with the development of print culture after
which a fairly dense cultural grid of interwoven texts originated,
giving rise to further stratication of the meanings of suicide. With
patience, the threads of this history can be unravelled, though it is at
times difcult to see where they lead.
As a result of the increase over the centuries in the sheer number of
images, the attendant historical problems are very different from
those of antiquity and Early Christianity. From the early modern
period my analysis has thus been informed by a more thematic
approach. The picture history of suicide that emerges is in effect an
incomplete history that reects on discourse and demonstrates the
difculty inherent in any attempt to reduce discursive interrelation-
ships to the theories and philosophies that they are assumed to verify.
In the early chapters there is a special concern for the restoration
of ancient and biblical reading. How can I construct a genealogy of
suicide in antiquity or Early Christianity? Indeed, how can I construct
a genealogy at all? This problem is exacerbated by the fact that
suicides distant past poses very different challenges of reading to its
recent history. In response to this, my methodology involves a constant
widening of my terms of reference to include a variety of sources, and
a continual rening of my analytical method. This allows me to see
very different national, religious and gender alliances at work within
suicidal discourse.
This is followed by a survey of the impact on antiquity of the
visual gurations of suicide of Jewish casuistry and Christianity in
biblical writing and theology. The necessarily extensive chronology of
the chapter follows the gurations as they mutate and tell very differ-
ent stories in the Old and New Testaments. In this respect the period
of late antiquity and Early Christianity, where monotheistic ideas
challenged the gods of classical antiquity, is particularly important.
In the medieval world, it has to be born in mind that there existed a
consummate dread of sudden and unforeseen death. The popular
consciousness of purgatory, and the renewed emphasis on dying with
dignity in the Ars Moriendi as described by Duffy in The Stripping of
the Altars meant suicidal death was taboo. Confronted by the chilling
image of ones own death in the danse macabre, late medieval Euro-
peans had plenty to fear from death, a passing which must have
seemed to be just around the corner. Like the danse macabre, suicide
and its imaging both questioned the strength of Christianity and were
deployed to reinforce it.
Chapter focuses on the early modern period and a broader Euro-
pean picture, where the social process of making suicide can be seen
in the working through of two very distinct discursive positions. The
shape of my argument here is that an embryonic notion of a medical
analysis of suicidal death arose which, combined with religious
notions of suicide stigmatized as a sinful death and expressed in the
idea of crying crimes, clashed head on with Epicurean ideas of
heroic suicide. These competing discursive positions indicate the
complexity of the historical battle to designate the reality of suicide.
In the visual eld, this is further complicated by a split between high
art and popular culture where internal differences occur. This is
apparent in France, England, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Low
Countries and Italy. On the whole, high art paints a picture of heroic
suicide to which popular culture illustrates an opposition. Additional
complications are presented by the religious battle to dene suicide,
the engendering of suicide, and the growing popular sympathy for
suicides in coroners juries in the early modern period.
In order to highlight the successive recongurations during the
period from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth
century to the beginnings of World War I, the next two chapters
divide the period into two. Chapter surveys the cardinal period of
change that led away from suicides links with the eighteenth-
century notions of men of sensibility and the death of Chatterton in
+yyo, to Cruikshanks image of the suicide of the Marquis of
Londonderry in +8::, and the symbolic death of old sensibilities.
This shift was accompanied by the increasing medicalization and
feminization of suicide.
It is here in the nineteenth century that the art historian feels that
the ground has been well trodden already and that it might be difcult
to say something new. Olive Andersons book Suicide in Victorian and
Edwardian England is a monumental work and in her chapter Stan-
dard Commonplaces and Personal Reactions: Mid-Victorian
London she offers the historian of art an exemplary model of inter-
disciplinary history on romantic stereotypes of female suicide.
Barbara T. Gatess Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories
contains much on male anxiety and the relocation of suicide in an
Other world. Gatess work also raises an issue central to my premise,
that life itself is ctionalized. The sense of and the production of
discourse that created the ction and the reality of suicidal death is
one and the same thing. Meaning, however, is never abstract, and will
be seen to have been generated by differing sign systems, along with
other institutionalized discourses such as medicine, as they fore-
ground the changing nature and enduring strangeness of suicide.
The emphases of the works cited above are sociological, historical
and literary and if I am to add anything to this scholarship it is in the
survey of the visual aspect. With regard to this, it is worth dwelling
very briey on the available art historiography. Lynda Neads chapter
in Myths of Sexuality and her article Seduction, Prostitution, Suicide:
On the Brink by Alfred Elmore

offer a way forward for reading

images, and see the visual working as a technology to produce specic
meanings around prostitution and suicide. Margaret Higonnets short
but important article Speaking Silences in S. R. Suleimans The
Female Body in Western Culture examines suicide as interpretation,
presents a model of suicide linked to a contaminated femininity, and
pinpoints the medicalization of suicide as synonymous with its femi-
nization. Expanding on this thesis, Elisabeth Bronfens work Over Her
Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic raises vital questions
around the issues of the pleasing and the morbid.
In her chapter Noli me Videre she emphasizes the centrality of
the female body in suicidal imagery and the position of the viewing
spectator with reference to artistic and literary suicides. The theme of
woman as trope is a thread which runs through Bronfens book,
though the act of displacement of death onto the feminine echoes
themes of otherness and anxiety. Despite her attempt to demystify
the (mis)representation of femininity and death, the present reader
senses, as a result of her analysis, a universality to such work, and
begins to feel that in Bronfens dissection the trope is absolute.
However, her clever use of Lacans typology of gender constructions
and issues of alterity offer a theoretical path for my work to follow.
The point here is that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
century new ascriptions arose of suicidal behaviour that were linked
to tainted femininity. Pivotal to these changes was the image of the
boy poet Chatterton whose death created a whole technology of
suicide linked to notions of the romantic author. From then on, suici-
dal death lost its heroic component, was medicalized, sociologized
and subsequently stigmatized as a degrading death. The question of
the sheer number of female images requires some exposition. The
absence of male suicides in high art, their presence in popular culture
and in the bizarre images of the developing yellow press requires
some thought too.
Chapter j aims to synthesize and add to the above scholarship by
going back to the early eighteenth century and then offering an
overview of the breadth of the nineteenth century, ending with
surveys of n-de-sicle Europe and the beginnings of the new century
up to World War I. Thereafter, a radically different attitude to death
and suicide is apparent, signalled perhaps by the increasing interest
and coverage of murders most foul by the burgeoning yellow press.
Where historical orthodoxy paints a picture of suicidal representa-
tions bound up with changing medical science and ideas of depressive
illness the growth of morbidity and the public interest in the horror of
violent death is given more reection.
Hereafter this book offers some very different ideas of suicidal
death and art in the last century, a century that has on the whole
(Alvarez apart) been avoided by historians of suicide. Chapter will
thus pick up on and extend this analysis from the post-war period up
to the decriminalization of suicide in the +os a period in which it
has been argued that suicide was seen as not so much a means of
ending life but as a cry for help. In +:, the period of decriminaliza-
tion, the powerful image of Andy Warhols Suicide constructs an atti-
tude to suicide where the anonymity suggested by the title is in itself
an admittance that suicidal death is a feature of modern life and
belongs to us all. The cry for help in this case, however, might well
come from the artist himself and not the victim (illus. +).
Interlinked as they are, each period will be considered as a site of
production for suicide and as constituting a struggle for meaning in
itself though, to be sure, the layering of meanings which become
apparent makes it difcult to separate period from period. My
conclusion reects upon some further issues concerning the sharp
growth in the study of death and suicide in the epoch of postmoder-
nity. In this respect, I examine briey how meanings of suicide and
death have become bound up with recent resource-driven political
Thus the Braudelian idea of longue dure (described in History and
Social Science), with its regard for the conceptualization of hierar-
chies as they form and reform, is reconciled in the thematic focus on
the nineteenth century and a differing narration, more resembling a
microhistory involving self-critique. In effect, any trowelling over and
skimming the cracks and discontinuities, or, alternatively, lling the
lags of history, has been discarded for an honest struggle with a history
that does not unfold as a neat series of ideas. Indeed, it is difcult at
times to see a signied agreement arising over what constitutes
suicide. Yet there is no doubt that throughout suicides history, the
images associated with it form part of a cultural sign system which
plays a crucial role in directing responses and giving meaning to an
apparently wilful and symbolic act.
The hierarchical and apparently stable picture arising from the
Braudelian long span of history is challenged and undermined by an
approach that looks for the production and articulation of suicide
arising from creative practice and philosophy. The story of suicides
representation does not presuppose an order, but argues instead that
visual representations might in themselves produce the social hierar-
chy, and that subsequent ages might recongure completely the
meaning of voluntary death. There still remains a historical problem
between the long picture of history where change appears linear and
slow and the short span where change appears as interrupted and
more abrupt.
A paramount problem is that the complex dialogue into which the
art historian must enter with suicides representations creates a source
of tension for art history or, rather, it obliges one to look beyond the
traditional formalities of art history to an unconventional iconogra-
phy which diminishes the signicance of the objects functionality, its
size and its place. Along with this, conventionally opposing notions of
aesthetic value and the popular have been collapsed or have been
brought together in order to discern the changing character of the
+ Andy Warhol, Suicide (Purple Jumping Man), +j, synthetic polymer paint and
silkscreen ink on canvas. Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
chosen representations. Even so, from the beginning I have recog-
nized, and been concerned with, the value of art history and also of
philosophy, which has been subjected to a similar rough treatment.
Plato, Hume and Camus have been handled with the same mixture of
respect and suspicion as those more modest writers of the eighteenth
century, the popular moralist Vicesimus Knox and the rst suicidolo-
gist Charles Moore. Though mine is not a global history I have tried
not to discard any wisdom that may help me understand and interpret
my theme.
In my examination of the long process of suicides delineation, I
have thus addressed three particular narratives: rst, the visual and
the verbal texts in the suicidal genre which are available to the histo-
rian; second, the historical re-presentation of suicide over time;
third, contemporary theory with its critical sensitivity towards repre-
sentation. Each narrative has brought with it specic problems and
particular solutions to the construction of a genealogy of suicide and
its forms. In turn, I have been obliged to negotiate a precarious route
at the interface of suicidal texts and philosophies appertaining to
suicide. Working at the point of intersection between texts and social
ideas of suicide, or between the producers intention and the public
reading, I have attempted to apprehend individual and collective
themes of meaning over time. As a result of the long historical pro-
cess ruptures and shifts in themes have been identied which I have
attempted to retain, synchronize and reconstitute as representations
of the traces of suicide.
The picture which unfolds of the art of suicide is one of a constant
overshadowing or a series of adumbrations of meaning, each casting
its shadow and in turn being overshadowed. At times the plausibility
of that storyline may be in question but the research has indicated the
unintelligibility of suicides history. Despite this, I would point to the
fact that no history is self-evident. The reader who looks for connec-
tions will sometimes be confounded. They are not always there.
Rather, The Art of Suicide begins to identify a typology of suicides
imaging, ranging from the earliest known image of self-killing, that of
the death of Ajax on a small seal, dated c. yoo uc (illus. ). My belief is
that further research will uncover many more images of suicidal
death, particularly for the periods of antiquity and Early Christianity.
They will be hidden away in museums and galleries, especially on
ceramics and illuminations, and for the later periods on artefacts and
art objects.
Some years ago, in the heady early days of my research, I wrote to
every gallery and museum in the United Kingdom enquiring about
images of suicide. Most of the institutions I contacted did not have a
catalogue that included specic sections on suicide. If this book proves
one thing only, the reader will realize that the images are prolic. I have
kept their letters of reply, some of which expressed horror or disgust
at my topic, some even hinted at a morbid desire on my part. I trust
that the nished text does not lend itself to such a reading.
: The Suicide of Ajax, bronze statue from Populonia, jth century uc. Museo Archeologico,
+ Representing Voluntary Death in
Classical Antiquity
There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner
who has no right to open the door and run away ...
(yo uc)
The messages of conict revealed in the few visual and historical
markers of suicidal death which remain from antiquity are strong
enough to conrm that, from the very outset, the history of suicide
has been played out on a stage where displacement, dialogic interrela-
tions and contradiction have acted out their contrary scenarios. The
arenas where conicting meanings of voluntary death circled and
collided expose a struggle for primacy where differing powers and
authorities are repeatedly claimed, won, celebrated and ultimately
lost. From the beginnings of their history, suicidal images acted not
simply as a sign of suicide itself but also, and essentially, as a sign of
otherness. On the one hand these early images reveal a fertility and
invite a variety of artistic and philosophical interpretations that set
the scene for further resourceful elaborations over the long history of
suicidal representation. On the other they offer a vivid template for
In this, the earliest period for which visual records exist, the rst
stratum was formed of the archaeology of suicide. Since then, succes-
sive layers of meaning have gradually overlaid it. The primary traces
of suicidal imagery, which originated in the Graeco-Roman world,
form a clear link with the evolution of philosophical beliefs, and in
general, the types identiable from antiquity indicate a change from
Hellenistic and Apollonian belief systems to the culture of Etruria
and Rome, in a chronological span from c. oo uc to c. +n o.
It must
be remembered, however, that there were marked differences between
Roman and Greek societies, and so to talk of antiquity as universal is
to confuse these variations.

However, Greek and Roman antiquity

was underpinned by some shared beliefs and assumptions.
For the pagan, death represented a transit from one world to
another. Hades, the realm of Pluto and the dead, was an underworld,
a place of shadows but, unlike the later Christian vision of Hell, did
not threaten eternal damnation and punishment; nor did it inspire the
ancient world with horror. It was not until the Christian era, with its
division of the afterworld into purgatory and areas of eternal bliss and
eternal torment, that life beyond death was invested with supernat-
ural properties, so that those approaching death did so with a sense of
culpability and foreboding.

In the Christian world, good hope and

grace did not await the sodomite, or the suicide, only despair.
On the face of things a voluntary transition to Hades seemed to
have been admissible in antiquity, though the presence of preventative
strategies indicates it was also to be avoided.
Visual evidence is scanty,
but the few images which do survive from the period, inscribed on
seals, in sculptures and wall paintings, appear to buoy up the argument
that, despite its apparent acceptance and its historical reputation as
something of an heroic death in antiquity, voluntary death was, never-
theless, not wholly acceptable. As Socrates suggested, the act of volun-
tary death seems to have been whispered in secret, rather than
proclaimed aloud, and by his use of the term run away implies a
cowards death.
In Platos The Trial and Death of Socrates, Socrates Apology for his
death includes the statement that it was better for me to die now and
be delivered from trouble.

In Greek antiquity, to die by ones own

hand was not wrong in itself, but good reason was required for the
In Platos story Phaedo, Socrates refuses to avail himself of the
chance to escape after his trial and drinks the hemlock which will
inevitably kill him. Socrates keeps the prison door closed. Though
Platos text with its concern for Ideal Theory and exalted patriotism
would seem to deny the Socratic notion of the immortality of the
soul, Socrates death was still considered a landmark on mans
voyage to eternity.
For the ancients, then, death, even wilful death,
heralded some kind of immortality.
Besides, the languages of classical antiquity had no word for
suicide: the concept was expressed by means of a very different
terminology. The vocabulary that stood in for suicide was vast.
David Daubes analysis The Linguistics of Suicide, however, offers
the reader two useful categories for an analysis of the early period:
rst, suicide as killing, and second, suicide as a form of dying.

divisions offer a manageable framework for analysis
Self-killing (autoktonos) implied a violent death, but not necessarily
a crime; earlier Greek expressions also connote a dying rather than a
killing or a murder. To die voluntarily (hekousios apotheisko), or to
grasp death (lambano thanaton), implied not just a sophistication in
terms of method (the hemlock), but also a method that indicated a
passive form of suicide.
The notion of a self-murderer (auto-
phoneutes) which arose in the later classical period signied an
and though hanging was considered a bad death, the viola-
tion in this case had more to do with motive than method. It must be
borne in mind that the syntax and meanings of voluntary death in this
period were linguistically complex, and an expression such as auto-
phoneutes could also mean one who instigates the suicide of another,
someone who authorizes someone elses death, even though that
death might subsequently be by their own hand.
The indications
are, then, that at the very beginning of the recorded history of the act,
active and passive suicides were linguistically differentiated. All these
terms were effectively to be replaced by one: suicide. The attendant
problems of the history of suicide are to some extent linguistic, and
for the actual analysis of those who take their lives, the capacious
vocabulary of antiquity may be more propitious.
The dominant linguistic expressions of antiquity implied a mode
of dying, in preference to a mode of killing, the notion of self-murder
arose much later. It is generally believed that suicidium is a Latinism,
constructed in the seventeenth century +n from Latin sui (of oneself)
and cidium (from caedere to kill). Yet its earliest traces can be found in
the use of the word suicida in monastic writing in the twelfth
From the early part of the seventeenth century, the legal
and popular use of the term marks a period of severity towards self-
killers which does not seem to have had the same prevalence in Greek
or Roman culture.
Close examination of its linguistic development reveals that the
concept of suicide has been represented as a product of Augustinian
severity; this in turn suggests that suicide is signicatory of such, and
therefore replete with meaning in itself. However, the historical thesis
that Augustine of Hippos Neoplatonism alone could have reversed
the perspectives of antiquity is highly dubious.
From the Early Christian era (c. uc) to the beginning of the
fteenth century, a Christian millennium, suicide was, among other
designations, seen as a product of diabolical despair which, together
with presumption, was proscribed by the Church as one of the two
sins against the Holy Ghost. For the Christian believer, then, self-
murder was already invested with a religious signicance; but
MacDonald and Murphy advance the proposition that beyond this
period, the sixteenth-century revolution in government and religion
in England had a further, and very signicant, impact on attitudes.
They argue that as a consequence of this upheaval both crown and
church derived prot from self-murder.
By emphasizing the sinful
nature of suicide, the new Protestant Church was able to attract
followers through the offer of salvation, while the monarch acquired
material benets from the forfeiture of the suicides goods. Suicides
link with the supernatural was thus established for Christian congre-
gations, and the state, which could acquire riches through the process
of forfeiture, was well aware of its social and legal implications. It was
into this climate of repression that the legal term suicide was born.
Therefore, by the early modern period in England, perceptions of
the deed and its consequences were both clear and generally under-
stood. As a consequence, its representation, as we shall see, was
largely unambiguous. When, however, one turns to the period of
antiquity, the picture is more opaque. What then did representations
of suicide mean for antiquity?
In the rst place, the frequent references in literature and extensive
dictionary entries on suicide suggest that there was no formal exclu-
sion of the subject. Indeed, as others have noted, towards the end of
the period of Greek and Roman domination the degree of literary
reference and the actual occurrence of suicide increased.
although there are numerous verbal references, particularly in the
writing of the Stoics, visual reference is muted.
Suicidal imagery in antiquity was limited. Only with the insertion
of suicide into a religious discourse did images begin to proliferate.
This lack of images in antiquity must be considered as having a deter-
mining role in generating meanings of suicide since, if suicide is seen
as being shaped through publication, then due acknowledgement must
also be paid to absence. Images may well have been lost or destroyed,
but the infrequency of the depiction of self-killing in pre-Christian
and pagan society may imply that the visual representation of suicide
was actually taboo. Although on the face of it, images of self-killing
appear to have been prohibited during this period, production clearly
did occur; and there are still enough discursive traces for the historian
to begin to analyse their typology and circulation.
Van Hooff cites Philostratos appreciative references in Eikones to
paintings of self-killing near Naples, images which are now lost, or
which may never have existed in the rst place.
The collection
described by Philostratos included the heroic death of Menoikeus,
who threw himself on his sword in order to save Thebes, and two
others representing mythical women, Euadne and Laodameia, who
both chose death by re. Philostratos text also signies that, from the
very beginning of its recorded history, the visualization of suicide for
women and for men was given differing ascriptions.
For men, suicide signied a more active death. I would go further
and hypothesize that in the period of antiquity the graphic treatment
of certain aspects of these constructions was culturally proscribed,
and that clever articulations of nation and gender were written in to
them. Philostratos, for instance, inscribes Euadnes death on the
funeral pyre with a heroic and gendered meaning. Preferring as she
did the pyre to the rope, Euadne earned the writers commendation,
since she did not hang herself as other women did in response to
loss. Philostratos also reports an image of the death of Pantheia,
whose suicide was attributed to her feelings of responsibility for the
death of her husband, and a panorama of a rocky coast where a boy
and girl, united in a suicide pact, ew into the sea in a rst and last
Motivated variously by love for ones country, for ones
husband, or love unrealized, these images of death were highly valued
by Philostratos. It is not clear at this point if the method and the
motive were consciously interconnected, though for Philostratos
hanging clearly had feminine connotations. Thus, it appears that even
before the emblematic suicide of Judas, hanging was regarded as a
bad, faint-hearted, or feminine death. From the beginning of
suicides representation, however, there is some evidence of a struc-
tural disagreement between good and bad deaths that depended on
motive and method; and throughout the long history this disagree-
ment is constantly in ux.
Chronologically, suicides depiction begins with the death of Ajax
and my reading of these early images begins with a small seal record-
ing the death of Ajax (illus. ). This, the earliest image of suicide
uncovered, appears to designate suicide as gladiatorial, and thus the
history of the depiction of suicide begins with a death which is both
male and heroic. Although the sword, which is the rst method to be
represented as employed in self-killing, may be read as a symbol of
death, extermination and also of psychic decision, any analysis of
suicidal method would need to acknowledge that the perpetrator
probably used whatever was immediately to hand. Further, any study
of suicide is bedevilled by the fact that, from its inception, suicidal
discourse is enmeshed with mythology. People are born and people
die. In-between is what ction and history call life, and life itself is
continually ctionalized. To interrupt or snare the ction creates
further myths. With suicide, the unarticulated chain of concepts by
which it is understood changes from decade to decade, death to death.
However, it is possible to make some general statements.
In his +oy work The Ajax of Sophocles A. C. Pearson testies to the
fact that Ajaxs story has its own history and development. Two
versions exist of Ajaxs suicide, one by Pindar in which Troys most
famous hero commits his self-killing as a result of dishonour, and
Sophocles more detailed version, where Ajax son of Telamon, insane
with vexation when the armour of Achilles won from Hector was
awarded to his companion Ulysses, falls on his own sword. In Pindars
version of the story Ajax immediately kills himself. In Sophocles tale
he is driven mad and slaughters a ock of sheep which he takes for the
Only on regaining his senses and realizing his actions does
he kill himself.
The initial image of Ajax (illus. ), on a small seal about two
centimetres across and dated c. yoo uc, contains few narrative details.
It simply shows the aftermath of the killing, and gives no clue as to
which story it might belong. The seal shows Ajax impaled on his
sword. How do we know it is Ajax? Other images conrm his identity
by offering the reader the same pose, and tell the Homeric story by the
inclusion of Ulysses and Diomedes standing over the body of the
dying hero. The total number of images is small, but together they
portray a recognizable typology of Ajaxs death. He is represented
either as impaled by his sword or kneeling over it with the blade facing
up and the handle buried in the ground (illus. , j). Encoded in the
images is the story through a representation of its ending or a repre-
sentation of intention. In several of the images of Ajax, his madness
and instability are denoted in the images by his falling, unstable body.
The Death of Ajax,
seal from Corinth,
c. yoo BC. Muse du
Louvre, Paris.
Ajax Preparing for His Death, painting on a black-gure krater attributed to Exekias,
c. jo BC. Muse des Beaux-Arts et dArchologie, Boulogne.
j Ajax Impaled by His Sword, painting on a black-gure krater from Corinth, c. oo BC.
Muse du Louvre, Paris.
The seal shows the naked body of Ajax falling on his sword. His
physical imbalance is caught by the raised toes and muscular tension
of the calf muscles, the front of the thighs and the curved back
circling the outside of the seal. The sprawled outstretched hands
reach down almost as far on the opposite radial of the seal to his toes
and complete the tension. The sword is piercing his middle. A scene
attributed to Exekias and painted on a krater (c. jo uc) shows what
appears to be a more composed and deliberate suicide (illus. ). Ajax
is on his haunches planting the sword in a small mound in the ground.
A palm tree traces the curve of Ajaxs spinal cord to give emphasis to
his brokenness and his defeat. His body is depicted as cumbersome,
supported as it is by two tiny feet. The sheer weight of body ratio to
feet indicates that Ajax will fall on the sword. It may be that mental
instability is shown by bodily physical proportion. In this tiny relief,
the commensurability of body parts which give rise to ideal beauty
and its theorizing in the canon of Polyclitus are relevant only in that
the constituent parts of the body do not match. The imbalance
appears to serve two purposes: one, he will fall, two, he is physically
and perhaps mentally unstable.
To the right of Ajax and looking down is what appears at rst to be
a helmeted gure holding a shield. Closer examination shows a helmet
and a shield only. This probably represents the armour of Hector, or is
a representation of Ulysses who won the armour. It is a strange motif,
suggesting a human presence where none exists. Further clues are
provided on the shield. In the centre is depicted the stark white head
of Medusa, the Gorgon. The shield and helmet might be a reference
to Perseus and his victory over the Gorgon, or to the shield of
Achilles, a symbol of mans attempts to overcome death and the
futility of such efforts.
Originally the Gorgons head portrayed on
shields served to frighten off the enemy or to ward off evil spirits.
Since Freud, the Gorgon has signied castration.
In this latter
sense Ajax is emasculated. If we wished to extend that reading,
woman is the cause of a particular masculine death. To the modern
reader, Ajaxs petrifaction is connoted, as is his inability to intervene
in destiny.
A Corinthian black-gure krater (c. oo uc) (illus. j) depicts Ajaxs
suicide at the moment of its discovery by his friends Odysseus
(Ulysses) and Diomedes and shows the body pierced by his sword. An
identical image, carved on the metope from the temple of Hera, is now
in the museum at Paestum.
The crucial difference between this
image and the representations we will consider is that while they
depict either the moments immediately preceding death or the
moment itself, this one shows Ajaxs corpse.
The unclad body is supported by hands, elbows and knees. The
blade of the sword is embedded in the ground. Ajax is impaled with
the handle appearing at the base of the spine. It is likely that the male
gure on the right in front of his shield is Ulysses, the winner of the
shield. Ulysses offers a gesture of dismay, expressed by a hand placed
on the nape of his neck. The expression is meaningful, for it signals
both despair and disbelief. Here, then, despair is not conned to the
suicide, but is also keenly felt by those left behind: the interlinking of
despair and dismay is a central theme in suicides history. In this case,
the shield and helmet shown must be those taken from Hector.
Diomedes is stooping over the gure covered by his shield, and the tip
of his spear forms an arch with the tip of Ulysses helmet to position
the fallen Ajax in the centre of the triangle.
A gem from Etruria shows Ajax falling on his sword (illus. ) and a
bronze from Populonia depicts him holding his sword with his right
hand. His body leans at j degrees, his right leg is bent at the knee
and his head turned away while his left arm is thrown out in despair
(illus. :). Ajaxs insanity is evident.
So what, in fact, do these earliest images tell us about voluntary
death in the period? It is probably too simplistic to make the connec-
tion between the temporary insanity induced by a female goddess,
Athena, and a gendered position, but the myth of woman and
Ajax Falling on His Sword, carved sard gem from Etruria, rst quarter of jth century BC.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
induced insanity has resonances elsewhere in literature and art that
will be explored below. Be that as it may, death itself had a feminine
aspect in Greek mythology where it was imagined that death was the
sister of sleep or the daughter of the night. In truth, however, the
story of Ajax is one of a guilt-ridden hero outclassed by his father.
The story also illustrates and confounds the complex nature of
suicides motives, as it combines all three of Durkheims motivational
categories, anomic, altruistic and egoistic.
On the obverse of the krater there is a painting of Iole and Herak-
les. The image of the latter is revealing, since in myth he was the most
popular of heroes. Herakles was the man who always chose the most
difcult but correct path.
In myth Herakles overcame obstacle after
obstacle leading towards the realization of self. Nonetheless Herakles
destroyed self too, though the suicidal elements of his death by self-
burning are not as obvious as Ajaxs suicide. In some respects the
heros survival is ensured by the lack of imagery of his death (illus. y).
The single image referred to above shows the bearded Herakles in
several states leading to his apotheosis. The image serializes the story
of Herakles, beginning around the base with a running gure, a gure
in action with a club, then a torso on a burning pyre and, nally, his
transportation to the seat of the gods in heaven.
Standing over Herakles pyre is the goddess Athena who guides
him upwards while a further divinity (Jupiter) escorts an unbearded
Herakles, still with his symbolic club, to heaven in a chariot. This is a
very different representation from the images of Ajax. The scene is
not a simple voluntary death but a translation. Herakles life is to
continue in heaven where Juno is to give him the hand of her daughter
Hebe in marriage. His is a removal that has been engineered by the
gods, and is connoted by his gure rising from the base up the right
side of the vase and across the top. Herakles is guided on this journey
by a divine cortege. If the depictions of Ajax show a death, or a mode
of dying that displays a psychodynamic understanding of suicidal
death, Herakles story shows a comprehension of the very nature of
suicidal thought and the illogicality of the split in the suicides orien-
tation. The suicides belief in immortality is signied. In the myth it
is his mothers share that perishes, and then Jupiter takes him up in
The earthly body dies but the myth of Herakles lives on.
This idiosyncratic image is not an image of a suicide at all. It is an
example of exagoge. The self-murderers in this case were the gods
themselves who ordered this son of Zeus to kill himself . The
absence of imagery of Socrates suicide might imply a similar depar-
ture. The pictorial unfolding of the story thus signies a continuation
of life. Herakles transmutation by re and cloud is clearly serialized
on this fascinating vase.
The generality of images remaining from antiquity show, for both
women and men, the body portrayed intact, and what is chiey shown
is intent, rather than the deed itself. In antiquity, where death was
seen as a separation of body and soul, the image transcends death. In
such a culture the mutilated body was not depicted. This is contra-
dicted somewhat by those artists of antiquity whose artistic devices
operated carefully to show that Ajax was, in fact, impaled on his
sword, though no wound or blood is apparent.
As reported by Philostratos, Euadne was seen to be descending to
the pyre, but not actually in the ames. In a drawing by Reinach,
derived from earlier sources, Fedra is pictured holding the rope, but
not hanging, and in a scene from the Aiolas of Euripides on a vase by
the Amykos Painter (c. +o uc), Canace is shown draped across a sofa,
clutching a short sword. Her brother, the father of her child, is shown
to the left, his hands bound behind him (illus. 8). In the depiction of
Herakles (illus. y), however, his torso is seen in the ames, although,
y The Apotheosis of
Herakles, red-gure pelice
found at Vulci and attributed
to Cadmos, c. jo BC. Museum
Antiker Kleinkunst, Munich.
as the same image also depicts his ascent to heaven, this witnesses the
redundancy of his earthly body.
It is feasible to assume that in the ancient world the cultivation of
self, and the objectication of oneself as a eld of action, would limit
the depiction of self-killing to sanitized images. The history of
suicides representations shows that the discrete notions of self-
killing, dying and self-murder are deployed in very different ways. In
a way it is the nature of this deployment that helped in the construc-
tion of a system of good and bad deaths. Ironically, one of the
earliest images of a suicidal death was that of Socrates, whose own
teaching helped give rise to the cultivation of self.
Ordered to take
his own life, Socrates was the victim of a self-murderer, but his trial
and condemnation to death meant his self-murder was ordered by
the State.
Hitherto, in order to kill her/his self , the suicide had to see
her/himself as object, which to some extent contradicts the world
view of the societies with which we are dealing. The notion of self is
a modern one and alien to these cultures. This too may explain the
limited number of representations in antiquity. In addition, certain
superstructural differences existed in the artistic ideologies of ancient
Rome and Greece. In the latter, art was predominantly ofcial, in the
former it was not; thus in Greek art the public imagery of suicide
would require the support of governmental patronage while in Rome
such patronage was private. My survey indicates that in neither case
8 The Suicide of Canace, scene from Euripides Aiolas painted on a red-gure hydria by the
Amykos Painter, c. +o BC. Museo Provinciale, Bari.
was the public imagery of suicide at all common.
In fact, Socrates death had become mythologized by the time its
rst extant image, a carved relief, was crafted, over two hundred years
after Socrates entry into the world of ideal presences of which
earthly reality is a mere shadow.
The chronological gap between
the event and its rst surviving image indicates a silence, a suppres-
sion in the visual eld of this obligatory death. Evidently it was not
easy, or perhaps not even possible, for visual representations of
Socrates death to be produced until the underpinning ideology of
the Hellenistic era had eroded away. By then, the rational values of
Socrates thought were being displaced by the emergent Christian
ideology, and ironically, the growth of values inimical to suicide.
Historically there is an overlap of pagan and Early Christian
philosophy, and it is clear that the agreements and disagreements
between the cultures are complex in that in both Graeco-Roman and
Judaeo-Christian cultural life was perceived as being given meaning
by death. This was especially true of Christianity, whose foundations
were laid by those martyrs who died voluntarily for their faith.
However, before this era of interface, public works depicting
voluntary death were commissioned; but in both Greek and Roman
culture, public imagery tends to fall into the category of what
Durkheim and Halbwachs termed suicides obsidionaux: an enemy
about to kill himself rather than suffer capture.
The reading will
show these categories to be simplistic and incomplete. Two important
examples of such images have come to light: rst, a statue which has
been identied by Visconti as a Gaul slaying himself and his wife, and
second, the death of Decebulus on Trajans column and on an earth-
enware cup from Southern Gaul.
Presumed to have been carved in the original by Epigonus, the
anonymous Gaul belongs to the Hellenistic period, and is deemed by
Visconti to have been a central feature of a monument erected by
Attalos the First to celebrate his victory over the Gauls at Pergamon
(c. :o uc), though only a Roman copy remains in the Palazzo Altemps
in Rome (illus. ).
The site of the original statue has not been deter-
mined. Art-historical reconstructions of the monument show a dying
gladiator, a dying trumpeter and three other gures around the Gaul
(illus. +o). The defeated gladiator supports his sinking body on one
hand, one leg is outstretched, his shield is discarded to his left and his
head hangs down. Round his neck is a rope. Winckelmanns claim that
the rope around the neck was a strategy used by heralds to prevent
burst blood vessels may be relevant, but it is a curious attribute in this
case. The Ludovisi Gaul, as it is often referred to, depicts a man who

A Gaul Slaying Himself and His Wife, Roman copy after a Greek original of the
Pergamon school, c. :o BC, marble. Palazzo Altemps, Rome.
+o The Victory Monument of Attalos, rd century BC, reconstruction by
Arnold Schober.
has slain his wife and who is holding onto her with his left hand. The
intensity of her death is emphasized by the fact it is perpetrated by
her husband rather than by herself. Having made sure of her death,
he has plunged his sword into his own heart with his right hand. That
blood is bursting from the wound clearly contradicts the notion that
there was a risk that the formal and moral perfection expected in
works of art in classical antiquity would be contravened by the depic-
tion of a mutilated body.
While it may be debatable whether or not the statue actually repre-
sents a Gaul, the varying interpretations of the work which have been
advanced themselves indicate not just the dextrous attempts of the
connoisseur to assess the statues style and subject matter, but also the
equivocal nature of responses to suicide. Haskell and Pennys Taste
and the Antique lists a variety of such explanations. Named and
renamed in different inventories from +: it took three titles
between + and +yo, a fourth by +8, and a fth in +yo. The
image in Haskell and Pennys text carries the title Paetus and Arria;
thus they give credence to Seignelays reading of the statue as the
representation of the death of Paetus and his wife Arria (+yo). Paetus
was sentenced to death for treason by Nero in +n j. Other titles
include Fulvius and his Wife (+), Gaul and his Wife (+yo),
Macareus and Canace (+8), Pyramus and Thisbe (+8) and Sextus
Marius (+).
I would suggest that there is a further level of meaning in the work.
The Gauls wife is sinking slowly in passive defeat. This is signied
by the limp arm of the dead or dying woman still held by the man. In
contrast, even though he is mortally wounded, the Gaul himself is
animated, looking over his shoulder in fearful expectation. The pitch
and intensity of his attempt to kill himself is clear. To the modern
reader, it is a gesture of deance as much as of defeat, an indictment
of his enemy as well as an escape from him. On the one hand it is an
acceptance of death, on the other a denial; an apt sign of the dilemma
of the analysis of suicide. In this sense it foregrounds the ambiguous
nature of suicide. It is unlike the representations of the death of
Herakles in that it does not represent a Greek removed from life
(exagoge), but something more physical, more substantial. It may be
that the Gaul symbolizes his nation, is a personication of Gaul. In
any case, what we see is a violent portrayal of a man killing himself
and his wife where her death is not of her volition, though we might
assume it is by her consent.
That this statue is reckoned to be part of Attalos victory monu-
ment does not provide an entirely satisfactory explanation of its func-
tion. In the light of the humanistic philosophy which permeated
Hellenistic culture it has been suggested by Germaine Bazin that the
statue might have two functions. One, as a symbol of victory; two, as a
gesture of pity from the victor to the vanquished, who must suffer the
degradation of defeat.

In this way the image serves to exonerate the

victor from responsibility for the humiliation of the vanquished.
Moreover, several writers have noted the depiction of national and
racial differences in the statue, the coarseness of the features, the
tousled hair, the tense muscles and the lack of grace.

The opinion is
that the physical attributes portrayed are not those generally repre-
sented of a Greek.
This would further support Viscontis argument that the statue
represents either a Gaul or a German who had died heroically on the
To represent the differences between this and other
contemporary works as stemming from a new realism, or as reecting
a new frankness of style, while at the same time describing the image
as unusual is to avoid a critical engagement with its meaning.

describe the sculpture as baroque is pointless.
There is no
sustained discussion in any of these works of the links between these
physical characteristics and the subject matter. In this respect it is
worth considering momentarily the medium of sculpture and its abil-
ity to capture reality.
In a discussion on sculptures power in respect of its verisimilitude
Richard Brilliant, in his book Portraiture, shows how sculpture lends
itself more readily to referentiality than does painting and, effected by
the autoicon, offers a more immediate, more convincing image of
something once-living.
In Brilliants thesis, sculpture replicates
reality and stands in for the original. The stark reality of the statue of
the Gaul may capture what appears to be a naturalistic body, but in
these early carved images of death their iconic nature is made prob-
lematic by the social aspect and its increasing arbitrariness.

Stylistic change, however, is not in itself sufcient to explain the

construction of the Gauls physique and appearance since such an
analysis neglects both the statues function and its reception. Funda-
mentally, the statue is a phyletic representation which connotes differ-
ence and allows the subject of suicide a public site for displaying
what-is-not-Greek. What was whispered indoors for the Greek philoso-
pher was publicly declared for the vanquished Gaul and his wife.
Within the parameters of my argument it is a meaningful image, as
it highlights from the outset the instability and articiality of suicides
meanings. The vast scholarship on the statue reects the connois-
seurs wilful neglect of meaning; even so it is their erudition that has

provided valuable clues for a critical reading of the work. The sculp-
ture has a contradictory logic contained within it. The variety of
scholastic interpretations indicates the nature of these writings as a
supplement to the statue, which defer and produce their own mean-
ings of suicide in the sense Derrida describes.
The writing operates
only to replace the sculpture. What is radically different to other
images in antiquity is that this is an image of voluntary death that is
dened by the act where the agent connotes an enemy.
The Ludovisi Gaul is thus situated within language, and that
language not only denotes the complexity of suicidal imagery, but also
constructs otherness. It is a self-killing which does not reect the acad-
emic avour of its contemporaries, and it does not simply depict own-
handedness. The Gauls sidelong glance gives an indication of his
motive. Rather than fall into his enemys hands he kills his wife and
then himself. Inscribed in the statue there appears to be a shift in
representation from subject to object. The Gaul and his wife are objec-
tied; the death, though noble, is nevertheless a suicide. There is
confusion here between the act, the appraisal of that act and its desig-
nation: a problem with act and object. The depiction of blood also
emphasizes the Gauls mortality. Arguably, we are presented with both
a killing and a mode of dying. Also signicant is that this statue, one of
the most powerfully realistic expressions of suicidal death in antiquity,
represents neither a Greek nor a Roman. Acceptable as such a death
might have been in this period, it is nevertheless inscribed upon
another national body. In effect, it offers the beginning of an alphabet
for additional readings of visual representations of suicidal death.
A further important image, that of the Dacian king Decebulus, can
be found on Trajans Column in Rome (illus. ++). The relief, a symbol
of the violence of Roman society, was a tribute to Trajan and wound
around the column in the form of a strip. Illustrations show Decebu-
lus under a tree about to be seized by four Romans, three on horse-
back and one on foot. Decebulus is depicted as a defeated man
sprawled on the oor in the well-known icon of the dying gladiator,
later named Myrmillo. The Roman foot soldier to the right of Dece-
bulus has his sword ready, aimed at Decebulus head. Van Hooff s
work also cites the case of the death of Decebulus on an earthenware
cup, and conrms that the depiction of historical scenes is rare on
these objects. The cup (illus. +:), from Southern Gaul, depicts a
contorted gure reeling back from a leaping lion. His shield is behind
him and his sword turned towards his midriff. Between the leonine
symbol of Rome and the king is scrawled the name Decebulus. The
victim is thus named, and the image commandeered by the signa-
ture. The ideas of nation and manliness encapsulated in these works
of art indicate the power relations at work in suicidal representation.
The heroic nature of Decebulus suicide is questioned in the image:
according to the history books, the Roman soldier who took the head
of Decebulus to Rome was the true celebrity.
Alongside this, the much restored and much copied sculptural
image of the death of Seneca (illus. +), found on an estate between S.
Matteo and S. Guiliano in Rome, provides the reader with a further
unit for evaluating representations of suicidal death. Regarded by
Winckelmann in +yy as similar to images of slaves,
it has subse-
quently been described by Bieber, drawing on Visconti, as The Fisher-
man and by others as The Slave.

It, too, represents blood, although it

is assumed that the reddened African marble bowl or vase, which
connotes sanguinity and in which Seneca is placed, was added at a
later date.

There is no doubt that the aged gure, the bath and the
blood lend weight to the theory that the sculpture relates the story of
Senecas death. Seneca, an old man, opened his veins; but his old age
++ Decebulus, detail of
Trajans Column, Rome,
c. ++j AD.
meant his blood ran very slowly. In order to hasten the process, he
stood in a bath of hot water.
In the image, the bath serves to dene the gure more closely as
Seneca, and in this respect it is an intriguing addition. That the gure
might not in fact represent Seneca, but simply an old man, was spot-
ted by the sceptical Scottish traveller Joseph Forsyth in +8o:.
tendency of the art historical connoisseur to nominalize, and in this
case to perpetuate the ambiguity that is suicide, is clearly an aspect of
the historiography of both Seneca and The Gaul.
Although several images of suicide survive from the Etruscan
period (yjo:oo uc), the range is small, and they are found mainly on
vases. If suicide was not readily apparent in public works it was more
so in household objects. In recent years the gendered identity of the
private domain (oikos) and the public domain (polis) has been the
source of several inuential studies.

The cosmos apart, any voluntary

death belonged also to these two spheres. I would contend that
whether the death was public or private mattered in antiquity and that
location counted in terms of meaning.
During this period the binary relationships between nature (physis)
and culture (nomos), were established. The argument that the chang-
ing relationship between these spheres and between polis and oikos
form an ongoing dynamic that can be studied in order to allow the
historian to discern who has a public political voice (men) and who
has none (women) has great relevance here.
In the case of suicides

+: Decebulus, detail of a drawn copy of a painting on an earthenware cup from Southern

Gaul signed Lucius Cosius, rd century AD.
representations, the greater number of male images surviving from
the period indicates that in antiquity it was largely those with the
responsibility for the political domain who killed themselves in
representation. Furthermore, if that death was suffered for the
fatherland, if the fatherland was Greece or Rome, then it was judged a
good death. However, the images of these suicides were on objects
predominantly located in the private sphere, the space designated as a
feminine domain during the period of antiquity.
Two other meaningful representations are among the existing fres-
coes at Pompeii. The rst is Pyramus and Thisbe (illus. +), and the
+ The Dying Seneca (sometimes called The Elderly Fisherman), found near SS. Matteo and
Guiliano, Rome, alabaster and marble with enamelled eyes. Muse du Louvre, Paris.
second, which might be deemed a suicide, Narcissus. The theme of
dependency running through suicides representation, and the corre-
spondence between word and image is clear in this representation of
Ovids story of the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, while the story of
Narcissus has many signicant connotations for the later feminization
of suicide and its association with men of sensibility.
In Metamorphoses Ovid recounts the narrative of Pyramus arrange-
ment to meet Thisbe by the white mulberry tree near the tomb of
Ninus, the builder of Nineveh. Thisbe waits, but is frightened by a
lion and runs away, leaving her veil. The lion smears it with blood.
Pyramus arrives and, thinking his lover has been killed by the lion, falls
on his sword.
Thisbe returns soon after to nd him and she, in turn,
falls on the sword. In mythology it is the blood of the lovers that stains
the mulberry red. In Ovids stories change is illusionary or meta-
+ Pyramus and Thisbe, fresco from the House of Loreius Tiburtinus, Pompeii, c. ADy.
phoric, and death is inevitable. Randomness is not applicable here and
the modern reader can forget familiar notions of chance.
The wall painting in the house of Loreius Tiburtinus in Pompeii
shows the lovers dying. In the background is a lioness, though Ovid
mentions a lion. The bloody veil hangs on a tree which echoes and
frames Thisbes body. The myths popularity will be discussed in
later chapters, and is demonstrated by the number of illustrations
which can be found, especially by the Middle Ages. The story was the
model for Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet, and for the rustics scenes
in a Midsummer Nights Dream which offer a travesty of the deaths.
Demonstrating the uidity of the imaging of suicide, in one medieval
text, the Gesta Romanorum, the lion represented evil (or the devil),

and Pyramus was interpreted as the son of God who allowed his own
death. Later, in Renaissance texts, the heroic aspect was restored.
Metamorphoses also provided the literary source for the second
painting at Pompeii. In Ovids text, Narcissus sees his own reection
in a fountain and thinks it to be the nymph of the place. In another
version of the story he jumps in to the fountain trying to reach the
image and dies. It is generally accepted that he fell in love with his
reection and pined away. When the nymphs came for the body they
found only a ower in its place. Michael Grant also mentions a
painted image of Narcissus, contemporary to Ovids text, from
Hermopolis Magna in Egypt.
In the earliest known example of a
short story, a tale from Egypt from the workshop of the scribe Anena,
there is a suicide. Probably written during the reign of Rameses II,
The Two Brothers: Anpu and Bata dates from c. +oo uc.
However, in effect, Narcissus dies twice. He rst becomes dead to
the real world, and then he fuses with nature. But can this double
death be categorized as suicide? His real death, the result of idle
dreams, goes through a series of translations, from a Neoplatonist
belief that the soul had found no satisfaction in the body of Narcissus
to a modern psychoanalytical diagnosis. Clearly each is socialized
within its historical context. In contrast to these depictions of men or
lovers, images of lone women in the period are few and far between.
Of single women only four images have been brought to notice: those
of Jokaste, Canace, Dido and Phaedra.
What is unusual in suicidal discourse in the period of antiquity is
that voluntary death as a masculine death dominates the visual eld,
whereas in the literary canon women abound. There do not appear to
be many female images at all. Lucretias death (dated c. jo uc), is the
earliest entry in Griss table of frequency,
but even she is not
portrayed in visual terms until much later. By the fourteenth century
+n she was exceedingly popular. Cleopatra (o uc), Sophonisba (third
century uc), Portia (c. : uc) and Elektra (who symbolizes the values of
the private domain) are found only in writing. Visual images of Dido, a
Phoenician, and the Greeks Jokaste and Phaedra are still existent.
Phaedra, or Fedra as she is named in this particular sketch by
Reinach from a ancient painting, is shown with a rope in her right
hand, her head hanging down to one side, and her left hand holding
her gown loosely across her lower body (illus. +j). The drawing, taken
from the Virgilius Vaticanus, is a copy of the primary image of a
woman hanging. Like Decebulus, the protagonist is labelled by her
name scrawled above her left shoulder: Fedra, a signature which
brings together hanging and a feminine death associated with incestu-
ous wrongdoing. The image is of a youthful woman, and though it
gives nothing away, her evil might well be signied in the method,
which in turn might reect on the motive. Hanging was taboo in
Hellenistic culture and even more so in Roman culture. The Romans
regarded it as crude and perdious, a death t only for wrongdoers
and women. A later Roman version of the play Phaedra by Seneca
heroicizes Phaedra by replacing the problematic rope with a gladiato-
rial sword.

+j Phaedra Carrying a Noose, the Means of

Her Decease (inscribed Fedra), copy of an
image from the Tor Marancio.
Phaedras failed attempt to seduce her son-in-law Hippolytus not
only caused the death of Hippolytus, through the curse of her
wronged husband Theseus, but also resulted in her revenge hanging.
In this sense, the motive might establish hanging as a bad death. A
fourth-century vase shows Theseus standing over Phaedra while she
contemplates the discarded sword of Hippolytus buried in the
ground (illus. +). The interactive relationship between method and
motive is therefore grounded in these early images. If the method was
bad, it is suggested, then so was the motive. The sword connoted an
honourable way of dying, and an honourable return to the earth, but
the rope left the body hanging between heaven and earth and was
therefore an unseemly death. Additionally, Frazer noted in The
Golden Bough that suspension between heaven and earth placed
people out reach of earthly inuence and kept deities alive.
notion of deferment, of being held in abeyance, is intimated.
The death of Jokaste, as pictured on a relief cup that can be found
in the archaeological museum in Halle, repays close examination , as it
reveals clear evidence of the relational aspect of motive and method.
As with many of these images, a written text precedes the image, in
this case Euripides Phonissia. After Polyneikes and Eteokles, the sons
of Jokaste by her own son, Oedipus, had fought to the death, Jokaste
took the sword from one of them and stabbed herself. The use of the
gladiatorial weapon would imply heroic dimensions, but Sophocles
version of Jokastes death is as the penalty for her incest, and has her
hanging herself for shame when it is revealed that she has bred chil-

+ Theseus Finds Phaedra

Contemplating Suicide, vase
painting on an Apulian red-
gure pyxis from Altamura
showing a scene from Euripedes
First Hippolytus, th century BC.
Soprintendenza alle Antichit,
dren from her own son. Van Hooff cites a fourth-century statue which
depicts Jokaste hanging.
The evidence, such as it is, suggests that whether the cause of
death is Ajaxs or Jokastes desperation, Pyramus and Thisbes
romantic loss, Herakles mythic exagoge or Phaedras revenge and
frustration, it is predominantly mens relationships with men, and
womens relationship to men that forms the basis for much of the
typology of images of suicide. As victims of these relationships, or as
sinners, womens imaging provides the beginning of a typology which
offers a matrix for the further study of the gendered nature of
suicides imaging. Both aspects can be witnessed in the enduring
representation of Dido beyond the grave. Originally called Eliss, the
character was renamed Dido, meaning heroic. However, the images
of her death suggest that her heroic status is problematic. At times
they perpetuate her heroic status, at other times her disjuncture, her
+y The Suicide of Dido, detail from Codex Virgilius Vaticanus, th century AD. Biblioteca
Apostolica Vaticana, Rome.
Dido is shown in two images from late antiquity (fourth century
+n); both are from illuminated manuscripts in the Vatican Museum
(illus. +y, +8). In the rst, she is placed above the viewer on an
elevated couch, with a funeral pyre underneath, the height of which,
indicated by a ladder, may serve to symbolize her special status. Dido
holds a knife in her upraised right hand, which acts both as a gesture
of despair and to illustrate her intention. In the second, she is
pictured in death, surrounded by seven women. A peculiarity of the
second image is that the woman on the extreme left behind Dido
gestures with her hand in an exact replication of Didos gesture of
despair in the rst, though without the knife.
Though it is difcult to say which of these images precedes the
other chronologically, slight differences may provide a clue to the
serial nature of the two. The image containing the seven maidservants
has no window and Didos body is slumped back, implying the deed
has been done. If this is the case, the gesture by the handmaid would
then be one of despair for the princess. The absence of the window
space implies darkness and signies that there is no way out for this

+8 Dido Mourned by Her Maids, detail from Codex Virgilius Vaticanus.

heroic woman. In both these images Dido dies in her palace. This
supplementary shift of location from the public space in the seminal
story to the private in the visual representation may well serve to
deate the heroic status gained by Dido.
Virgils Aeneid reveals the differences as it offers a fairly sedate
version of Didos story where the pyre was built in the centre of the
city of Carthage and was presumed to be for her husband. The story
is worth recounting in this respect, as these images break from the
original narrative to offer alternative stories. The story by Virgil
describes her death in the centre of Carthage, a city built on land
which Dido herself had purchased. In one version the death is due to
the loss of her lover Aeneas, who had incurred Junos wrath and been
sent away. In another Aeneas is ignored and it is her loyalty to
Carthage which is emphasized. Though Cutter argues that the Vati-
can images of Dido are somehow less remote than Greek or Etruscan
the relocation of Dido into the private domain would also
be in keeping with the patriarchal ideology of Roman culture. Clearly,
the Vatican image relates more to the second story, but the images
apply to both tales in their interpretation. In the visual history of
suicide, the repetition of Didos story emphasizes the ambiguities of
suicidal death and the associated problems of analysis they provoke.
There is never simply one reading. A study of Didos imaging in later
periods expounds the development of ideas from suicide as heroic to
suicide as irrational, destructive and clinical, and makes problematic
the notion of spectatorship.
The early history of the visual representation of suicide indicates
the need to draw on interconnected practices in order to offer the
beginning of a reading, and in turn, these practices give rise to multi-
ple interpretations and contradictions. There are no images of the
slaves or plebeians who are listed in Griss work. The ordinary folk,
the foot soldiers, the slaves, the plebeians, are missing. Barred from
voluntary death due to their status as property they are also excluded
from representation. The low number of female images might imply
a similar status. In the earliest image which includes the representa-
tion of a woman, the case of the Gauls wife, she is peripheral.
Furthermore the decision to die is not taken by her. Resoluteness and
national characteristics belong to the central character and perpetra-
tor, the male. The Gauls wife is killed by virtue of being his wife and
nothing else. Her body is not given the peculiarities of a Gaul but is a
concept of woman.
At this stage, the interpretation of the early history of suicides
representation lends itself to the sphere of mentalits. Representa-
tions of suicide appear to be informed by the collective mentality of
the period. That men had more power than women appears to
account for their right over life and death. We are thus obliged to
consider the values, beliefs and representations of a society or epoch
in the way Jacques le Goff has described as pertinent to the practice of
lhistoire mentalit.
Moreover, my interpretation of the Gaul would
imply that the system of values and representation of a society may be
disguised or not perspicuous. The racial aspect of this statue implies
ties of blood were values of importance in antiquity. For me, it also
captures the sadness, the bloodiness and violence of voluntary death,
the nality, the end of human life and the birth of a shadow, a whisper
that is powerful and iconic.
In this respect, I have not become embroiled in philosophical ques-
tions as to the truth of a suicide; nor have I tried to seek to dene an
essence in the visual. To view the meanings of suicide as trans-histor-
ical would also be a pitfall in this argument, though these early images
clearly invite comparison. The short historical survey of images of
Dido referred to above demonstrates that the gap between signier
and signied is lled by multiple and changing discourses and prac-
tices which do not reect the reality of suicide. Consequently, the
discursive traces left to the historian from antiquity make problematic
the changing relationship over time between representations of the
natural and the social body. The differing visual articulations
described above show the way in which suicide entered language, not
as suicide in the way we know it but as a voluntary death.
Though there is an absence of depressive or melancholic themes in
ancient representations of suicide, in the death of Ajax they are
hinted at; and though there appears to be a pejorative aspect attrib-
uted to deaths such as hanging, or as a result of incest, there is no
apparent visual evidence that implies that hanging per se was seen as a
bad death. Instead, a hierarchy of heroic suicide emerges that gradu-
ally divides into active and passive deaths. In addition, these early
images show the ability of a society and its conditions to express a
system of norms and values that may never assume an explicit nature.
: Self-killing from Late Antiquity to
the Renaissance
Any study of the historical internalization of images of suicide in late
antiquity and Early Christianity will need to negotiate a prolonged
silence. From antiquity there is a sluggish but changing evolution of
suicides meanings which continues through to the early modern
period, when quite concentrated challenges to its meanings occur
after the period in which Hamlets soliloquy was written. Though
there is an expansion of suicidal imagery overall, it is not great. The
beginnings of this slow-paced spread take place in a period of
dramatic change, the crossover epoch where Early Christian culture
emerges from Jewish culture from around +n :oo. The pattern that
emerges of the sign suicide in Early Christianity is imbricated and
the extant images demonstrate that dissenting interpretations and
contrary utilizations are at work, both in late antiquity and through-
out the period of Early Christianity.
This chapter charts the changing attitudes towards suicide from
c. jo uc to c. +n +jjo, from late antiquity through the period of Early
Christianity (+n jo8jo), the Carolingian era (8oo+ojo), the so
called Dark Ages, the Romanesque (+ojo+jo) and the Renaissance.
The extended chronology overlaps with the previous chapter in order
to take in the absence of images in Jewish culture and to examine the
later growth of suicidal imagery in sacred paintings, prints, and in the
decorative arts in the medieval period. The images that illustrate
suicidal narratives in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament
clearly constitute a break with antiquity, though a thread of continu-
ity may be discerned in the portrayals of the Old Testament hero
Samson, and perhaps Saul. What was clearly persistent throughout
suicides history was the fact that the suicidal deaths of the poor were
always considered rueful, and common suicide was rebuked.
Though not explicitly offering a condemnation of suicide, Chris-
tianity promoted a lifestyle that would inevitably bring about such a
censure. Change was brought about indirectly by shifting attitudes to
quietus and the Christian regard for the secure transit of souls.

Indeed, in the medieval period, the complexity of the Christian

nature of passing away, and of judgement, hell and heaven that
brought with it the Ars Moriendi and fairly strict deathbed regimens,
meant that the notion of dying with grace brought the idea that
sudden or violent death was to be regarded with an obsessive suspi-
cion and horror. In the later Middle Ages, Death was deemed to be
walking just a few paces behind folk, and his skeletal grin or grimace
acted as an awful reminder of what was in store for all. Images of
rotten and wormy corpses teemed in the period. Beginning in France,
and spreading across Europe, the chilling danse macabre reminded
folk of the immanence of death. When dying became an art, sudden
death became a problem, and suicide came into its own as a signier
with innite possibilities. Images of biblical suicide also broke away
from the original stories in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament
and played a greater role in constructing a pejorative meaning to
voluntary death.
Nevertheless, the outright condemnation of suicide was not an
aspect of Early Christian theology. In fact the Scriptures do not take a
judgemental position on the matter, and no images appear to exist
from the period when the scriptures were written. Only when dying
became an art did the art of suicide blossom. It was much later in the
medieval period that Christian theology, and the patristic authors
particularly, generated new and hostile meanings of suicide which
deviated from the Early Christian view of voluntary death. Historical
evidence implies that Early Christians saw voluntary death as an act
that harms no one but the victim. But, by the end of the period in
question, suicide was also regarded as self-killing and wicked.
Jewish casuistry on suicide and euthanasia is sparse
and the
paucity of images from Judaic culture inhibits an iconographic
survey. In fact the emphasis of Jewish art, like Islamic art, is geomet-
ric, and the human gure is not generally portrayed. In Early Chris-
tianity too, there is a dearth of images depicting suicide. The rst
images that occur, during the fth century +n, are of the New Testa-
ment suicide of Judas.
The whole period of Early Christianity is dominated by the
production of that one suicidal image, that of Judas. Images of
Judass death are, in a way, illustrative of the battle to distinguish the
good death of a martyr (witness) from the bad death of suicide:
Judass death offered the most potent of binaries to the death of Jesus.
From Early Christianity the associative and interactive nature of the
history of suicide as a process can thus be seen through the linguistic
structuring of suicide and martyrdom. By drawing on the heroic
voluntary deaths of antiquity as a model for martyrdom and on
Judass hanging for the sinful death of suicide, the beginnings of a
pejorative form of voluntary death as self-murder emerged. Into this
came ideas of temptation, as the Devil was always happy to pluck
some pitiful soul from the arms of God. This transition was ably
assisted by the already extant notion of hanging as a bad, vulgar or
feminine death. As a result of the absorption of heroic voluntary
death into martyrdom further contrariety occurred in that suicide
began to be separated from a good death altogether and became asso-
ciated with killing or murder. For pagan antiquity, Didos suicide
offers a suitable locus classicus; for Christianity, Judass death became
an exemplum.
In respect of images for the period of antiquity and Early Chris-
tianity, it is highly signicant that a key secondary study of the
period, by Droge and Tabor, has an illustration on its loose cover
which shows what appears to be the stoning to death, the punish-
ment for blasphemy, of a Christian martyr.

While not dissociated

from their argument, this sombre etching is not referred to anywhere
within their book. In fact, this is a recent image: designed by
Dorothy Marshall, it signies the process of martyrdom, regarded
by the Church to this day as the ultimate in glorious deaths. The
point is, of course, that like the suicide, the martyr chooses to die.
For the purpose of the book it conrms the horror and yet the nobil-
ity of martyrdom and voluntary death among Christians and Jews
alike in antiquity.
This particular image thus offers what is not inside the main body
of the text. In one respect it acts as a closure that points to the way the
writers construct their narrative on suicide and martyrdom. Another
facet is that the cover-image informs the reader of something absent
from the text which would help to make sense of the events and
actions of suicide and martyrdom in the period: that is, the scraps of
visual evidence.
There is little doubt that the failure of Early Christianity to come
up with a term for self-killing, as opposed to martyrdom, was a symp-
tom of an ongoing squabble.

While theologians recognized the

problem of moral uncertainty about the act of voluntary death, they
failed to problematize the argument about it. A pejorative term for
self-killing did not arise during this period, nor was there an agree-
ment over what might constitute martyrium.
The semantic shift to a
clear distinction between martyrdom and suicide would have to wait.
Within this shift, however, the question of the relative positioning of
Jesuss and Judass death in terms of suicide, martyrdom, voluntary
death, or as the result of criminal charges needs to be addressed.
By the Middle Ages death was seen as a passage from one life to
another (transitus) rather than an end (terminus): a deliverance, a
release or even an escape. How weary we grow of our present bodies
complained Paul, but we wouldnt like to think of dying and
having no bodies at all. We want these dying bodies to be swal-
lowed up by everlasting life (: Corinthians j::8, as translated in The
Living Bible). For the medieval population of Europe the devil was
always close to the dying waiting to snatch them from God.
In order to distance Jesus from Judas, the latters death clearly has
to signify the bad in order to highlight the good, and distinguish the
pagan from the Christian. For that to occur a signifying system of
supposed mutually exclusive opposites which resolved the ambiguity
in voluntary death was required a system which antiquity did not
provide. Visual images of the scapegoat Judas being plucked away
from God by demons helped provide a useful but problematic binary.
Where death had to signify a transition, rather than a termination
point, for the Christian who died well and therefore passed on, Judas
was denied a transition.
The traces of visual art that remain show that it was during the late
Gothic period that a cultural and social mentality developed that
broke from antiquity to openly declare suicide a taboo. Suicide
became a dishonourable death. This development was achieved in
several ways. First, the story and image of Judas is repeatedly and
cumulatively exploited, resulting in scorn and nally loathing for the
victim. Second, by the end of the period, the heroic stature of pagan
deaths was contested. The rotting corpse was topical in images of the
late Middle Ages, but in respect of changing attitudes to voluntary
death, it must be considered that Remiets fourteenth-century
portrayal of the abject, worm-riddled body of Cleopatra is depreca-
tory (illus. +).

The image shows the wormy unburied body of

Cleopatra rotting by the side of a river on which Antony is being
pursued, having already pierced himself with his sword. It is unusual
in the iconography of Cleopatra as it is her beauty that is more than
often shown. It may be a sign of French Catholic dread of suicide, or
be a deliberate attempt to impose a pejorative meaning on her death,
or suicide per se; more than likely it is part of the new expanding
iconography of death. The sheer number of abject images may well
indicate an attempt by the Church and clergy to scare and horrify
ordinary folk and make them seek refuge within the church. In spite
of the apparent disapproval of suicide that can be read in these images
it has to be said that the Christian Church was probably more
concerned with recruiting the faithful than making an overt state-
ment about suicide. Third, surviving folkloric notions of demonic or
vampiric suicide and demonic insanity were set alongside and fed into
religious discourses on suicide, and images of vice and virtue.
Fourth, throughout the period legal sanctions were established
against suicide as a form of killing. Fifth, it must be considered that
the images of Judas and the Old Testament suicides helped to autho-
rize the visualization of suicide among sacred themes. Finally, the
phenomenon of suicide imagery is particularly Western, and in this
respect European Christianity played a key role in the development
and growth of suicidal imagery. It has to be said that the major decit
in imagery in Jewish and Early Christian cultures raises questions
about the aniconic potency of these cultures, about idolatry, and the
associated problems of the graven image.
It was only with the period
of evangelizing after the Lateran Council of +:+j, which required all
Christians to be instructed in, and to comprehend the scriptures, that
biblical images began to take on their most powerful and central role
in educating the masses in religious discourse.
The first image of Judas, on an ivory casket panel now in the
British Museum (illus. :o), at one end of the Christian millennium
and Remiets vivid illumination of Cleopatra at the other are part of
an antithetical discourse, signposting the consolidation of suicide as
sin as well as a part of the process of Christianitys historical legit-

Both project negative connotations onto voluntary

death; a death that in Judass case can never be heroicized and in
Cleopatras is de-heroicized. In the first case, suicidal death is seen
+ Pierre Remiet, The
Suicides of Antony and
Cleopatra, from Vincent of
Beauvais, Miroir historial,
+th century. Bibliothque
Nationale de France, Paris.
as a fitting punishment (or atonement?) for sin and, in the second, as
the appropriate end to a immoral life. Though the formative years of
suicide as a transgression are pre-eminently manifest in the imagery
of Judas, the seminal stories in the New Testament versions are not
always tirelessly followed, nor is Christian practice always compati-
ble with its theory.
In the following four centuries images are few, but from the ninth
century the numbers begin to grow. By about +joo, towards the end of
this millennial period, there is a major shift in Judas imagery which
signies the change from scribal culture towards print culture; from
illiteracy to literacy, and a subsequent growth of suicidal imagery.
The importance of the effect of this on the function and place of the
visual image cannot be underestimated.
The question of the target audience at whom images of Judass
death were aimed is a real test for the power of thought. The Early
Christian period was a world of theologians, thinkers; a world of
speculative thought and of scribing. It may be, therefore, that the
visualization of violent death was a part of this speculation, a taboo or
deemed unnecessary. It may be that the absence of images signals the
fact that such a death was not considered alarming or important.
Moreover, Early Christian art appropriated pagan works until the
Carolingian era (8oo+ojo) whereafter a small number of images of
:o The Deaths of Judas and Jesus, panel from an ivory casket, early jth century. British
Museum, London.
Judass death have been found. The actual development of Judass
imagery took place in the Romanesque period (+ojo+jo). A stone
capital relief from St Lazare in Autun shows Judas hanging. In order
to ensure that the job is done properly, and to symbolize the despair
that prompted his death, his enmity and the malecial nature of his
death by hanging, he is being throttled by two demons, one at each
end of a rope (illus. :+). The biblical accounts of Judas do not include
the demons, though it has to be said that these stories were not easily
imaged. Endeavouring to depict the texts in images was fraught with
:+ Gislebertus, The Hanging of Judas, relief on a capital, c. ++:oo, stone. Cathedral of St
Lazare, Autun.
The Old Testament contains ve cases of self-killing, telling the
stories of six suicides. Crudens Concordance to the Old and New
Testament cites several other references to thoughts on voluntary
death, where dying might be in preference to living. In addition, the
Jewish chronicles describe mass heroic suicides such as the Masada
incident of +n y where Josephus led rebel troops against the
Romans (Jewish War .+). Josephuss Jewish Antiquities and his
Jewish War report two dozen incidents. Masada, described in the
original Greek text by the term autocheira to depict own-handedness,
does not appear to be illustrated at all until the eighteenth century,
when Ramberg did a series of engravings entitled the Men of
Masada. The heroic episode was much debated by defenders and by
critics of voluntary death and self-killing, yet it is virtually ignored in
visual culture.
Mass suicide is depicted in Pierre Remiets fourteenth-century
illuminations for the manuscript the Historie ancienne, and shows the
suicide of the women of Cimbria who strangled their own babies and
then hung themselves rather than face capture and degradation by the
Romans. The consummate horror of the mass slaughter of woman
and children is depicted. The theme is also taken up in a heroic
engraving from c. +j bearing the initials I K and showing the
women in the act of slaughtering their children (illus. ::). It shows on
the right a woman suffocating a child, another with a baby suspended
by its legs. In the foreground lies a noose below a hanged woman with
arms outstretched. Other children lie dead on the oor and on the
right a woman hangs just above the oor facing outward from the
room. Reminiscent of the death of Decebulus and the Ludovisi Gaul,
it calls up the violence of antiquity, the Roman and Greek civiliza-
tions where clearly the look over the shoulder is one of fear and
expectancy. The lack of images of this type may well indicate that
these topics were considered too horric or atrocious. The incidents
themselves were far into the past by the time they were illustrated.
Before examining the representations of biblical self-killings, and
to provide a context for my survey of biblical suicide, I list the Old
Testament suicides below and propose to analyse these fundamental
texts to try and establish a biblical view of self-destruction if such a
view exists, and to discern if suicidal method and suicidal motive are
linked. In each case, I have referenced the sources from the King
James Bible. In addition, these texts have been checked against two
Greek translations in order to seek out discrepancies in translation.
None have come to light. They are as follows: In Judges (:j)
there is the story of Abimelech and his armour-bearer (the armour-
bearer does not commit suicide but plays a role in Abimelechs death)
and in + Samuel (+:j) the story of the deaths of Saul and his
armour-bearer. In Judges (+::8 o) there is the death of Samson, in
: Samuel (+y::) the death of Ahitophel, and nally, in + Kings
(+:+8), the death of Zimri.
It is revealing that no word or phrase for suicide exists in the
language of the Old Testament. It is also difcult to discern any
patterns that link particular suicidal methods, such as hanging, with
particularly evil motives, though there a clear link between suicide and
bad characters or cowards. The Old Testament indicates that the
motive for voluntary death was not a concern. That apart, certain
methods of suicide, Ahitophels hanging for example, appear to signify
a bad individual though not (as yet) a bad death. What is evident is
that to take ones life was deemed to be a violent death, with masculine
connotations. There are no female suicides in the Bible at all.
These traits are exemplied in the case of Abimelech, a nefarious
character in the book of Judges and a mass-murderer. In the biblical
story, Abimelech had besieged the city of Thebez, but had been
mortally wounded by a stone dropped by a woman from the roof of
the city. The text tells the story of the nal events as follows:
And a certain woman cast a piece of millstone upon Abimelechs head, and
all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto his armourbearer, and
said to him. Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, a woman
slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.
Abimelech, rather than die by a womans hand, dies by the sword,
though not exactly by his own hand. He orders his armour-bearer to
:: I K, The Voluntary Death of the Women of Cimbria, c. +j, engraving.
do the deed. The passage from Judges simply describes the act and
makes no judgement on his self-killing, though the form of death
could be deemed unmanly. A ninth-century illuminated manuscript
in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana shows the woman on a high
tower about to drop the stone (illus. :). Intention is shown by the
woman holding the raised stone over her head, and the real cause of
Abimelechs death, his loss of self-esteem in battle, is heightened by
the suspense created by this halted action. The story of his death at
the hands of a woman is consequently illustrated. The illumination
shows the events leading up to his death and captures the moment
before the face-saving act of his actual death by his armour-bearer in
the biblical text.
The real growth of these images, like those of Judas, came much
later. Versions of Abimelechs death appear in the fourteenth-century
Queen Mary Psalter, and in the earlier Polish Roman Catholic ecclesi-
astics Parisian Maciejowski Bible. In the collection of the Society of
Antiquaries of London there is a watercolour copy by Charles
Stothard of c. +8+, after a thirteenth-century fresco in the Painted
Chamber in the Palace of Westminster, with raised gilt detail, show-
ing Abimelechs death. Abimelech is shown wearing a surcoat sem
with the goats head, an emblem of immorality (illus. :). Over time,
the actual motive for death is lost, and the nature of his death is
bound up with his iniquitous life; the image converts his death from
one that is to a large extent ambiguous, to one that hints at a nefarious
past resulting in an evil ending.
In the light of the noble deaths of pagan antiquity, one might make
assumptions about the linkages between suicidal method and motive
in these deaths, and judge Abimelechs initial injury and self-killing as
a noble death. However, the request to the sword bearer to slay him
could also be seen as contemptible. The biblical text does not infer any
such condemnation. Nor does it suggest a hatred for oneself. Abim-
elechs shame rests not on his death per se but on his potential death
at the hands of a woman. The particular form of his death loses some
of the nobility of a voluntary death by means of a gladiatorial instru-
ment and through time it takes on the stigma of the pejorative suicide.
Compare this story to the death of Saul, who falls on his sword to
avoid capture after his armour-bearer has refused to commit the act as
Saul requested. The bearer then falls likewise on his sword. Saul,
king of Israel, had disobeyed the Lords commandments. His undo-
ing appears to be the result of irrational thinking, in particular his
suspicions of David.
In contrast to the deaths of Saul or Abimelech, Samsons acquittal
: The Death of Abimelech, from a th-century manuscript. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana,
: Charles Alfred Stothard, Abimelech, +8+, watercolour with raised gilt detail, copy of a
(destroyed) mural of c. +::y formerly in the Painted Chamber of the Palace of Westminster,
London. Society of Antiquaries, London.
of wrongdoing gains credence.
After pulling down the temple on his
mocking captors, the Philistines, with the words let me die with the
Philistines, he is then taken up and buried by his family. Saul, on
the other hand, is beheaded by the Philistines and his body hung on
the wall of Beth-shan. Samsons plea can be read as a prayer to God
for forgiveness for what he is about to do, and for a direct passage to
heaven. A fourth-century sculpture of Samson can be found on the
pavement of the Church of the Martyrs at Misis in Turkey, and from
the ninth century Samsons death appears regularly in illuminated
manuscripts. This may give recognition to the argument that a good
death as a martyr was more readily represented and that there was a
blanket of silence over the deaths of Abimelech, Ahitophel, Zimri
and Saul, which were less popular. These absences are all the more
salient in view of the emphasis which is given to martyrdom in Chris-
tian iconography. In the hush, these voluntary deaths were relegated
to the sidelines while martyrdom occupied the foreground, and in
time, perhaps inadvertently, voluntary death became an imitation of
the death of Judas, and led to the pejorative suicide. There is always
bias in language, however, though we can assume that care was taken
to avoid ambiguity and to make the distinctions absolute. Jesus, it
must be recalled, was crucied under Roman law as a criminal.
Ahitophel had joined Davids son, Absalom, in his conspiracy
against his father, the patriarch David. When they were defeated
Ahitophel hanged himself and died. The biblical story is recounted
as prosaic, though the annotated biblical text refers to Gods appoint-
ment as cause. Gods determination is thus referred to with
Ahitophel, and this slight linguistic difference could offer a clue to
reading his death as a negative. Ahitophel does not wait for Davids
judgement, nor for Gods. In contrast, Samson had asked God for
help. There are apparent comparisons also between the death of
Ahitophel and the death of Judas; in both cases, the perpetrator of an
act of betrayal takes his own life by hanging.
We have to wait until the twelfth century to nd an image of
Zimris death by burning (illus. :j). The illuminated manuscript
shows Zimri burning on a tower surrounded by men on horseback. It
could be an image of someone trapped by re but the troops outside
signify his defeat; the ames his imminent burning in hell. The bibli-
cal story describes this voluntary death as follows: And it came to
pass, when Zimri saw the city was taken, that he went into the palace
of the kings house, and burnt the kings house over him with re,
and died. Rather than have the house over him with re the image
shows Zimri on top of the house, thus enhancing his trapped state
while he burns in the ames. A clue to the nature of Zimris life is
given earlier in the text where we read that Zimri was a sinner who
walked in the ways of Jeroboam, and had provoked the Lords
anger. Jeroboam was an idolater, a worshipper of graven images.
Like Jeroboam, Zimri was also a murderer and had killed all the
males of the house of Baasha. Zimris death is seen as an act of
desperation, and his self-burning the deed of an evil man. Thus
Zimri (the name means renown), is remembered as an evil man, and a
self-killer. There appear to be a limited number of images of Zimri
including another illuminated manuscript by Ohnerfurcht from
around +oo (illus. :). The image shows the act of suicide and the
act relates to his evil life. Zimri is watched by three soldiers, the
ames signify the torment that is to come.
These depictions from Old Testament stories evoke a mental
image that invents a presence which is recognizable by attributes
relating to the story. Such gurative art was clearly deployed for
:j The Death of Zimri, +:th century, manuscript illumination. Biblioteca Apostolica
Vaticana, Rome.
didactic purposes, to help a Christian audience to distinguish wrong
from right, and give life to the biblical story and the persons of Zimri,
Ahitophel or Samson through a sign. The presence created by the
sign has important ramications for suicidal discourse in that, from
the twelfth century, the historian can discern an effort to nd means
to project onto voluntary death a contrived meaning. Visual art
provided the perfect vehicle for this.
The illustration of Zimri could have a different meaning. Zimri is,
of course, not a Christian but a Jew; and though the image is from a
Christian manuscript, it shows the end of a murderer and idolater
who is pre-Christian. It has been noted elsewhere that there might
: Johann Ohnerfurcht, Zimri, c. +oo, manuscript illumination. Bibliothque de lArsenal,
have been propaganda value in such images, which might be
deployed to encourage anti-Jewish feeling.
Otherness in terms of
gender and race was thus visually constructed alongside pejorative
meanings for voluntary death. It is more probable that it was to the
biblical texts that artists turned to in order to nd a pejorative. To
draw on the pagan image would celebrate heroic suicide and pagan
death; to draw on Old Testament texts was more readily acceptable.
In any event, the reported nature of the biblical stories left them
wide open to interpretation.
These founding biblical texts do not offer a single term to encapsu-
late the pejorative suicide, but use a variety of matter-of-fact expres-
sions which describe the act. Apart from these cases, where voluntary
death is referred to it is linked to a wish to be in heaven, as in the epis-
tle to the Philippians where Paul wishes to die in order to be with
Christ (Philippians +::o:). The desire to die is expressed as part of
a passing on from the material world to eternity. In these cases the will
to live asserts itself over the death wish, and signies a Christian atti-
tude to staying alive. If Daubes theory of the verb preceding the
noun in the development of language is applied here, we are left with
six deaths which are not suicide at all.
With the exception of Abim-
elech, who was already dying at the hands of another, these deaths
could be categorized as voluntaria mors. As Daube has indicated,
voluntary death and its pejorative sense had yet to nd a name. It had
also to nd other roles and other senses. Suicide is an innitely vari-
able experience, though linguistically it might well aim to refer to a
single category or entity. Conceivably his analysis of the changing
language of suicide is too abstract to explain the historical process of
selfkillings changing roles and meanings. His own theory is reveal-
ing in this respect. Language, Daube reminds the reader, is a noun,
and his linguistic survey, though convenient, would imply self-
killings imagery as a thing, not part of a process.
In this respect
Daube refers to the failure of early Hebrew writers to coin a noun for
suicide. The act of suicide was most often described by a verb such
as to die or to kill. Daube, in The Linguistics of Suicide, argues that
the use of killing indicates a systematization and institutionalization
conrming suicide as a concept.
Most of the images of Old Testament suicides show the act itself.
Zimri is burning in the ames and, in a small image from the early
fteenth century in the Bibliothque de lArsenal in Paris, Saul is
shown pierced by his sword. The earliest images traced are to be
found in illuminated manuscripts from the ninth century.
In the
fteenth-century image Sauls armour-bearer lies on the ground at

his feet, reversing the biblical story, and allows the king the stage. In
the biblical story Saul dies rst. In +8, the Nuremberg Bible shows
Sauls killing and beheading. In the ultimate face-saver, an engraving
from the Drer Bible shows Abimelech dead at the feet of his
armour-bearer and excludes the woman. Much later, on a Delft tile,
Ahitophel is seen hanging in the background.
From the twelfth century Christian aesthetics thus incited the
viewer to follow in the ways of God, and the powerful notion of self-
sacrice that was carried in these images contradicted the heroic
aspect of voluntary death. It was however, the New Testament story
of Judas above all that attracted the patrons and painters.
In the New Testament one suicide is featured; that of Judas. The
very beginning of Christianitys story in the New Testament evolves
from the death of Jesus and the accompanying death of Judas. Judass
suicide is plainly reported in the biblical texts of Matthew (:y:j) and
Acts (+:+8) and lends itself to a simple visual representation. Matthew
ends with the story of the crucixion and Judass death. The rst
book after the gospels, Acts, begins with Judass suicide. In the visual
iconography of Christianitys story there is clearly a desire to separate
these two deaths and in the process of separation Judass death
becomes the death of a sinner, and gradually a suicide. How is this
done? Matthew tells the story as follows: And he cast down the pieces
of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
In Acts, however, there is a difference: Now this man purchased a
eld with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asun-
der in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. Acts does not actually
mention hanging unless we take the expression fall headlong to be a
euphemism for it. Both versions refer to Aceldama, The Field of
Blood (Matthew :y:8; Acts +:+).
Most illustrations (illus. :y) show Judas hanging, as in the
Matthew version, though one image has been identied, an eleventh-
century painting in the Vatican, where Judas is shown hanging and
disembowelled (illus. j). However, the subjects popularity in the
Middle Ages, especially with miniaturists, means a full survey has yet
to be done. The latter image reconciles the two accounts. Judass
disunity, multiplicity or duplicity is represented in this disembow-
elling. Judas is not caught between heaven and earth, as his bowels
return to the earth.
Where Augustinian philosophy does break from the biblical text is
to add to the original crime, that of betrayal, the further crime of self-
killing. Augustines City of God misrepresents the account in
Matthew by referring to the traitor Judas and, crucially, by seeing

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the death as a sin and not an atonement. Judas, according to Augustine,
was heaping up further sin by his hanging. Augustinian terminology is
of interest here, as he offers no term that indicates a deprecatory argu-
ment. Augustines work describes such a death as rushing towards
ones death (ad mortem festinatio), or voluntary destruction (interitus
Though the term destruction might carry pejorative
connotations, Judass hanging was seen as a sign of his criminal nature:
not a release; nor a determination by God, but a rebuttal of Gods
In Augustines polemic, not to condemn this death was to limit
Gods power. The surviving images however, do not simply portray
the act of his death; suicide is a powerful sub-presence.
The extent to which Judass story became embedded in Christian
attitudes to self-killing was given further emphasis by the fact that by
the sixth century Augustinian philosophy became canonical law. In
particular, three church councils turned philosophy into law. In j
the Spanish Council of Orleans denied funeral rites to self-killers
accused of crime; in j the Council of Braga declared that any self-
killer must be denied funeral rites; and nally, in jy8, the Council of
Auxerre ensured the penalties were strengthened in relation to views
on suicide in Christian doctrine. In the Council of Toledo rein-
forced these laws. In Spain, at least, suicide was not deemed to be as
severe as murder and this was indicated by the severity of punishment
j Judas Hanged, ++th century,
manuscript illumination. Biblioteca
Apostolica Vaticana, Rome.
for the latter. Theology thus broke from its fundamental text, that is
to say the New Testament. Such a breaking occurred on many points
but a central feature of debate in this respect was Judass hanging.
Two signicant elements are brought together in images of Judas:
the rope as a tting end for the execution of a villain and the stigmati-
zation of suicide. His desperation is connoted and often his sin
prompted by the Devil. Though hanging was already signicatory of
despair, desperatio, the most blameworthy of motives, this is signied
in Judass death by other means such as the inclusion of a demon. The
visual evidence implies by the repetition of this one image of Judas
that his self-hanging was censured, and the depictions serve to act as a
sign of his personality.
The irreducibility of suicides meanings is evident in this case and
in spite of the variations and the differing appropriation of the Judas
theme, Judas himself remains recognized essentially by the rope. It is
far too reductive to associate the quantity of images of Judas with
Augustine severity, though the canonical acceptance of Augustinian
thought and the proliferation of images do appear to coincide. Augus-
tines Neoplatonism and his apparent loathing of the fourth and fth-
century Donatists and their wish to die meant that voluntary death
was given meanings that wove together vanity and cowardice with a
demonic death by people who gave place to the demon within them-
selves and whose daily sport was to kill themselves.
Yet for four
centuries after Augustine there were no real decisions made on volun-
tary death.
The presumed intensity of feeling towards voluntary death by
Christians cannot be explained by biblical references to suicide. To
question the orthodox belief that the period from the fourth century
uc to the fteenth century +n gave a negative image to self-injury
would be a pointless exercise, but that there was much in this period
that later bore fruit within the medieval period is obvious; so too is the
fact that the Judas image forms a prototype for self-killing as an evil
death, but, I would extend this argument to examine the establish-
ment of suicidal motive and method as intertwined. It is too simplistic
to argue that the biblical suicides were seen as the consequence of sin,
though, as an alternative, there is some mileage in the development of
suicidal law as part of a growth of antagonism to barbarian rule.
The books of the Bible may break from what is deemed a pagan
belief, but so too does the imaging, from its original tone and author-
ity to invoke other narratives. From the third to the seventh century,
the period of schism in Christianity, there is no evidence of suicidal
imagery and it was not until after +oj, when the breach became
permanent, that the regular imaging of suicide occurs. These images
reinforced canonical law from the twelfth century, when the notion of
punishment tting the crime of satanic martyrdom meant different
methods might invoke different punishment. The growth of images
of Satans martyrs thus coincides with the rise of religious and civil
condemnation of suicide.
The ivory casket panel with the earliest-known image of Judas
shows Christ on the right surrounded by two male gures and one
female (Mary), and on the left Judas hanging, as a reminder of his
treachery the bag of silver is spilled at his feet (illus. :o). Judass isola-
tion is enhanced by his being placed separately from the rest of the
group, whose heads are turned from him, leaving a visible space
between him and the disciples around Christ. The central space is
nearly empty, but the uncomfortable gure of Mary, mother of mercy,
stands frozen in the artful gap.
In keeping with the scriptures and prophecies, the image evokes a
sense of desolation.
The presence on the same plane of the hanging
and the crucixion functions as a constant memorial of his motive, his
betrayal of Jesus, and of its result. For Jesus, the cross afrms his rela-
tionship with heaven and performs the role of a bridge to God. One
does not get the sense of a Marian myth at work here, rather she is
bound to the earth, separated from her son.
In death, images of Judas must illustrate his misdemeanour, his
treason towards Jesus. Both Jesus and Judas are shown between
heaven and earth. Jesus looks straight ahead, Judass head is broken
and twisted upwards. By placing him in company with his victim, and
adding the silver, his crime is evidenced and his punishment illus-
trated. The cross must point upwards and the rope must hang down.
The tree acts as a scaffold. The placing of the two events together in
this early image of a hanging is close to the written text in Acts and
establishes a format for many of the images of Judas, though the bulk
of them show him separate from Christ. Later, the format was also
used in the imaging of traitors deaths which were seen as a Judass
death. The conguration of dual personications allows the artist to
depict a simple binary opposition, separating the inferior from the
superior. Towards the end of the period in question, Judass motive
and his duality is shown in a fourteenth-century Italo-Hungarian illu-
where he is seen hanging from a black frame by what
appears to be part of his garment (illus. ). The frame cuts him off
from all around and amplies his desolation. He appears to be dead,
yet clutched in his hand is the bag containing his o pieces of silver.
To his right is a group of four gures, which at rst glance could be
the chief priests and elders. The nearest to Judas holds an identical
bag and unlike the others looks sideways. The hair and the undergar-
ment are the same as Judass; and though the sidelong glance is turned
across the priests, the feet are carefully directed towards the hanging
gure. The hand holding the bag is a replica of the hand of the hang-
ing Judas. It can be assumed that both gures represent Judas. This
clever identikit picture places him in the frame.
These intelligent visual tricks of time appear to negate continuity.
The ivory casket panel of Judass death and Jesuss crucixion place
two events occurring at different times together in the same space:
though one a consequence of the other, they are woven synchronously
Judas Hanging, Italo-Hungarian manuscript illumination, c. +th century.
on the same plane. Yet the fourteenth-century manuscript places
Judas in two different time frames within one in order to show a
continuity, to tell the story, to depict one act as the trigger for the
other. Synchronicity, often designated as a property of modernism,
is employed in these cases to reect what was written, not to illumi-
nate what was seen. The conguration foregrounds Judass material-
ism and in this case the transaction forms the foundation of the story.
The image is not entirely what-is-written-to-be and breaks from the
former images in another way. In this sense it denies its own redun-
dancy by adding to the biblical story and giving meaning to suicide by
adding the motive and tying it with the method.
In the illumination, the inclusion of a small black demon above
Judass right shoulder is signicatory of the demonization of suicide
in the medieval period or of the satanic instigation of death: Judass
temptation by the devil and his eternal damnation. Satanic instigation
is not inferred in the early images, though a woodcut from the
fteenth century shows a winged demon pulling Judass soul, imaged
as a child, from his belly. In the medieval period these images mingle
old folk stories, lay religious superstition and clerical thought. With
print culture these horae were disseminated throughout Europe. The
actual historicization of demonic suicide comes later in the early
modern period when demons began to act as metaphors for other
anxieties than psychical or spiritual ones. By +yy William Gilpins
Daemonologia placed suicide amongst discourses on demons and
witches. Part of a dynamics of oppression, his text makes links with
witchcraft, and therefore interweaves conceptualizations of Woman
with demonic and suicidal discourse.
Judass imagery was thus subject to variations, rst schism, and
then later in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, sectarian rivalry.
If the nature of the biblical texts reportage thwarted those who
sought in the bible a justication for the condemnation of self-killing,
they inevitably turned to the visual, and to the sixth of the ten
commandments. Thus the law of God was used to proclaim the fact
that Judas had taken the law into his own hands. He had, in changing
Christian belief, either committed murder on himself or usurped the
power of death which the Lord alone had the right to exercise.
Nowhere is patriarchal power more obvious than in the few images
of women from the period, and these occur mostly at the end of this
long history. In one of the series of paintings by Giotto in the Arena
Chapel in Padua, a personication of despair, Desperatio, the binary
of Hope, is represented as a hanged woman (illus. :8).
A later image,
of the impatient man throwing himself on his sword, can be found in
Comenius seventeenth century Latin dictionary. Published in
Nuremberg, the Orbis Sensualium Pictus
shows a woman with a lamb
praying on the right and in the middle ground the frenzied man
impaling himself on his sword. An exaggerated lightning bolt,
symbolizing the stormy outcome of his impatience, erupts from a
cloud above him (illus. y).
The personications of anger and despair by Giotto negate any
authority of likeness and deny the woman a nation and a name. This
removes any referential aspect to anyone in particular, but refers to
woman in general. Giottos Desperatio is an iconic image where
signier and signied are problematized and the nature of what is
signied (desperatio) appears to have a necessary relationship with the
signier (a woman hanging). Despair is also synonymous with suicide.
In this example the heroic death of the besieged (the no way out of
antiquity or Durkheims suicides obsidionaux) is replaced by a death
caused by desperation that offers no clues to motive or cause other
than hopelessness itself. It would be difcult to apply Durkheimian
notions of anomic, altruistic or egoistic suicide to these personica-
tions, though it is tempting to infer that for women a particular no
way out is constructed in these images.
Despair as a motive for suicide was in evidence throughout the
late medieval to early modern period. Ovids story of Procris and
y The Impatient Man, illustration from Johann Amos Comenius, Orbis Sensualium Pictus
(c. +j8).
_ ~
. ........
Cephalus is one which has some similarities to Pyramus and Thisbe,
though in this case it is Cephalus who kills his wife, thinking she is a
wild animal. Procris has been informed that Cephalus meets a young
maiden after hunting, though in truth he has been talking to Zephyr,
the breeze. She hides herself in the bushes to watch and wait and
hears him talking. Cephalus hears her sobbing, and thinking it is a
wild animal he throws his javelin (which Procris gave him) into the
bushes. Procris dying words are to beg him not to marry Zephyr.
Bernadino Luinis colourful fresco appends Ovids story with the
visual tale of Cephalus despair leading to attempted suicide with a
cord around his neck. His attempt is thwarted by a shepherd. The
pictures romantic theme is enhanced by the fact that Luini has
painted blossoms and leaves on the plaster (illus. 8).
The bind in which woman is placed is unequivocally illustrated by
an exceptional image of the death of Haman, his sons and his daugh-
ter derived from the Old Testament. It is a most meaningful visual
example that features a family: a father, his twelve sons and his
daughter. From the book of Esther, the fourteenth-century visualiza-
tion of the story shows Hamans daughter sprawled dead at the foot of
8 Bernardino Luini, The Despair
of Cephalus, c. +j:o::, fresco.
National Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC.
a tree, her arms indicating the tree with her ten brothers hanging life-
less from the branches. The tree is a parody of a family tree, the sort
one still nds containing the precious family portraits on household
shelves, and of the Tree of Life. However, the daughter does not
appear in the seminal text. On the face of things, the legendary story
is one of mistaken identity and tragedy. The girl, who is nameless,
empties a slop bucket on her fathers head in the belief he is Morde-
cai, and then in shame and guilt hangs herself. Mordecai is described
in the biblical text as an earthly representation of a chief Babylonian
god, and cousin to Esther. He is the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite,
a Jew, and he takes charge of Hamans estates (Esther 8::). Haman, a
plotter, and persecutor of the Jews, had built a gallows to hang
Mordecai, but is victim of his own plot and is hung on his own
gallows, his ten sons are then killed. This illumination adds to the
biblical story by including the sons in Hamans hanging, and supple-
ments it with a tale of a silly woman who commits suicide as the result
of a foolish error.
The Hebraic illuminated manuscript shows the incident leading to
her death in the bottom left corner. Dominating the right is the tree,
and hanging on the top of the tree is Haman. On each of the ten
branches hang one of his sons. This isolated image descending from
Jewish culture, dated +:j, depicts a persecutor of the Jews and is
evidence of the fact that in the Jewish world there was no set testimony
on suicide. In the visual, Haman is humiliated by his daughter and
death results for him and all his family. The condemnation of suicide
is not evident in the image, indeed there is humour in the story. The
self-killing of the daughter in this case is ctional. The unsigned
mythical daughter is seen as the stimulus for the whole episode.
Where these images are connotative, Judass image is in a sense
denotative. Though not a portrait nor iconic, his images have a name
which distinguishes Judas Iscariot from all others. At the same time his
name and his death connote human failing. The myth of hanging as a
bad death is also strengthened by the image, though equally it has to be
recognized that suicide may have been condemned under Christianity
because Judas, the arch-villain of the Christian story, died that way.
Accordingly biblical suicide was an all-male phenomenon. In a
non-biblical text, Prudentius War of the Soul, Ira in a battle with
Patentia has a t of rage, smashes her sword to pieces and stabs herself
with the remaining sharp piece.
Wrath turned inward as a cause of
suicide goes back to Ajax, but no two deaths seem to be the same. No
representations of these stories are known until the medieval period.
In fact, visualizations of the biblical stories and of Prudentius arose
only when image-makers and image-making established themselves
as part of an ongoing debate against iconophobia in the Middle Ages.
Though Lucretias suicide was much discussed in the period of
Early Christianity, no images of that period have been traced. It is
with the advent of the Renaissance and an artistic consideration for
the beauty of the female body, and for the destructive outcome of her
act (or positive in the birth of the republic), that the image is popular-
ized. In a frustrating piece of scholarship The Rapes of Lucretia. A
Myth and its Transformations, Ian Donaldson refers to several heroic
images of Lucretia but gives no clues at all to their whereabouts.
have to wait till the medieval period, where it is not always her hero-
ism that is pictured. In the hands of the medieval translator of
Valerius Maximus Facta et dicta memorabilia, Lucretias antique
virtue is coloured, tinged with vice (illus. ). Remiets picture illus-
trating the text shows Lucretia in front of rather nonchalant rapist
Sextus Tarquinius with his arms folded, confronting a crowd of male
Like the Augustinian condemnation of the raped woman
this illumination questions Lucretias virtue and breaches the
convention of her death as heroic. Augustine attacked and under-
mined the heroic view to argue that Lucretia was guilt-laden, and the
guilt was the pleasure she received from her rape.
Despite Augustines antagonistic references, Lucretias heroism
survives the medieval period, and in the Gesta romanorumher sacrice
is compared to that of Christ. However, the heroism takes on a
gendered aspect where, in literature, reference is made to a male soul
in a female body.
Plinys Naturalis Historia states quite emphatically
Pierre Remiet, The Suicide
of Lucretia, illumination from
Valerius Maximus, Faits et dits
mmorables, +th century.
Bibliothque Municipale de
that there are no statues of women among the Roman heroes.
depictions can be found on Etruscan funerary urns from the rst
century uc.
The rst statues appear to be dated from the twelfth
century +n, though it is indicated that the growth period of painting
was from the fteenth century.
The statue of Cleopatra that spawned so many poems and copies
indicates a differing iconography to that of Lucretia (illus. o).
recorded in +j+:, it has been identied as Cleopatra by the snake
bracelet wound around the upper part of the left arm. It has also been
identied as the nymph Ariadne and as Dido.

The reclining posture

would rule out a Lucretia. Barbara Taylors essay on The Medieval
Cleopatra: The Classical and Medieval Tradition of Chaucers
Legend of Cleopatra gives evidence of the rich iconography of
Cleopatras death.

The ambiguity of suicide and the growing divide

in suicides history might well be witnessed in two very different
versions of it. Of seven miniatures by Remiet in Vincents Miroir
historial one illustrates the story of Antony and Cleopatras death
(illus. +). Where the wholeness of the body might symbolize the
heroic and avoid anxiety around suicidal death, Remiets miniature
shows Cleopatra laid out at the bottom of the picture surrounded by
dragons and eaten by worms.
The abject body lies exposed on the
surface and refusal to bury the suicide in the river is connoted. In
o Cleopatra, marble, Vatican Museum, Rome (Galleria delle Statue).
keeping with medieval superstition the dragons may well symbolize
demonic temptation from within or without.
Lucretias images, like Cleopatras, do not proliferate until the
early modern period. Most depict her in a public space stabbing
herself and demonstrate that even throughout the growth of Chris-
tianity, Lucretias power is not eroded. In fact, it may even have
grown stronger. A woodcut from about +yj shows Lucretia with the
sword piercing her right through (illus. +). This idiosyncratic image
differs from most in that Lucretia is generally shown with the blade
touching below her naked breast, as in the sixteenth-century image by
Franz Zimmerman, or with the blade just entering the esh, as in Joos
van Cleves painting of +j+j. Lucretias rape by Sextus Tarquinius,
and her public self-killing, is maintained in plays, poetry and images
as a heroic act till the nineteenth century. In most cases of this exten-
sive iconography she is portrayed as a beautiful woman and intact,
though the knife is there to recall the rape. A single painting of
Lucretia by Drer shows a partially naked woman (illus. :). Drers
image of Lucretia is perhaps an image of anxiety and belongs to the
era of severity designated for England by MacDonald and Murphy,

though this may well have been the case for Germany too. It
constructs a body that is contorted and a likeness which has negative
physiognomic properties.
Writing a chapter on Christianitys impact on suicides images is
highly problematic. The writer is continually obliged to look for
images in later periods to illustrate the biblical stories. The relation-
+ Lucretia, c. +yj, woodcut.
: Albrecht Drer, The Suicide of Lucretia, +j+8, oil on lime panel.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
ship between the stories and pictures is also problematic, as the visual
imagery acts as a supplement to the written word in the same way that
the written acts as a supplement to speech. The images of suicide
traced from later periods, then, tend to not just call up the gap in
visual evidence but at the same time to ll it. There is clearly a histor-
ical danger in this process where these images of suicide represent
what Derrida called the anterior default of a presence.
In historical
terms, this represents a slow depreciation of ideas from voluntary
death to self-killing, self-murder and to the pejorative suicide.
Accordingly, the reception of these images indicates a stigmatiza-
tion process at work which signals a discontinuity with the antique
and yet overlaps with it. It also indicates a slow but fairly resolute
growth in canonical law and then civil law in opposition to suicidal
death. New meanings of suicide arose alongside old ones, and a strat-
ication took place. Above all, the image of Judas was utilized in the
construction of suicide as a bad death. Judas was rst seen as a crimi-
nal with his betrayal represented by the inclusion of his victim, Jesus,
and his motivation by the portrayal of the purse. Then he was shown
alone and his original crime of treachery was isolated, to be replaced
by the additional crime of self-killing. Even so the motive of betrayal
was taken to have a bearing on the method.
Published in ++, Reverend Tukess Discourse on Death provided a
valuable slant on attitudes to self-murder in this respect. Tukes iden-
tied two sorts of voluntary deaths, one lawful and honest, such as
the death of martyrs, the other unlawful and dishonest, where men
have neyther lawful calling nor honest ends.
In Tukess opinion, if
the cause was honourable then so was the death.
Yet in the period before Tukess useful guidelines were established
there was an attempt by artists to portray the word in image. Artists
sought visual equivalents for the literary biblical text. The survey of
these images above has demonstrated that the images form a language
over and above the written. Trying to tie them to the biblical referent is
perhaps a historical problem in itself. The extended chronological
span of Early Christianity and its meeting with antiquity and Jewish
culture indicates the complex nature of the historical problem in hand.
The loss of chronological faithfulness serves to highlight central issues
of the problems of such a history. Across time, suicides imagery forms
a metalanguage which begins with its separation from words. Linear-
ity is lost and though the logos of suicide clearly concerned itself with
speech (parole) and the oral text, the images that aim to represent the
written word nally break from speech to offer a differing sign system.
The quietness is difcult to cope with.
St Pauls epistles to the Corinthians are testament to the problem.

In : Corinthians :, Paul, a man of letters, warned of the abstract-

ness of writing (langue). He states that it is the spirit which is impor-
tant, for the letter killeth, and the spirit giveth life. This is extremely
apt for the present study. The spirits or ghosts of these images of
voluntary death might also be deemed to have killed, but in turn, the
death and the image offer a life beyond death. This is clearly recog-
nized in the story of the death of an early martyr, Perpetua, whose
name is signicant in discourses on martyrdom and readily applies to
suicide also. Immortality was signied by death and another life began
afterwards. The same can be said of the image. These potent appari-
tions of suicides have an afterlife.
The silence surrounding suicide in Early Christianity was to be
broken in the medieval period. The lurid stories of the Apocrypha
such as that of Razis in Macabees (::+, j) whose initial suicide
attempt fails, and who tears out his own entrails and throws them on
the ground, is not imaged. The restriction of ecclesiastical patronage
of the church to sacred themes from the Bible and an aversion to such
macabre topics may well be the reason.
Increasingly, however, self-killing as a form of death became
branded as wrongful across European society, where death was a
material and immaterial reality and dying had to be done with grace.
The extent of the Ars Moriendi is evidence of the breadth of such
gospel. To avoid the liminal stages between life and death by ending
life was to usurp both the power and authority of the church and the
power of death itself, of which no mortal was assumed to have the
right to partake. In the wake of this, the layering of suicide deepened
as other strata formed on top of the heroic death of antiquity, and a
stigmatized form of suicide as self-killing began to form a thin crust
over the voluntary deaths of antiquity.
In the early modern period a further stratum of representation was
laid down through a struggle between the idealization of a heroic
voluntary death and the supposition that to kill oneself was a crime,
or that such a death might be caused by melancholia, or a crying
illness. + saw the publication of John Donnes Biathanatos, writ-
ten and distributed to friends earlier with instructions neither to
destroy it nor to pass it on. In +:+ Robert Burtons Anatomy of
Melancholy was published, and in +y, John Syms Lifes Preserva-
tives. Both opposed self-murder and indicated clearly competing
discourses around self-murder at the time. Much later William Stike-
leys Of the Spleen (+y:) and the physician George Cheynes The
English Malady: or a Treatise of Nervous Diseases of all Kinds, situated
suicide within the beginnings of a medical discourse.
The importance of staying alive, and the nature and links of
melancholic illness with suicide are clearly reected in the titles.
Moreover, these congurations became entwined in the contrivance
crying crimes in order to combat the heroic; and lying deep within
these discourses can also be located the effects of an historical shift in
sovereign power, from God to man. However, emphasizing the
continuous religious condemnation of suicide, the spokespersons for
God underscored the vanity and criminality of suicide. Zachary
Pierces A Sermon on Self-Murder (+y) opposed suicide on Augus-
tinian grounds. The title of Caleb Flemings +y publication, A
Book upon the Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder, speaks for itself.
Suicide was aberrant, supernatural, wrongful.
At the end of the eighteenth century, marking a distinctive move
towards the perception of suicide as feminine, or at least effeminate,
William Rowleys A Treatise on Female, Nervous, Hysterical, Hypo-
chondriacal, Bilious Disease with thoughts on Madness, Suicide etc.
was published. In accordance with this shift, and pivotal to its devel-
opment, are Vicesimus Knoxs Essays and Charles Moores Full
Enquiry into the Subject of Suicide. Both these earmark men of sensi-
bility for special treatment in this respect.

Conict and Change in Early

Modern Europe
In antiquity, suicide was inaudible, whispered, barely breathed. Later,
as a source of anxiety for Christian theologians, it was silenced; and
then the blackening of Judas, the New Testaments only recorded
suicide, acted as a binary for Jesuss martyrdom. This allowed the
criminalization of the act of suicide in canonical law from the sixth
century. Crucixion, initially the Roman punishment for subversion,
for Christians came to symbolize a good death. In part this process
involved a linguistic shift where suicide developed from a form of
dying to a form of murder or killing. Though the word suicida rst
appeared in the Middle Ages and was used to denote the killer, not the
act, the term suicide had a while to wait before it was naturalized.
keeping with this, representations of suicide rendered the agent, the
killer, though we, twenty-rst-century viewers, tend to read the act.
Alexander Murray testies that there was an elusiveness about
suicide in the medieval period.
And yet, though suicide was too
terrible to talk about and the medieval secrecy of suicide described
by Murray was manifest in a reluctance to chronicle or portray the
suicidal deed, there are still some images of this awful act.

In contrast, in early modern Europe, the truth about suicide was

fought over openly by two contending powers and philosophies. On
the one hand, there was a persistent belief in the heroism of voluntary
death. On the other, suicide was seen as an unlawful and a sinful death.
Irrespective of popular belief in the shamefulness of suicide, there was
a growing recognition of the medical nature of suicidal death: suicide
was beginning to be understood as an act of insanity, though it was still
judged to be a diabolical crime.

Punishment varied across Europe but

dragging, desecration and crossroads burial was practised throughout.
Up to and into the twentieth century France refused burial to suicides.
Medical opinion however, was that suicide, though shameful, was a
sickness. In Poland, suicides were doomed to wander as spectres. In
Germany, Lutherans integrated Lucretia into a language of chal-
In England, and elsewhere, religious condemnation of suicidal
despair as instigated by Satan offered Protestantism a useful recruit-
ing device. If suicide was a product of diabolical temptation, then the
Church could offer shelter or salvation from such evil. In England
also, from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, it was the amal-
gam of church and crown that dictated the law on suicide. Then,
from the mid-seventeenth to the early eighteenth century, the hege-
monic position of church and crown on suicide was contested by a
growing popular sympathy for suicides. By the close of the early
modern period, both heroic and diabolical suicide were marginalized
in favour of a notion that people killed themselves for reasons other
than glory or satanic despair.
In MacDonald and Murphys riveting history of the early modern
period, the change is represented as a gradual secularization of
suicide motivated by Enlightenment philosophers and men of letters
in opposition to the Anglican clergy, Nonconformists and Methodist

However, even before the Reformation, Latin Christen-

dom was extremely concerned with suicide as a product of despair.
There is little doubt that the Ars Moriendi and the confessional were
designed to help the tempted to resist disquietude. The energetic
encounter between representations of suicide as a valorous death, a
diabolical crime or a shameful illness or crying crime was the same in
Catholic and Protestant Christendom; in France, Germany, Italy, the
Netherlands and in England suicide was out in the open to be
discussed. Despite the poverty of records for Italy and Germany, due
in the latter to differing patterns of legislation, and the fragmentary
nature of French records, the visual output of suicidal imagery in
these countries is prolic. In England, our somewhat aniconic Protes-
tant tradition offers a rich verbal documentation but, initially, a visual
stillness. The continental images provide a valuable record of the
fusing of thought and sense experiences, and evidence the consum-
mate power of imaging to reveal what cannot be said in words.
However, as a result of these competing discursive positions other
meanings arose of suicidal death while the assumptions of artists in
the various media circulated and predicated the assenting and
dissenting knowledges of voluntary and suicidal death.
In England this powerful knitting together of differing beliefs was
bolstered by Tudor governmental policy and meant that suppositions
about suicide lapped over political and social boundaries.
In France
local jurisdiction of suicidal cases means that the picture is frag-
mented. Paradoxically, in spite of the severe condemnation of suicide
by the crown and church in England, it was from within the legal
system that a pathway emerged which facilitated the notion of suicide
as a product of illness and, in turn, a demeaning death. Increasingly,
more and more cases were deemed to be non compos mentis. In spite of
the shared presumptions of suicide across boundaries, the crown and
church differed. In line with popular opinion, both treated suicidal
death with severity. By the early seventeenth century popular belief
and religious opinion agreed that suicide was not an iniquity per se.
Three issues germane to the study of this period of transition are
contained in the following extract from the sermon by the Renais-
sance preacher, the Reverend Mr Tukes.
There be two sorts of voluntarie deathes; the one lawful and honest, such as
the death of Martyrs, the other dishonest and unlawful, where men have
neither lawful calling, nor honest endes, as of Peregrinus who burnt himself
in a pile of wood, thinking thereby to live forever in mens rememberance.
First, according to Tukes, martyrdom and self-killing are distinct.
Second, they are made apparent due to the nature of the cause.
Third, if the motive is good the perpetuation of the victims good
name would be assured.
Clearly, by the time of Tukess condemnation of suicide the
repeated projection and logic of the Judas/Jesus binary meant that
overlaps between martyria and suicide had, at least in Tukess mind,
been erased. Or, perhaps it still needed resolving; hence his sermon?
The repeated visual conceptualization of these deaths in Christian
culture had led to a clearer denition of good and bad deaths, of
martyrdom and suicide. Crucixion and hanging as manifest signs of
martyrdom and self-murder respectively had become part of visual
and verbal dictionary.
Nonetheless, I would argue that in the space between these polari-
ties, in the gap signied by the stark opposition in pictures of Jesuss
and Judass deaths there existed a massive grey area of overlap and
imperspicuity. Rather than conrming the truth about suicide, the
distinctness of the poles which aimed to extinguish any equivocalness
between Jesuss martyrdom and Judass self-murder paradoxically
helped to nurture ambiguity and create anomalies. To scrutinize the
eld between these polarities is to bring to the surface the equivoca-
tions created by the Christian desire to suppress uncertainty. It is
helpful in this respect to point out a loophole, and to make the addi-
tion of a fourth category to Tukess sermon in order to examine the
character of suicide representations in the period. Intended or not
and irrespective of pagan origins, in Tukess categorization the heroic
suicides of antiquity and the continuity of voluntaria mors would
gure within such a frame as lawful. If the cause was good, then so
was the death. Tukess main concern was that the rationale behind the
motive should be good. Though he associated Peregrinus burning
with a bad death, for Tukes the method is not the point in question. In
his analysis, Peregrinus motive was wrong, and therefore his death
was wrong too. Tukess discussion of Peregrinus also indicates the
nature of the equivocation that arises in the conceptual space between
a bad and a good death, or between vice and virtue.
There is little doubt that the proliferation of verbal discussion of
self-murder in early modern England indicates a discursive interest in
suicide which encompasses wide variation.

Arguing the case for and

against suicide as a rational death, scholars, clergy and medical practi-
tioners produced text after text on suicide which offered the reader a
range of causes: heroic action, satanic instigation, spleen, vapours,
melancholia, glandular distemper, hypochondria, lunacy and mad-
ness. The visual world also illustrated a variety of explanations,
though visual representations of suicide did not entirely coincide
with the opinions of scholars. Suicide as rational, irrational, demo-
nized or diabolical was part of the language of current debate right
across Europe in the period. So problematical were the views of
suicide that individuals were divided in their own opinion. In one of
the principal documents of seventeenth-century Epicureanism,
Epicuruss Morals, the apologist for Epicurus, Walter Charleton, was
torn between the Epicurean acceptance of suicide and Christian reli-
gious beliefs.
I am sure that this mixed feeling exists in all of us.
The paradigm for Epicurean thinkers lay in the heroism of Catos
death. In +y+ this was depicted in Joseph Addisons play Cato: A
Tragedy where the character Lucius, played by Mr Keen,
proclaimed: There ed the greatest soul that ever warmd A Roman
Breast, O Cato my friend! Epicureans like Addison saw Cato as the
champion of Stoicism and his death as a refusal to bow down to
Caesar. On Cato, Charleton agreed, and enrolled Augustines writings
in his cause to attribute Catos voluntary death to greatness of mind.
All the same, Charleton condemned suicide from a Christian view-
point. Similarly, the French Jesuit, Louis Richeome, thought Catos
act a folly.
Little attention has been paid to the fact that the new industry of
knowledge and a concomitant growth in high-art images of heroic
deaths from the fteenth to the seventeenth century may have helped
to construct and set the conditions for heroic discourse in the eigh-
teenth century. The angst-ridden humanists of the late fteenth
century and the thirst for knowledge associated with the Renaissance
did much to foster interest in Stoic philosophy, and the shift to secular
subject matter in art meant the topic of suicide was more readily
portrayed. From the fteenth century the number of images of heroic
female deaths escalated. Lucretia, Cleopatra, Arria, Sophonisba,
Portia and Dido were the most frequently imaged of women; Cato,
Brutus, Cassius, Plato and Seneca of men. Pyramus and Thisbe
remained ever popular. Though mentioned in literary texts as bad
deaths, images of Nero or Pontius Pilate have not yet been found.
Secularization processes and portrayals of the profane in the visual
world preceded the long period of mediation described by MacDon-
ald and Murphy and here they clearly underestimate the long-term
effects of images in giving direction to the processes they describe.
Drawing on the visual precedents of antique models, Renaissance
Humanism permitted the portrayal of male and female deaths, and
many of these representations were very similar to their Classical
forbears. In the early seventeenth century, the continuity of antiq-
uitys heroic deaths is apparent in the iconography of suicide. The
subject matter of Rubenss representation of Seneca is made very
clear by its reference to the antique sculpture of the dying Seneca.
Symbolizing, as much as anything, the European knowledge revolu-
tion, the painting depicts the old man standing in a bath as he bleeds
slowly to death. He is surrounded by four gures, one taking notes in
an attempt to capture his last thoughts (illus. ). In Sandrarts later
work the attribute of a vase was also included.
In opposition to Epicurean philosophy in the period of Tukess
sermon, and indicating suicide as an English malady, religious tracts
such as the True-Hearted British Reader or Isaac Wattss A Defense
against the Temptation to Self-Murther argued, for the Christian
reader, the need to preserve life.
Ideas of suicide as a result of
satanic instigation, or as a product of morbidity, also found an ally in
the ght against Epicureanism in medical texts such as Richard
Blackmores A Treatise on the Spleen and Vapours: Or Hypochondriacal
and Hysterical Affections, a book that discussed the removal of the
spleen in order to resolve melancholy.
Despite the awfulness of it all,
there is a discernible shift from protagonist as killer to protagonist as
victim, a shift wherein the demonic, supernatural aspect of suicide
was slowly replaced with a notion of insanity. Yet in the period of
history we are examining the two still mix uncomfortably.
Alongside this, the ood of images portraying the deaths of heroic
women demonstrates an array of structured and interrelated strug-
gles to explore and dene self-killing, its cause and its nature. The
affections referred to by Blackmore sat next to, or combined with,
the religious and legal condemnation of self-killing to form a rela-
tionship in which, to a certain extent, illness was criminalized. By the
late eighteenth century Rowleys thoughts on madness and suicide in
his publication on female hysteria implied that suicide was increas-
ingly seen as an act of insanity.
From a survey of suicidal imagery, a typology has been drawn to
illustrate the differences and the power relations that underlie these
discursive positions. Across Europe, from the sixteenth century
onwards, the question of suicide was out in the open, to be damned,
punished severely, or condoned and forgiven. In particular, the
Protestant designation of suicide as the Devils work integrated old
folklore and popular belief in judging suicide as something evil.
Competing with this was the re-representation of legendary heroic
female suicides like Lucretia, Cleopatra, Sophonisba and Dido whose

Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Seneca, +o8, oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
images proliferate throughout the period. The continued depiction of
the suicides of heroic and beautiful women by European artists
throughout the period +joo to +o precedes the period of stigmati-
zation from the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century designated
by MacDonald and Murphy as the era of secularization (illus. , j).
To some extent the expansion of these images was due to the reso-
lution of medieval debates around iconophobia, and especially that of
the problem of the representation of women, with its focus on the
vice of luxuria rather than a concern for representing heroic women.
In the process of suicides redesignation, luxury was to play another
role and became intertwined with suicides motives. In +yy, at the
end of the early modern period, John Herries blamed luxury and
depravity for the number of suicides in the metropolis. The
offspring of hell, the self-assassin as Herries described them, was
above all cowardly, and suicide deemed to be the dire attendant of
guilt, remorse and despair [which] begins to infect [and is]
contrary to nature.
There is a marked change occurring from the
decade of the +yyos where it is noticeable that sensibility entwined
with luxuria is identied as a cause of despair resulting in suicide.
It is no surprise at all that Herries cowardly offspring of hell are
linked to the eighteenth-century phenomenon of sensibility. In the
+yos Charles Moore, the rst suicidologist, attacked men of sensi-
bility with moralistic zeal. A prime target for this attack was Goethes
ower-gathering hero Werther. Moore had little doubt about his
luxurious effeminacy as a cause of his suicide, which is generally
bestowed on the sybarite.
The process which led to this notion of
self-slaughter as a by-product of contaminated femininity begins to
nd a focus through the large number of images of suicidal women
and the votaries of Epicurean and sensualist philosophy. Hypersensi-
tivity of this kind was clearly an eighteenth-century phenomenon,
yet in suicidal discourse it spills over into the nineteenth century. In
the process the devil, too, lost signicance as a spiritual force and
began to symbolize a secular force.
Male artists fascination with the deaths of beautiful women is
apparent and the increasing conceptualization of suicide as weakness
was part of a process of medicalization that tied itself to an idea of
suicide that is represented as feminine. Images of Lucretia offer a
suitable example of this, though not all representations of Lucretia
stressed her sensuality. Drers Lucretia has been cited above as
unusual in the genre. More typical was the tragic beauty portrayed by
Bruyn the Elder, or Francias Lucretia (illus. j). Drers Italianate
image depicts a somewhat sullen heroine who appears quite awkward,

Niccol Renieri, The Death of Sophonisba, c. +joo, oil on canvas.

Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery.
j Francesco Raibolini, called Francia (attrib.), Lucretia, c. +j+o, oil on panel.
York City Art Gallery.
in contrast to the usual type of a beautiful woman, bare-breasted, or
with one breast exposed, about to plunge a knife into her heart.
Beauty is, of course, forever reconstructed, and Drers picture of
Marcus Curtius does not reveal a particular stigma. The ability of
these classical themes to offer male artists the opportunity to paint the
female body was clearly relevant, though in the complex process of
signication the real body is lost in a symbolic order which links
suicide with femininity. Underlying the mastery, the submission of
emotional experience to order and containment is a real problem of
The convention is clearly evidenced in the images of the death of
Cleopatra, which depict the queen with the asp held to her bare
bosom. Guido Renis Raphaelesque Cleopatra in the Palazzo Pitti in
Florence was copied by Sir Robert Strange in an engraving of around
+8o, and is evidence of the continuing presence of Cleopatra (illus.
). Reni also painted Pyramus and Thisbe, Sophonisba and Seneca.
Renis image shows Cleopatra with the asp held at her breast, head
thrown back in sheer ecstasy; the left breast is exposed and her gown
is slipping off the right breast (illus. :). According to one analysis
she is swooning.
The asp is curved, almost touching both its tail and

Robert Strange,
Cleopatra, c. +8o,
engraving after Reni
(illus. :).
Cleopatras nipple. Like the Oroborous that reconciles heaven and
earth, it signies life and death as a continuity and is an appropriate
teleological symbol for suicide. Its symbolic value as a force of
destruction and its phallic nature indicate the equivocal nature of the
sign suicide. What was the purpose of her death? Was it for gain? For
loss? To avoid being taken back to Rome? The result of vanity and
greed? A quest for power? The erotic component of the image of the
moment of death is clear. Similar questions can be asked of the repre-
sentations of Lucretia, whose voluntary death was probably the most
frequently visualized.
Important to any understanding of representations of Lucretias
heroic death is that the method, penetration by a knife, symbolizes
the cause of Lucretias suicide. In +j Hans Schufeleins woodcut
for Johann von Schwartenberg, the Lutheran jurist, places the hero-
ine in front of an open window in her bedchamber in order to give
emphasis to her reputation, her virtue and to the cause of her death.
As a symbol of vengeance, death and sacrice, the knife relates to the
motive and the cause for the killing. Rather than being a Freudian
symbol, the knife, commonly shown as having a blade of exaggerated
length, refers to the gladiatorial sword and to the spiritual being of the
swordsman. The consequence of Lucretias death also requires some
consideration, for its deliberate nature gives rise to the theory that she
may have been inuenced by other motives. The result was a war
against the Tarquins, the outcome of which was the birth of the
republic. For Lutherans the power of passive resistance was
connoted, and as such Lucretias story found its way into plays,
prayers and pictures which opposed the tyranny of the emperor.
Thus her death simultaneously signals the power accredited to
womens suicide and the anxiety engendered by its suggestion of the
cessation of the family and the importance of maternity. At the same
time, the perception of the suicide of a woman as destructive of
nature supports accepted notions of the female role, and denies heroic
status to this death. By the end of the early modern period, it was
considered more important to achieve fame in life than in death, and
Lucretias appeal dwindled.
In terms of suicidal discourse, these images of Lucretia and
Cleopatra are also contemporary references. Though they hark back
to old stories, they make statements that are present-centred around
the social establishment and formulation of meanings of suicide.
From the seventeenth century we nd a visual system not so depen-
dent on language as either earlier biblical references or the antique.
The archaic component is missing and new meanings arise which in
turn are also contested. A closer examination of these images will
show how they relate to their seminal literary sources and to contem-
porary historical notions of suicide in religious and secular intellec-
tual circles.
The myth of Lucretia offers an exemplar of the historically chang-
ing notions of suicide and immortality. Her story originates in the
fth century uc, and is remembered through the writings of Ovid (
uc+n +y) and Livy (j uc+n +y). During the Renaissance Lucretias
image was extremely popular on Italian cassoni, functioning as a
warning against indelity.
Dramatically portrayed by Titian (illus.
+) and most poignantly by Artemisia Gentileschi, herself the victim
of a rape, the cause of Lucretias public suicide was her rape by
Sextus Tarquinius, son of the despotic Roman Lucius Tarquinius
Superbus. In Ovids story, Lucretia does not want her husband
Tarquinius Collatinus to have a stained wife on his hands and, driven
by what might be deemed magical thinking (as expounded by Wahl
in Suicide as a Magical Act), commits suicide in front of her
husband and father after telling them of her rape. The end result is in
a sense part of a delusion, chimerical and irrational, though the act is
regarded as rational and heroic.
By killing herself Lucretia gains powers and advantages not
possessed by the living woman.
This is explained in recent suicidol-
ogy by the notion of post-ego where it is argued that in only a small
number of instances is the desire for death the sole motive for
By killing off the I of her experiences and pain, Lucretia
perpetuates the I of her individuality. Irrational or not, this delu-
sional fantasy signies a desire to control not just the future, death
and life, but also to preserve a reputation that was chaste. The illogi-
cality of this may be the very key we need to understand her motive.
Central to suicidal thinking is the desire to perpetuate the I. The
ctional image conjoins with the facts of her death to achieve this.
Lucretia does not die so much as stops living. Canonized for dying
rather than living as a deled woman, Lucretias image acts as a
metaphor for chastity, and as such a symbol was widely employed in
high art and in popular visual culture during the period of the Renais-
sance and Reformation. Thus her heroic death was made secondary to
her chastity. The continuing popularity of Lucretia images was
assured by reason of their compatibility with Christian values. James
Yates, in Chariot of Chastitie, an essay in praise of Lucretia, observed:
How Lucrece sate in heaven above her seate was thee bestowed
Lucrece she would not have a body for her spouse unchaste.
Guaranteed a place in heaven or not, Lucretias dominant concern
was with her own reputation after death: her impact, the survival of
her memory and inuence. The connotation is of her death as
memento vivere rather than memento mori, the birth of the republic, the
child of her rape. The popularity of Lucretias image in the fteenth
and sixteenth centuries is evidenced in references to street signs such
as that described hanging over Thomas Berthelets London printing
shop in +jo.
A small square maiolica oor-tile showing Lucretias
suicide can be found in Vyne House near Basingstoke; a Tudor prop-
erty that contains a chapel with Renaissance glass. Probably made in
Antwerp in the early sixteenth century by an Italian migr potter,
and no doubt copied from a print or painting, it is evidence of the
wide and enduring popularity of Lucretias heroic death (illus. y).
Encouraged by the phenomenon of Epicurus in England, the
deaths of Cato and Lucretia were much discussed as a philosophical
trend from the mid-seventeenth century and, in agreement with
Epicurean literature, portrayals of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis
(j uc) were popular from the mid-sixteenth century. In a small
engraving by Pietro Testa, who himself committed suicide, Cato is
represented surrounded by supportive comrades (illus. 8). Above
him are two busts, which might represent Seneca and Aristotle as
described by Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations (+.y+j).
As the

y Lucretia Stabbing Herself through the Heart, c. +j:o, maiolica tile.

Vyne House, Sherborne St John, Hampshire.
result of his defeat in battle Cato, the arch-enemy of Julius Caesar,
amalgamated the death of a philosopher with a gladiatorial death by
the sword: after reading Platos Phaedo, he took his life. Testa also
portrayed the death of Cato in a small engraving of +8. Based
upon his reading of Catos death in Stoic texts, the artist depicts
Catos suicide as an exemplum fortitudinis. Testas Dsseldorf note-
books contain passages that include notes on the correct way to
depict the death of Cato and Dido and record his intention to illus-
trate the Aeneid.
Testas detailed interest in Cato bears out the continued presenta-
tion of his death as an exemplum of heroic fortitude.
In an etching
The Suicide of Dido Dido is presented as the tragic object of our horror
and pity.
In stark contrast to the depiction of the death of Cato in
the print The Suicide of Cato by Pietros nephew Giovanni Cesare
Testa, Testa systematically illustrates the pain and horror of Didos
death. Catos composure thus serves to represent his heroic suicide in
a sympathetic way. Other depictions of Catos death, such as The
Sacrice of Marcus Curtius by Luigi Garzi
indicate similar sympa-
thetic treatment and exemplify the sacricial nature of Catos suicide.
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe remained extremely popular.
Two beautiful maiolica plates by Francesco Xanto Avelli remain in
Urbino and Bologna. Further plates by Xanto are in the Victoria and
Albert Museum, in Svres and in Berlin.
In opposition to these visual versions of heroic suicide the French
8 Pietro Testa, The Suicide of Cato, +8, etching with drypoint. British Museum, London.
and English clergy wrote their own version of Catos death. The
English preacher Zachary Pearce laid blame on the Romans as Advo-
cates for Self Murder, sermonizing that it has been called a Roman
Virtue, and Cato is placed at the head of this false heroism a fash-
ion which (as with us) grew out of the Degeneracy and Corruption of
the Times.
Pearce blamed suicide on luxury and depravity. In
contrast, the French Epicurean Sarasin insisted that Cato, the great
Stoic, killed himself because it gave him less pain to part from life
than to bow down to Caesar and more pleasure to die than to live in
ignominious servitude.

The French Jesuit Louis Richeome thought

Catos death a result of false pride and vanity.

Sarasins astute recog-

nition of pleasure as a component of Epicurean death anticipates a
much later aspect of suicides analysis: Freud argues that libidinal
drive or sensuality and sexuality are bound to suicide by sexual wish
fullment; both are in conict with self-preservation (Eros/Thanatos).
Of virtue and pleasure in Stoic philosophy Sarasin noted that: It was
not virtue alone which made them commit suicide, but love of Plea-
sure and also that what they called virtue ought to have been
named pleasure.
In Joseph Addisons Cato: A Tragedy, Catos
death was expressed poetically. Let us bear this awful Corps to
Caesar, Addison wrote, And lay it in his Sight, that it may stand
A Fence betwixt us and the victors wrath; Cato tho dead shall still
protect his friends.

There is no doubt that these compelling images of self-killing can

be equated with religious movements, economic change, battles of the
sexes, contemporary misogyny, changing ideas of marriage, of
women in the competing labour market in the context of developing
capitalism, and the dynamics of oppression associated with witch-
hunting in the period. Indeed, witchcraft and suicide were both
considered crimes of a supernatural nature. The sanctity of the
family was clearly threatened by both, and the breakdown of family
relationships was seen as a cause. The results of suicide for women
and for men were apparently very different.
In most respects
Catholic casuists and English and Scots Protestants were unanimous
on one issue; suicide must be condemned. While criticizing Catos
death, Thomas Brownes Religio Medici, written in +j, attempts to
divide pagan suicide from Christian suicide.
The latter was to be
condemned without question.
In the same year as Sarasins publication, Isaac Watts, an English
clergyman, simply wrote off the Stoics writings as ranting dis-

From the early seventeenth century the English clergy also

demonized suicide as Satans work. John Sym, Minister of Leigh in
Essex, agreed that melancholy was to blame, but melancholy was the
result of persons haunted by Satan, notorious wretches, manci-
pated to the devils service, and guilty of horrible crying crimes.
the powerful combination of notions implied by crying crimes are
the germs of a medical reading, one that sees self-murder as a product
of melancholia and depression, but still a depressive crime is denoted.
In England, theological writing depicts despair as a constant
feature of suicides representation in two ways: rst through external
and second through internal suggestion by the devil. The devil could
get inside a person and take over their body and mind, or he could
play the role of tempter urging people to commit self-murder.
Gilpins Daemonologia Sacra described Satan as driven in the design
of self-murder, in a direct way by urging man to destroy himself and
in an indirect way by terrors of despairing troubles of conscience
a wounded spirit. In treating Lucretia and Cato he described their
heroick boldness and was careful not to mention demons when
describing these heroic deaths: Lucretia being forced by Tarquinius
and not willing to outlive her disgrace, stabbd herself. Cato not being
able to endure the victory of Gesta put an end to his days.
Iconic references differ from these verbal utterances. In paintings
Lucretias beauty works to sustain her heroism and nobility. In the
story of Lucretia, body and mind are separated: the body is deled but
the mind is pure. The point is that Lucretias image is not a portrait,
but an iconic reference whose name stands for an idea. The image acts
as a sign of the person painted. Her noble features and beauty are
maintained to symbolize her chastity. In this respect, the depiction of
the moment before the act serves to highlight intention. In psychoana-
lytic terms, for the male artist and viewer alike, Lucretia remains intact
to avoid the portrayal of the wound, thus alleviating the sense of guilt
for the male spectator and removing a source of anxiety. This negates
the fear of the hole (the wound) and anxiety around the abject decay-
ing body. One of the most spectacular images, however, represents the
moment after the withdrawal of the knife. Rembrandts Lucretia of
+ captures the dramatic tenor of the subject to show her with a
bloody white shift (illus. ). The pose is the same as his clothed Lucre-
tia, but the removal of her outer garments and the bloodstained shift
evokes the violence of rape and suicide.
Relevant to the study of these images was the application by artists
of pseudo-Aristotelian philosophy which insisted that personality can
be portrayed by somatic clues. Character thus becomes important in
this respect. Lucretias image is sanitized and connotes goodness and
purity. She is placed in an open space in order to portray her singular-
ity and her features are made noble/beautiful. Through these visual
devices the heroic status of her death is maintained. In the paradig-
matic type, Lucretia is shown like Cleopatra, bare-breasted, head
turned upwards in a gesture of appeal, knife held under the heart. No
demons can be found in Lucretias imagery, as the act must appear to
be rational. The supernatural element is not relevant here. Lucretias
motive for suicide is her wounded body. The demonic that lters into
medical views of depression carries messages of a wounded spirit, or
of someone who is a stooge, a dupe for Satan, one of Satans pawns.
Lucretia is free from this, and her ability to symbolize, at different
times, fortitude, humility and sanctimony may well explain the
endurance of her heroic status.
Rembrandt, Lucretia, +, oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
The number and variety of treatment of works on Lucretia indi-
cate her wide geographical popularity in the period as a topic for
artists, and bears witness to their adherence to classical mythology.
From the latter part of the sixteenth century it is possible to talk of a
European world, and European thought. Artists were much-travelled
and the art of suicide began to become part of a European imaginary.
From the sixteenth century the expansion of literature on the treat-
ment of despair meant suicide was represented across the territory in
the visual, in casuistry and in medical and clerical texts. It was even
earlier in Italy, probably through Boccaccios De claris mulieribus, that
the story of Lucretia was rediscovered, though it was the story of
Lucretia as an exemplum of virtue that was given emphasis rather
than her part in the birth of the republic. In Germany too, transla-
tions of Boccaccios story can be found from the fteenth century. In
mid-sixteenth-century Germany Lucretias popularity was evidently
more to do with her virtue than with politics. One must assume
however, that the political agenda and context of Lucretias suicide
lurked somewhere in the background of the many published plays
and paintings in what was a period of repression. In the wake of the
Peasants War the tale clearly reminded dissenters of their need to
resist tyranny.
Lucas Cranach, a friend of Luther, who had praised Lucretias
piety, and whose earliest works were predominantly religious paint-
ings, shows Lucretia with the tip of the blade over her heart and a
diaphanous veil, signifying her vulnerability, covering a part of her
face. The veil is draped over her shoulder, across the left breast and
under her heart. The left hand is held forward in order to display the
wedding ring on the third nger, and falls over her lower part, which
is covered by a dark gown (illus. :). For some Lutherans Lucretia
represented a similar story to that of the Old Testament heroine
Judith and in this regard she was rated eighth among the nine most
loyal Romans and pagan women.
Kristin Zapalac points to a diptych
by Cranach from after +jy which brought the two together.
On the face of it, delity and chastity are connoted in Cranachs
dynamic representation. Yet the veil is unusual and complicates such
a reading. In the symbolism of the veil is the duality of meaning of
revealing (re-veiling) and covering. This veil is for seeing through.
Karl Menningers work indicates that self-inicted death has compo-
nents of eroticism and of deadly narcissism.

Cranachs Lucretia
clearly contains a sly eroticism emphasized in the half-closed eyes
framed by the veil and given further emphasis by the serpentine
nature of the veil, which curls around her body. Her adornment, a
bejewelled choker, is reected in the pattern of the knife handle and a
long chain falls loosely around her neck just above the breasts. The
symbol of the chain is ambiguous, and though it may be thought to
suggest the bonds of matrimony, it does not seem to serve such a
purpose here. More than likely the chain stands for Lucretias involu-
tion and entanglement. The veil falls over the left nipple. The right
shoulder is lightened, to bring forward the arm that holds the knife. It
is, of course, feasible to contend that this glossy image was destined
for the bedchamber rather than the gallery, and only purports to be
Lucretia; however, what is nally portrayed and projected is a concept
of woman. Salacious rather than sanctimonious, Cranachs Lucretia
has nothing to do with the Lutheran politics of virtue. The role of art
in prescribing the feminine position as object of the gaze overrides
the subject and the aesthetically pleasing image of Lucretia depicts a
symbolic act wherein suicide, death and woman as sexual object are
conjoined. Inscribed on womans body are the reections of patriar-
chal culture; therefore the difculty of reading womens suicides is
compounded from the outset by the arbitrariness of the depicted
social body. This arbitrariness is increased over time.
Other images offer much the same format, though they are not so
erotically charged. A Hungarian Christian image by the Master of the
Holy Blood shows the blade penetrating the esh. Blood ows down
Lucretias stomach to disappear behind her otherwise revealing gown.
Her left hand is held forward, displaying rings on all ngers but one.
The image is described by Van Hooff as an image of a Christian hero-
ine of chastity (illus. ). A physiognomic reading of the image could
indicate the construction of a similar guile to Cranachs Lucretia, iden-
tiable in the narrowed eyes which, in this example, are slightly turned.
The compatibility of these images with Augustinian preaching where
Lucretias duplicity is implied means that they can be read as expres-
sions of either guilt or innocence. When Augustine slyly remarked that
Lucretia may have consented to the act of rape as a result of her own
desire, then her death became her own punishment of herself. These
theorizations meant that her voluntary death could be read as a conse-
quence of her adultery.
Yet Shakespeare immortalized Lucretia in his poem, The Rape of
Lucrece, of +j. Ophelia, another Shakespearean suicide, is in a
sense Lucretias counterpart, or rather her mirror image, being of
sound body, but unsound mind. Ophelias story appears to anticipate
modern psychiatry and the concept of suicide as sickness or the disso-
lution of self. Ophelias imaging is not found at all in the descriptive
arts until the late eighteenth century and becomes popular in the
nineteenth century when the medicalized view becomes prevalent.
One might theorize here that Shakespeare pre-empted the nine-
teenth-century medical view of suicide caused by a disintegration of
the self. Above all, it is Lucretia who nds her way into painting,
popular folklore, poetry and Christian mythology as both a heroine
and an adulteress. The power of Lucretias trace is evident across
Europe in the numerous and successive interpretations of her death
by both male and female artists, though this is not apparent in
England till the latter part of the century. Painted by Guido Canlassi,
Artemisia Gentileschi, Rubens (illus. o), Elisabetha Sirani and
Sebastiano Ricci (illus. j+), Lucretias trace is subject to varying inter-
pretations. Francias and Canlassis are exemplary of the general type.
In contrast to the Hungarian image of Lucretia described above, most
jo Rembrandt, Lucretia, +, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
versions of Lucretia depict her with noble features. Rembrandts
image of + is unusual in that Lucretia is fully clothed rather than
dishabille. Above all, her rationality is portrayed (illus. jo). Her face is
turned towards the knife; her left hand is held up in front of her to
communicate her resignation.
Venetian Sebastiano Riccis Lucretia breaks away from traditional
portrayals to offer an altogether different version. The much-trav-
elled Ricci, whose work was known across Europe, depicts Lucretia in
turmoil, a tempestuous, revengeful woman in total disarray. On the
oor, serving to symbolize the rape, is a broken egg. The seed of
generation and the mystery of life thus lies shattered on the ground.
The egg, however, also symbolizes immortality, and in its broken state
may serve as a denial of it. This unsympathetic image brings to mind
Giottos earlier personications of Wrath, in the Arena Chapel, yet in
the insensitive handling of Lucretias death Riccis Lucretia says more
about the cause, and the result, which others refer to symbolically by
the knife. In this image the motive for death is represented as furore.
However justiable such rage might be in this case of rape, the image
does not conform to the story.
Nowhere is the cool deduction associated with the story more clearly
depicted than in Siranis painting: Lucretia is shown on her bed,
j+ Sebastiano Ricci,
Lucretia, c. +y:o, oil on
canvas. Dayton Art
pondering her situation, her right hand resting calmly on the knife.
This sensitive image of a woman, painted by a woman, suggests a
thoughtful, sad and resigned person on the point of taking her own
life. Several images include the bed, although in this image the
bedchamber intimates a certain privacy that recalls the rape and looks
forward to a quiet death.
Catos self-killing undergoes similar discussion to that of Lucretia
and painting in the period, as does Senecas, but neither is the subject
of visual translations of the type described above. The constancy in
visualizations of Cato and Seneca indicate that for men their heroic
stature is maintained. Typical of Senecas images are those of Perrier
and Rubens, which show him standing in the bath (illus. j:). The
undated engraving by Franois Perrier and the painting by Rubens
display distinct similarities in their portrayal of posture and garb.
Perriers Seneca is a younger man, while Rubenss is an old man
j: Franois Perrier, Seneca,
c. +o, etching after Beham.
Wellcome Library, London.
surrounded by admirers. Bleeding is not depicted in the Rubens. The
Perrier image shows Seneca standing in what appears to be an urn
with a rams head around the side. Both the bath and the urn can be
read as signifying purication, regeneration, or change and re-
creation. Furthermore, Senecas containment within the urn slowly
lling with his blood is a highly pertinent symbol that makes links
with the world of the feminine.

The spilling of blood in this way has similarities with the bleeding
of a pig in a slaughterhouse. Mary Douglass anthropological work,
however, indicates anxiety around the spilling of blood or bodily
uids, particularly in menstruation where blood traverses bodily
boundaries and may serve to indicate a threat to masculinity, or even
an external threat to territory.
Rembrandts Lucretia is called to
mind here. In Kristevas theorization of Douglass work, blood can
represent a gender threat and signify social or sexual danger within a
society. If this can be applied at all to the deliberate spilling of blood,
Senecas act depicts a disruption to the social and to the symbolic
body; but the anxiety created is about the male body and its unity. The
taking of notes of Senecas last words emphasizes his importance as a
philosopher and the urn with his spilt blood attempts to contain and
preserve in some way the symbolic masculine unity which suicide
These images tell us that the diversity of opinion in Europe was
even greater than imagined and that the picture was never clear-cut.
In general, the social history of suicide has either tended to ignore
visual images as historical sources, or afforded them a supercial
connection with writing. In effect, social history seems to be part of
an iconophobic intellectual tradition that has denied the visual
images importance as evidence. It is my argument here that culture
operates in all spheres to furnish society with symbolic representa-
tions of economic and religious circumstances as they limit or delimit
specic social groups.
Lunacy was by the seventeenth century increasingly referred to in
coroners reports as a manifestation of sympathy with the suicide and
the suicides family, and more verdicts of non compos mentis were
given. No images directly linking suicide to lunacy have been found
dating from before the nineteenth century though despair and lunacy
may have been conated. In general, the visual imagery of suicide
does not directly indicate a condemnation of self-killing; there were
other reasons for these portrayals.
Notably, very few of the images are of English origin. On the
whole, the later images, Riccis apart, are sympathetic and reconstruct
a heroic suicide, though the imagery of Judas indicates continuing
Christian condemnation. In a Lutheran Satire on the Papal Arms, a
woodcut by Master B P from c. +j8, Judas appears hanging from one
of the broken keys of the city of Regensburg (illus. j). This damning
image depicts the pope hanging on the opposite shaft of the keys.
The competing discourses in these images indicate a lack of agree-
ment, so much so that it is historically impossible to see a signied
agreement at all. One text above all challenged the dominant view of
suicide, John Donnes Biathanatos: A Declaration of that Paradoxe or
Thesis, that Selfe-homicide is not so naturally Sinne, that it may never be
otherwise, rst published in + but written earlier. In the context of
the debates on suicide, it probably had little positive effect. His title is a
strange one; it is derived from the Greek biaiothanatos (one who dies
violently) and thus avoids reference to murder and killing. Some
suicides were, for Donne, permitted by fair implication; and in these
cases the victims should be offered salvation. Skirting around Augus-
tinian philosophy, Donne noted that voluntary death was not directly
prohibited in the scriptures or old law. Donnes work gives the sense of
a realization of death as the limit of power, and a recognition of the
struggle in all of us between life and death. Aimed at giving sover-
eignty to the individual, it was a much maligned text.
Ignoring the sophistication of such argument, internecine bicker-
ing of differing denominations posited that the other was more prone
j Master B P, Satire on the Papal Arms, c. +j8, woodcut.
Kunstsammlungen Veste Coburg.
to suicide than themselves. Discourses on self-murder ran the whole
gamut from serious debate to sophistry and sanctimonious sermoniz-
ing. Geographic and climatic factors are commonly cited as cause,
and later nd their way into satires of English suicides. In his Letters
on the English and French Nations the Abb Prevost, a writer of
macabre stories and a man of many contradictions, pointed an accus-
ing nger at a set of men whom he had no hesitation in identifying as
a potentially suicidal group. They were those who never laugh at all,
and those are Presbyterians: they make laughing the eighth mortal

Cutting across nation and religion, the Abbs sardonic writing

was aimed at the English. Earlier, in a journal article in Pour et Contre
the Abb had mentioned that when short of material the British are
always good for a column.
In his opinion, suicide was a product of
spleen and vapours more than ennui; and he also stressed differences
in the motives and method of death between the strong and weak sex.
It is difcult to refute his story as the scraps of French records that
remain offer only a fragmented picture. In England a centralized judi-
ciary means the picture is much clearer.
There are numerous examples of difference connoted in represen-
tations of the capacity of particular religions to commit suicide
throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At
the beginning of the period Foxes Book of Martyrs, in reporting the
sad tale of the demise of Plankney and Havington, two stubborn
papists of New College Oxford, who drowned themselves, forms the
other end of the spectrum; their example is not unworthy to be
noted, to see what little comfort and grace comes [to] those who
follow the confusing doctrine and profession of papistry.
Catholics were thus deemed susceptible to suicide. A third, most
damning, statement spread the net much wider and decreed that all
blind atheists, Epicureans, mammomists, belly-gods behold what
will fall of them in the world to come, unless they be warned.

Religious differences and the gradual secularization of suicide

might well explain why the production of images of Judas seem to
peter out by the end of the fteenth century, the bulk being produced
in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Clearly by this time Judass
role as a scapegoat had been clearly established and may even have lost
its potency. The decrease might also be explained within the context
of changing forms of patronage and a challenge to religious ideas of
suicide by a more profane or secular imagery. The contempt for
suicide as a by-product of this visualization is clear, so too were the
prevailing ideas of melancholy and despair as a cause. In the process
hanging had become associated with guilt and the punishment for
serious crime. Female suicides appear to remain as separate sets of
units, paradigmatic maybe, but for these images each type seems to
mean something different in each syntagm. The death of Sophon-
isba, Cleopatra or Portia can have differing meanings within differing
texts, though the overriding implicit meanings relate to their inability
to live without their husbands or lovers.
Sophonisbas visualization gives further weight to the hypothesis
regarding the abundance of feminine suicides portrayed in the early
modern period. Sophonisba was a Punic princess, married to the king
of Numidia who had been killed by King Masinissa of Laelius in :o
uc. Masinissa then arranged a marriage between himself and
Sophonisba. However, chided by Scipio for marrying the enemy,
Masinissa sent Sophonisba a cup of poison with a message indicating
that he could send no more, but that it would keep her out of Roman
hands. Sophonisbas last words before drinking the poison were as
follows: I willingly accept this wedding gift, and if my husband can
give me no other, I shall be grateful for this. But tell him I should have
died better had I not married at the point of death.
Death and femininity, loss and gain, the interchangeability of
bridal gifts and death, all combine in Niccol Renieris image, which
shows her, with the letter from Masinissa, between two maidservants
(illus. ). On the left of Sophonisba is a lady in prole, at and deco-
rative and younger than Sophonisba, though less substantial, and on
her right, face on to the viewer, is an effective memento mori, a very
old, skeletal, wrinkled lady. She is either supporting or tugging
Sophonisbas arm. Sophonisbas body is limp and the left arm has
fallen forward to indicate her nal moments. It indicates also an over-
turned scallop cup that serves as a gesture of defeat. The shell is a
mystical symbol of the wealth of one generation arising from
This reading would clearly be borne out by the images of
old age and youthfulness at her side. This cup is spilt however, and
the end of a line connoted. The aged gure foregrounds the process
of aging, which will never occur for Sophonisba. The wrinkled old
lady might also represent Death tugging at her arm. Sophonisba looks
away, the young servant looks across the picture plane, the old hag
returns the gaze, forces us to look back at Sophonisba, and thus her
beauty is reinforced in death.
There are continuities and overlaps too. Didos image was forever
popular, as were those of Narcissus; and the sentimental suicides of
Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovids Metamorphoses. The last two stories
were probably the most enduring. The former was resignied
through Freud and the latter remained popular till the late eighteenth
century. A twelfth-century tympanum in the Cambrai Municipal
Museum shows Pyramus lying face down, impaled by the sword, and
Thisbe pierced on Pyramus back with her hand resting on her lovers
head. The mulberry bush winds around them and standing over them
is a strange bearded gure, wearing what appears to be a cap with ears,
possibly a personication of the lioness? (illus. j). Ovids story
compares the rush of blood to a pipe bursting, literally spattering the
mulberry bush, a macabre element which is not seen in the extant
images but is perhaps represented by other means. For example, one
illustration shows a stream rushing across the diagonal of the picture.
Similarly, in a woodcut in the Ovide Moralis Pyramus sword appears
to be between his legs and is penetrating Thisbes breast. On the left
of the picture, lifes end is represented as a stream gushing out, and
on the right a woman looks on. Our eyes are drawn to the woman
j Pyramus and Thisbe (tympanum), +:th century, stone. Cambrai Municipal Museum.
spectator and through her we are taken behind the scene as a helpless
onlooker unable to prevent or intervene in the death. The mulberry is
to Pyramus right. From the fteenth through to the end of the eigh-
teenth century, Cutter records over 8o such images most of which are
Italian, French or German.
Continuing notions of chivalric moral-
ity may account for this pattern of production and distribution but it
isnt transparent. At differing times in differing places heroic women
become popular or classical themes, for example in the +os in
France particularly, but also across Europe generally.
Dido features in over o images in the period +oo to +y8o. The
earlier images place Dido back in the public space. In Liberale da
Veronas The Death of Dido she is represented as a noble figure
posed on top of the pyre in the main square. The picture, probably
from a cassone, centres the subject at the apex of a pyramid and as
the focus both of those spectators in the frame and the spectator of
the picture itself. She is surrounded by onlookers to both left and
right. In her right hand is a knife, and she is about to plunge it into
her heart. Her posture suggests she is about to declaim, and her
height gives her prominence in what is otherwise a markedly hori-
zontal composition (illus. jj).
A similar image by Sebastien Bourdon depicts an outdoor scene,
but with what appears to be an angel taking Dido up. Bourdons
happy blend of Christian and pagan mythology retells the story in the
light of contemporary Christian ideology, and represents an exagoge
or Didos apotheosis. Demonstrating the continuing presence of
Dido, a much later image by Fuseli shows a similar exagoge, but
depicts an eroticized Dido, arms outstretched as if crucied and
guided gently by an angel who is holding her long hair (illus. ).
The Rubens painting Dido shows her on the edge of her marriage
bed, shrouded by a black panoply, mourning Sychaeus, her dead
husband. In Virgil Sychaeus was killed by Pygmalion. The story here
is therefore one of dolor suicide. The gure of Dido is in a contrap-
posto pose, twisted toward the viewer with a long knife pointed at her
heart. One must resist the temptation to thread together these images
across the diachronic span as changing examples of patriarchal
discourse; this approach is made problematic by individual differ-
ences in the images, and is not supported in the complex visualization
of these womens deaths. To see Rubenss tormented gure of Dido,
or Riccis Lucretia, within the terms of a history of style as products
of the baroque, or to give the credit for such drama to the hand of the
artist, detracts from the study of how these texts take up aspects of
the stories of a womans beauty, death and suicide and stitch them
together. Rubens severs Dido from the pyramidic (classical) format,
and from the public space in the heroic Virgilian story, to place her in
her bedchamber. In keeping with funerary discourse in the period of
Rubenss painting, Dido is pictured with her dead husband, thereby
emphasizing familial values and her dependency on Sychaeus. Femi-
nine valour is overshadowed by feminine dependency.
These earlier humanistic images of female self-killing coincide
with the era of severity in Scotland and England, and suicides
outright condemnation. This may account for the paucity of English
images of heroic women. There is reason to believe that Catholic
Continental countries were less strict and less severe in condemning
suicides. Another interpretation would be that Riccis and Rubenss
paintings simply depict suicide as stigmatized.
The continuing presence of the plague in Europe had brought
about a consciousness of death and the consequent value of life that
might well account for contemporary attitudes to suicide. From the
high medieval period, the Dances of Death appeared. These moral-
istic texts played a large part in popular visual culture, urging virtue
against vice. Competing against the heroic in high art, the Dances
also supplanted the original biblical texts ambiguity of meaning on
suicide with one that was openly pejorative, and operated as a substi-
tute for the Bible with the mass of the population. From the middle of
the seventeenth century Delftware tiles depicting biblical scenes,
including suicide, sold to the new middle class patrons in Europe who
wished to buy themselves time and credibility. Delftware made in
London and Liverpool was decorated with biblical scenes in the
middle of the eighteenth century and these images were accompanied
by graphic texts that afrmed the values and lifestyles of the growing
merchant class. Jan Pluiss book Bijbeltegels shows illustrations of two
Delft tiles from Utrecht devoted to the death of Saul. One undated
jj Liberale da Verona, The Death of Dido, +j:, oil on poplar panel. National Gallery, London.
tile, by its pattern probably nineteenth century, shows Saul and his
armour-bearer falling on their swords (illus. j). Based on earlier
popular German illustrations of the Bible such as Jan Luikens
images in De Schriftuurlyke, begun in +, and which depicted the
heroic deaths of Saul and Samson especially (illus. jy, j8), these tiles
belong to the tradition of vices and virtues, a tradition that goes back
much further than Luikens book and can be found in German minia-
tures from the twelfth century. Such tiles would have been found in
coffee houses, and round domestic replaces, where they could be
read to children.
From the same Delft series a tile depicts Samson between the two
pillars remaining of the temple; his captors are gone, and a tiled oor
below him depicts the aftermath of Samsons death while synchro-
nizing his existence after the event of his death (illus. j). It thus
captures the act and the essence of the nature of suicide, and forces us
to read the death in terms of his freedom from captivity and his
immortality. Eternity is a central feature of suicidal imagery, and of
suicide itself. In this clever image Samson is moved forward in time
and, though dead, lives on. Another tile shows Ahitophel on the
gallows which stand out in the background. A second gure, which I
presume to be the conspirator Absalom, beckons to King David on
(illus. o). This depiction, like the Old Testament story, is recounted
as prosaic, though the annotated biblical text suggests his death was
the work of God. It is on tiles such as these, and in the popular print
market that worried the moralist Vicesimus Knox so much,
English attitudes to suicide and the new morality of the middle
j The Death of Saul and His
Armour Bearer, c. +8o, Delft tile.
Tegelmuseum, Otterlo.
jy Jan Luiken, The Death of Saul, engraving from Luiken, De Schriftuurlyke (Amsterdam,
j8 Jan Luiken, Samson, engraving from Luiken, De Schriftuurlyke
classes are best illustrated. These prints were produced in multiple
copies and reached a wider market than the Delftware tiles that deco-
rated the stylish replaces of the middle classes. There is a recon-
structed replace containing biblical scenes in the Singer Museum,
Laren and another in Otterlo (illus. +). One could imagine families
gathered round these replaces on a cold night to tell moral tales
while relating to their images.
In France the picture was different. Current notions of Republi-
canism and actual revolutionary or patriotic suicides meant that
deaths like those of Brutus, Cato, Seneca and Socrates were lauded
j Samson, +8th century, Delft
tile. Tegelmuseum, Otterlo.
o Ahitophel, +8th century, Delft
tile. Tegelmuseum, Otterlo.
during the French Revolution as acts of Republican liberty or Royal-
ist sacrice. Jacques-Louis Davids high-art images of the death of
Seneca and that of Socrates (illus. :) are examples, encouraging
Republican virtue where the suicidal narrative takes on another
aspect. In a history painting of this nature, the heroic position of
suicide is connoted by its inclusion at the head of the hierarchy of
genres. Richard Cobbs study of revolutionary Paris reminds us that
in the face of disappointment and poverty, suicide was virtually a
contagion for the masses. However, these suicides went undepicted.
In death as in life the poor, generally, remained unrepresented. It was
philosophers and the like who went to the void in a heroic way.
In keeping with Republican values, but in direct contrast to
Davids heroic suicide of a Republican martyr, and breaking from
earlier devotional images such as Holbeins woodcut of Saul,
rths scathing nal print from Marriage A la Mode shows the Count-
ess dying from an overdose of laudanum (illus. ). Hogarth does not
show her intentions, though her self-destructive nature is witnessed
throughout the moral story of six prints to illustrate the results and
side-effects of her proigacy. It is to condemn such proigacy that is
the moral purpose of the story; her death is a tting end. The nal
+ Reconstructed +8th-
century Dutch replace with
tiles showing biblical scenes.
Dutch Tile Museum, Otterlo.
: Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, +y8y, oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of
Art, New York.
William Hogarth, The Death of the Countess, Plate VI from Marriage A la Mode, +yj,
print shows her dying in a dark and gloomy room, located on the
banks of the Thames, in the heart of the commercial centre of the
City in contrast to the earlier scenes of high life in the aristocratic
West End. A tipped chair, bare boards, and a window showing the
light outside, highlight the despair within. A closer look reveals that
outside too the buildings are crumbling. The structures that symbol-
ized the building of the relationship in the rst print now symbolize
its decay and destruction as a result of poor household management.
A dog is eating the remains of food on the table.
The Countesss suicide takes place after her lover Silvertongue has
been hanged as a result of his ght with her husband Squandereld,
in which the latter died. In this last print a child is being held up to
the dying Countess. It is her child, a child not portrayed in previous
prints. The girl has a caliper on one leg and is covered with black spots
caused by mercury patches used in the treatment of syphilis. The
signs of this congenital disease also act as a metaphor for the symp-
toms of luxuria and proigacy and the physical results of the Count-
esss moral depravity. The end of the line is signied in respect of life
and lineage. The inclusion of her father in the group around the
Countess might serve to bring an element of pathos to this nal chap-
ter of the story. The fact that he, a merchant, is removing the wedding
ring from her nger detracts from this reading , and it is more likely
he is either usurping the legal taking of possession by the state or
symbolizing its paternalistic nature. Reinforcing his merchant status
and in contrast to the aristocratic portraits in the early prints in the
series, Flemish genre paintings hang on the wall and indicate her
declining status as well as her origins. The surgeon with a stomach
pump hanging from his pocket is dressing down a stupid servant for
allowing her to obtain liquid laudanum.
The perpetrator is a woman of high social standing. The popular-
ity of such prints would have been assured with the new middle
classes in order to afrm their rising status; but the decline of the
Countess is noticeable not solely by the fact she is a woman of high
standing but that she is a woman who has become pathetic and irra-
tional. The taking of laudanum might be seen as an easy way out, a
feminine death. Images like these accompanied an upsurge in medical
and moral counselling for the suicidal, though just below the surface
crust of these discourses was a molten Christian or bourgeois moral-
ity. The fatal mixture that led to this death was one of mental and
moral weakness compounded by delirium.
Any survey of such images will inevitably need to consider how the
vast networks of culture, economics and social relations work
together in order to transmit differing ideas of suicide. It is perhaps
as a consequence of this, and the long span of my survey of repre-
sentations above, that the pattern emerging is hierarchical and over-
lapping. Increasingly, from the late eighteenth century, there appears
to be less and less space reserved for a symbolic and heroic death
derived from antique sources and the accompanying concern for
heroic motive, and more and more for a display which indicated clin-
ical problems, delirium, libertarianism or weakness of character. In
this respect, Hogarths suicidal Countess is a forerunner of the
notion of a awed character as a cause of disintegration leading to
suicide. In the visual eld the stigmatization of suicide continued for
a long time to come, though the gradual rationalization of suicide
throughout the nineteenth century (as irrational to some extent)
meant that discussion of suicide concentrated less and less on luxury
and idleness as cause, and focused more and more on the gathering of
statistics, anthropological discourse and nally clinical analysis. In
this process the notion of sensibility was nally replaced by a
concept of contaminated femininity.
From the rst representations of suicide in antiquity, the mental
order which gave it meaning was a complex weave between words and
images. Somewhere between these sign systems is the sensation that
is suicide. Yet both systems order language in their own way. The
pursuit of a signied agreement between the two differing sign
systems problematizes history itself, but should not prevent the histo-
rian looking for their coexistence. It is clearly difcult to hold down or
keep in perspective an agreement between the two in the early
modern period. My examination of the image-signs does not reveal
the conformity to the simple binaries of the earlier Christian period,
as is manifest in the Judas/Jesus oppositions, but a swarming in the
gap between. Nor do these early modern images conform to the
heroic suicides of antiquity. Specicity rather than arbitrariness may
be a property of the visual but images of suicide show the potential
for duality. Hogarths reworking of medieval superstition and the
accompanying continental counterparts indicate a further rupture in
suicides representation where suicide is given new political or social
meaning. The essence of this whole period is, if we employ the ready-
made language of history, a battle between theology and rationalism. I
wonder, in the light of the elusiveness of power and the overlayered
nature of culture and suicide from the seventeenth century if these
terms are adequate.
Compared with Catholic countries, Protestant societies do not
reveal markedly different traditions of representing suicide, despite
Protestantisms claim to interpret the scriptures more narrowly. Yet in
England, where suicide was stigmatized overall, suicidal imagery is
less evident than on the Continent. From the fourteenth to the late
eighteenth century, modes of dying, modes of killing and modes of
murder interrelate and then break apart. From the beginnings of the
early modern period suicidal discourse was uid. Suicide was severely
castigated, yet images of heroic suicide and sympathy for the victim
abounded. The matrix which is evolving from my survey is one of a
gradual iconography that moves women out of the heroic sphere alto-
gether and at the same time de-heroicizes suicide. The new iconogra-
phy that emerges is one of women as victims and sinners, and a
waning of male images as suicidal imagery constructs and denes the
loss of its heroic status. By the mid-nineteenth century heroic suicide
fades from view to be superseded by irrational, satiric and depressive
themes. Clinical suicide was yet to come.
In the course of the eighteenth century, major changes were to take
place in the representation of suicide. Ushered in by the image of
Englands desperation from the +y:os and the graveyard poetry of
Robert Blair and Edward Young in the mid-eighteenth century, from
around +y8o to +oo views of self-killing became charged with
romantic notions of suicide and were greatly inuenced by an actual
suicide, the death of Chatterton. Before suicide was redesignated
towards romantic love in the visual, and as effeminate, or as illness,
the image of Chatterton became entangled with debates around
Goethes Werther.

An English Dance of Death?

O Britain, infamous for Suicide!
An Island in thy Manners far disjoind
From the Whole World Rationals beside,
In ambient Waves plunge thy polluted Head,
Wash the ... slain, nor shock the Continents,
But thou be shockd, while I detect the Cause
... Blame not the clime ... expose the Monsters birth
... I grant the deed is madness; but the
madness of the Heart.
rnw+an voto The Complaint: Or Night Thoughts on
Life, Death and Immortality
In +y, the belief that Britain was a suicidal nation was clearly
manifest in Edward Youngs poem Night Thoughts.
Yet, the absence
of statistical evidence makes this position uneasy, and in any case
impossible to prove. The belief that the English were peculiarly
prone to this strange death is, without doubt, associative; and,
arguably, it could be seen as essentially a product of these poetic and
other intellectual networks. In the same vein as Young and Blairs
graveyard poems, and published a year after Chattertons death,
Thomas Wartons poem of unrequited love, Ode on Suicide, popu-
larly known as Wartons Ode, lamented the death of a youth whose
genius high, Could build the genuine rhyme.
In France, the philosophes began to disassociate suicide from crime
and Enlightenment ideas began to make effective the process of
decriminalization. The rise of the popular press from the late seven-
teenth century meant violent deaths were reported widely and suicide
became news. Across Europe the rise of capitalism, increasing urban-
ization and competition accompanied by notions of bourgeois indi-
vidualism meant that risk-taking became a part of everyday life and
suicide became associated with risk, with failure, and with weakness.
Thus we are presented with two possibilities: that on the one hand,
the large body of media and intellectual literature showing concern
for voluntary death in Europe could have reected a disturbing and
inexplicable reality; or, on the other, it provides evidence of a ction-
alization of the condition of life, which may itself initially have served
to generate and subsequently to perpetuate such a belief. In either
case, in the absence of reliable evidence, the very arbitrariness of
European suicide rates would seem to argue that the nature of
suicides meanings are, in fact, impossible to reduce to either univer-
sal cause or national character.
However, it is nevertheless the fact that, as early as the +y:os, there
was growing evidence in literature, at home and abroad, of a suspicion
that England was the suicidal nation par excellence, the cause appar-
ently being variously the gloominess of the English climate, its damp
and fog, or even a strain of melancholy in the English national charac-

In France, war, famine and nancial crisis from +8o meant that
actual suicides had increased.

In +yo+o this situation was worsened

by a severely bitter winter. A century later, although suicides mean-
ings had begun to be inscribed on another body, that of woman, a
persistent belief in the melancholy of the English still provided an
arena for argument, and for some a source of mockery, as apparent in
prints like Amusements des Anglais Londres of +8+ (illus. ).
Produced towards the end of the Napoleonic wars, the print cocks a
snook at the English capacity for self-destruction. In England this was
preceded some three years before by William Withers satirical guide-
Amusements des Anglais Londres, +8+, engraved cartoon.
book Some Thoughts Concerning Suicide, or Self-Killing; with General
Directions for the more Easie Dispatch of the Affair. Withers guidebook
on the art of suicide was aimed at the English upper classes whose
leniency towards self-slaughter was well known.
The French cartoon shows four fat Englishmen committing
suicide at will, while a beaming fth man holds up a copy of Youngs
Night Thoughts. However, while Youngs poem was seriously
concerned with the importance of contemplating the tomb
in the
didactic tradition of the medieval Dances of Death, which advo-
cated a life of virtue over vice, this engraving, dated the year before
Waterloo, appears more preoccupied with Anglophobic satire than
moral education. It depicts an array of methods of suicide from drink
(English beer) in the foreground to the gure who is throwing himself
off a bridge in the background. All the suicides thus amusing them-
selves are male, and all resemble the cartoon gure of John Bull.
Whatever foreigners might have believed about the suicidal propen-
sity of the English, there is evidence that some native-born English-
men regarded suicide, like syphilis, as very much an imported result of
vice. In +y, Zachary Pierces A Sermon on Self-Murder had preached
that the greatest weight is laid by the Advocates for Self-Murder upon
the Practice of the Romans: It has been called a Roman virtue, and
Cato is placed at the head of this false Heroism.

Even stronger in its

expression of the belief that suicide was a foreign thing was J. Henleys
Cato Condemnd: Or the Case and History of Self-Murder of +yo that
attacked Epicureans and Stoicks and their belief that life is only a
dull narrow Circle of the same Actions ... [who] seem to forget that the
life of Man is a Progress in understanding and Goodness.
suicide as a disease, Orator Henley invoked the sixth commandment
to accuse the suicide of acting out of cowardice, though he excused the
act in a small minority of Lunaticks.
From the early part of the eighteenth century there is a ground
swell of argument and opinion which culminates in a period of
intense debate after +yyo and the suicide of Chatterton and the publi-
cation of The Sorrows of Young Werther in +yy. These discourses
bind together to form notions of romantic suicide which were inter-
national, but combined with Enlightenment philosophy and evangeli-
cal notions of the individual to culminate in a pivotal period of
change wherein death itself was secularized, and after which a rash of
suicidal imagery emerged alongside a neo-Gothic art which
attempted to bring back the spiritual. During this short period up to
around +8:, the textbook period of the so-called Industrial Revolu-
tion, and up to the suicide of Lord Londonderry, (the Werther of
Politics as Byron described him),

Neoclassical aesthetics dominated

and reinforced Enlightenment ideas. As a result, new visions of hell
emerged such as those in Blakes Dantean images of tormented souls.
The Wood of the Self-Murderers (illus. 8) shows several tortured
metamorphosed bodies, part-tree, part human. Winged demonic
gures occupy the branches. In Germany the Sturm und Drang was
born. In France the Revolution ushered in a revival of classical ideas
and the imaging of heroic suicide. Yet the array of differences that
emerged in this period of romantic suicide ended in a period of overt
moralizing. In England the traces of speech left alongside the visual
and the perceived English capacity for morbidity and suicide actually
appeared to lend coherence to the idea of Englishness.
Suicides representations, and the resources of language which
gave it meaning in the early eighteenth century, owed much to
Enlightenment thinking, embodied in notions of suicide as a heroic
act. In the philosophical writings of David Hume, suicide takes on an
egoistic aspect where an obligation to God and to society impacts on
Enlightenment deistic and social thinking, where suicide becomes
associated with ideas of hopelessness. In Humes opinion, only God
could win over the condition of life that causes such misery.
Diderot, the French philosophe, thought that by encouraging opti-
mism despair might be avoided and thus suicidal death.
thought it was all right to quit the world if it was frightful.
During the course of the eighteenth century suicide had been
liberated from religious nomenclature; by the end of the period,
however, strong feelings were still aroused by any attempt to remove
its stigma, as illustrated by the case of a letter published on April
+y8 in the Gentlemans Magazine, by way of a response to a Mr.
Forrest whose earlier letter to the column had attempted to remove
the stigma justly xed on one of the worst of crimes, Suicide.
earlier letter, in the form of a written biographical sketch, had
attempted to vindicate Forrest who had committed suicide some
months previously.
In contrast, David Humes realistic but radical
view (no doubt aimed at baiting clerical opposition) was that no man
ever threw away life while it was worth keeping.
Later, these ideas
were challenged by the resurgence of the early modern belief in
suicide as a crying crime and a product of despair.
In +y:, the Gentlemans Magazine published B. W. Oddys The
Suicide, An Ode, which described suicide as a grisly Monarch, who
struck to the boldest heart appalling fear.
Oddys poem, like
Youngs Night Thoughts, is in keeping with the didactic tradition of
the visual versions of the Dance of Death in which the corrupted
but omnipotent body of death assumed various roles, such as a king
or a servant constantly out to subvert the social system and trap all
classes and ranks.
This rafshness is a feature of the Dances that
lasts well into the nineteenth century and can be seen in the works of
Rowlandson. It must be observed, however, that Romantic odes to
suicide did not exhibit any kind of sympathy with suicide or suicidal
behaviour; rather, they seemed intent on sentimentalizing death.
However, one of their consequences may have been to pave the way
for a freer discussion of self-killing.
From the +yyos a fault line was appearing between suicide as
despair and suicide as heroism, which, later in the century, resulted in
a fracture in suicides meanings. During the period from Hogarths
Death of the Countess to Reynoldss Dido there is a marked change, and
then from Jacques-Louis Davids The Death of Seneca to Daumiers
Hanged One a nal break occurs in meaning, marked by the introduc-
tion, in Goethes Sorrows of Young Werther, of the notion of suicide
connected to the cult of love. As the century progressed, the repre-
sentation of suicide underwent changes wherein the seeds were sown
of the idea of suicide as romantic rebellion.
Suicide thus began to be
represented as an accusation against society; and most relevant in this
context was the deployment of the death of the seventeen-year-old
poet, Thomas Chatterton.
The primary deners of this odd phenomenon and the nature of
the changes in the conceptualization of suicide are visibly signalled in
literary works and representations from the earlier period. The suicide
of Chatterton helped polarize thought, and the suicide of Castlereagh
helped change already existing discourses on the savagery and irra-
tionality of punishment for the convicted felon. Both acted as impor-
tant symbolic moments in the iconography of suicide.
The discursive construct of an Englishness whose essential prop-
erty was deemed to be melancholy and a proclivity for suicidal death
was visible internationally. The late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-
century belief in Englands melancholic nature was not just conned
to foreigners. It was an opinion that was widely held within England
itself. Reinforced in the visual by popular prints like Hogarths
Marriage A la Mode, depicting death by laudanum, or his later Gin
Lane, a belief in the misery and corruptness of the English, and in
their capacity for self-destruction, was in circulation from the early to
the mid-eighteenth century. Gin Lane, which depicts a man hanging
from a rope (illus. j) is one of the earliest visual mediations of alien-
ation, and provides compelling evidence that in England progress and
reason was thought to be breaking down.
The rope, considered the most demeaning and sinful of deaths,
carried with it associations of punishment for crime, of Judass death,
and his betrayal of Christ. This is denoted in the body of the hanging
barber, facing away from the church toward the distillery. Hanging
also makes for a linguistic turn toward a violent and active concept of
self-murder, in contrast to the more passive concept imbued in the
Countesss swallowing of laudanum in Marriage A la Mode. However,
in Dichtung und Warheit, Goethe noted that hanging as public punish-
ment was taken lightly in England, and recalled the story of an
Englishman who hung himself to relieve the tedium of having to get
dressed and undressed each day.
Implying that gin-drinking led to suicide and was irreligious, Gin
Lane was an indictment of distilled drink, though hidden just below
the surface lies a secondary moral discourse on drinking as death-by-
instalments. Total immiseration is also represented as a cause of
suicide. Conned in most cases to London, these representations of
the self-destructiveness of the English were limited to a particular
urban space; yet it can be argued that London stood in for and acted
as a sign for England as a whole. In a fast changing economic order,
the urban centre symbolized the national space and emphasized the
misleading division between countryside and city pictured by
Raymond Williams in The Country and the City, where he draws on
the poetry of Blake to indicate the general condition of the unholy
Despite the commonality of the city of London as the site for
suicide, therefore, the city was seen to reect national morals rather
than be deemed the unique or singular cause of suicidal behaviour.
j Detail from William Hogarth, Gin Lane, +yj+, engraving.
Nevertheless, urbanization was a real problem. Satan clearly found
London an attractive place to visit. In a pamphlet from +y:, Isaac
Watts proclaimed Satan walks about through every street of this
great city as a roaring lyon seeking those he may devour.
In +y+j a French writer, Georges Louis le Sage, had remarked that
the people of England were, the most unhappy people on the face of
the earth.
In June +y:o the pages of the intellectual journal
Mercurius Politicus expressed an anxiety that suicide in Britain was so
prevalent, or thought to be, that it constituted a national scandal.
The Gentlemans Magazine, on : May +yy, contained an excerpt by
a foreigner claiming astonishment at the frequency of self-murder
among the English ... as the consequence of a black, gloomy troubled
humour, and a savage Disposition unable bravely to support the
Reverse of Fortune.
Earlier in the same month Fogs Journal had
carried an almost identical article by a foreigner discussing the
nature of the problem of Englands excessive suicide rate.
In the +yos Orator Henley thought Englishmen ought peculiarly
to guard against the great foibles, being obstinate and dissatised.
Henley assigned to the suicide a cowardice which courage and
honour could overcome, and believed lunacy was not generally a
cause of self-murder. Others demonstrated the fact that suicide was
no respecter of class. Much earlier, William Gough astutely
remarked that Clergie, Laity, Learned, unlearned, Noble, meane,
Rich, poore, Free, bond, Male, Female, young and old could fall
foul of this desperate inhumanity.
The quoted purpose of George Cheynes The English Malady,
published in +y, was to examine the reproach thrown on this land
by Foreigners to encounter the late frequency and daily Encrease of
wanton and uncommon self-murderers.
In August +y:, the
Gentlemans Magazine retorted that whether it was the changeable
nature of the soil, the variety of diet, or in the animal temperament ...
we have more instances of lunacy than any other country.
and suicide are conated here, though the causal factors of that
lunacy lay with climate, soil and diet. Reportage of suicides was
frequent. Most often it was the moral slant that was evident, but
others assumed love as a cause. Class and social position were also
depicted as having some bearing on the matter of cause and, quite
often, the means. The accounts contained within Peter Kalms Visit to
England on the Way to America in reafrmed the belief that the
English killed themselves willy-nilly.
Kalm, a Swiss naturalist,
thought the climate was not entirely to blame. It is worth noting in
this context the defensive strike launched by Charles Moore, who
observed in Dr. Moores Travels through Switzerland that suicide was
very frequent in Geneva.
This national propensity for self-murder was also examined in the
context of representations of the national and behavioural character-
istics of others less prone to suicidal death, or those motivated by
greater heroic cause. The growing British press with its expansive
readership may well have helped construct a view of suicide that was
reinforced from within the country as well as without.
In +yy the Gentlemans Magazine indicated that the heroic motive
of voluntary death still existed, and suggested that the high rate of
suicide in England was an aspect of fashionable Pompeian neo-Classi-
Implying a disgust for life as a cause of suicide for the English,
the writer stated: Never did Greek or Roman, of old cut his throat in
a t of melancholy, or purely through any particular disgust.
A few
years later The Connoisseur claimed: I do not hear that men dispatch
themselves by dozens in Russia or Sweden, or that they are unable to
keep up their spirits even in the total darkness of Greenland.

Voltaire, in his Philosophical Dictionary and Montesquieu in The

Spirit of the Laws both compared the high rate of suicide among the
English to the Romans. Montesquieu thought that the English killed
themselves most unaccountably, even in the bosom of happi-

By way of comparison Montesquieu included a short section

on the perverseness of the Japanese who set nothing before their eyes
but judgments, menaces and chastisements.
The Scot, David
Hume, thought that the English, however, were as a nation soon
elated or depressed.

A year earlier than Peter Kalms account, Abb Prevost had

launched a shaft at a single group of English Protestants rehearsing
the accustomed view of the melancholic and suicidal tendencies of the
English, but also introducing a new element to the debate.
Open to
history and to change, the tactical elements that put into play meanings
of suicide are forever contested; and the sectarian divide which
followed in the wake of the Reformation in England provided a
promising new arena for conict. After the loss of Purgatory described
by Llewellyn,
death itself became a focus of attention where, once
again, bad deaths were separated from good. As a result, suicide
became a locus of debate just when Christianity itself was challenged
by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and death thus became the
limit of life.
In an attempt to separate out martyrdom from murder, and mark
off good from bad deaths, the pages of Foxes virulently anti-
papist History of the Actes and Monuments of the Church (popularly
known as Foxes Book of Martyrs) distinguished good deaths, invari-
ably those of Protestants, from the bad deaths which, unsurpris-
ingly, were equally invariably those involving Catholics. In support of
this division, the case was cited of an arrested Roman Catholic,
Bishop Hales of Kent, who attempted to destroy himself with a
penknife and nally found means of drowning in shallow water.

Stubborn papists were evidence of the little comfort the doctrine

and profession of papistry allowed.
And as evidence that conver-
sion led down the same unfortunate path, Foxe added to the list of
suicidal papists Henry Smith ... a lawyer perverted to popery ...
found naked, hanging, strangled by his shirt to the bed post.
It was not only the church that found itself concerned: from the
mid-eighteenth century the growing number of cases reported in the
Gentlemans Magazine indicated that suicide was seen as a real threat
to social order. A farmer who had lain with a young girl, but refused
to marry, a gentleman of plentiful failure, an Islington man through
guilt over an affair, John the glover after being imprisoned, a young
woman servant who threw herself over a cliff and was thought to have
had a love affair, and a young gentleman who was in love with a girl of
inferior rank who shot himself with a pistol through the heart.
French chronicles tell similar tales but in both there is a failure to note
the fact that servants often suffered blatant mistreatment and physical
and sexual abuse.

Even in matters of life and death, it seemed, social hierarchies had

to be maintained, and, for the suicide, status and class was often signi-
ed by the means chosen for the deed. The Connoisseur, describing the
Mohocks and Hell Fire Clubs absurd bravery, thought a man of
fashion almost always dies by the pistol but complained that foreign-
ers might be led to imagine that we are the most lunatic people in the
whole world.

By the +yyos Caleb Fleming thought the increased numbers of

self-murder about this great city (London) ... and in other parts, is
irrefragable proof of the deep depravity of the morals of our coun-
John Herriess public address on the ... Frequent and Enormous
Crime of Suicide was concerned with the number of fatal instances of
suicide ... in the Metropolis.

Hume, quoting Rousseau, thought

mankind ... at present [was] in a state of the deepest corruption and
Later in the century Knox confessed that the English
nation was characteristically grave, but thought the increase of
wealth had changed things.
Charles Moores attack on luxuria
detailed the case of a young woman who had amassed a fortune and
hung herself with a gold and silver girdle. Moore lamented that the
ennui of the English and high contempt of death ... quiet sensibility
joined with gravity of temper ... the great degree of constitutional
liberty [were] a source of impatience and suicide.

The French press suppressed suicidal death, in England suicide

was hot press, and the rash act of voluntary death became popular
news in the course of the eighteenth century. This also meant suicide
was losing its supernatural aspect. Popular literacy and individualism
grew side by side, and reading news became an increasing part of
popular culture. While on one level this indicated widening participa-
tion in the culture of writing and reading, on another it suggested
that, for the time being at least, there was a concomitant exclusion
from the visual.
Well supported in writing, the visual production and regulation of
Englands misery was also much in evidence in the period. The myth-
ical foreigners identity as other was assured, as the symbolic entity
of England was prescribed as self-destructive within the context of a
changing Europe. That difference should be articulated through a
nation or religions capacity for self-murder within the increasing
state control of life, where death marks out the limits of that power, is
understandable, though a much larger survey would be required to
assess the scale of the marking out of that symbolic territory.
The growth of national states in Europe, accompanied as it
inevitably was by both internal and external conflict, resulted in the
equally inevitable development of centralized mechanisms for
The regulation of birth, death and changes in family
structure was accompanied by increased mobility, where the
conflicting demands of state-making and capital were contested on
a European scale.
In the face of these changes, high art looked backwards to antiq-
uity. Pompeian neo-Classicism depicted the heroic in general, and
employed the past to represent a new heroic present that helped
afrm the status and identity of the new bourgeois as a liberal and
utilitarian individual. Robert Tournieres Hero and Leander; Henry
Fuselis or Joshua Reynoldss Dido; Boulanger de Boisfremonts or
Antoine Rivalzs Cleopatra; William Blakes or Johan Platzers
Samson; Henry Fuselis, Gavin Hamiltons or Giovanni Antonio
Pellegrinis Lucretia; Angelica Kauffmans or Francesco Bartolozzis
Sophonisba; Johann Nahls or Mathias Oesterreichs Pyramus and
Thisbe are representative of academic values. Here, however, the
retention of the ancient heroic component has less to do with cyni-
cism or Epicureanism than with academic principles and practice.
In effect this meant that the Academies reinforced the hierarchy of
genres which was predisposed towards the genre of history painting
and therefore classical and didactic themes rather than a resurgence in
the belief in heroic suicide. In terms of contemporary suicidal
discourses, these paintings are thoroughly infused with a particularly
backward-looking ideology. For visual evidence of suicide as a social
issue, we have to look to the sphere of popular culture, and in particular
to the print market, where the question of the social nature of death
and suicide was beginning to be critically addressed, and where, at the
same time, heroic academic representation was being challenged.
In writing, where the addresser/addressee relationship is clearer,
evidence of belief in Englands suicidal nature is more evident than in
the visual sphere. Du Suicide, a small book published in Paris in +yy,
listed fourteen causes of suicide of which the Premiere Cause was
disgust and a satiation of life.
Barely past the rst page, the writers
declared that the English in general were affected by this above all.
Their climate contributes without doubt, but their political habits
and morals contribute also.
More pertinent here is that this literary
battle to establish the nature of suicide became enmeshed with a
whole range of associated issues: the secularization of suicide at
ground level, a growing belief in the social nature of suicide, the
highbrow debate which developed in the wake of The Sorrows of
Young Werther and the extraordinary public response to the boy poet
Chatterton, whose death in +yyo at the age of seventeen caught the
romantic imagination of painters and poets as a symbol of alienation
and opposition to utilitarian values. Though Chattertons death did
not affect the general conviction of England as a suicidal nation, it did
deect overt criticism, and shifted the blame from a national body
onto an economic and social one.
Mary Dawes Blackett prefaces her ode to Chatterton, Suicide : A
Poem, with the following concern:
The frequent and alarming acts of suicide, which have for a series of years
struck terror into the hearts of every thinking being call for a most serious
consideration that the people of this country are notoriously eminent for
the commission of this crime, is a truth that has long been admitted.
Though Blackett begins by admitting the eminence of the English in
committing suicide, the poem then attempts to vindicate Chatterton.
Along with Blackett, and apparently unnerved by the preoccupa-
tion with Chattertons pathetic end, literary scholars such as Vices-
imus Knox and Charles Moore began attempts to establish the
masculinity of staying alive, and the femininity of death and suicide,
more with the aim of protecting English masculinity from romantic
and dangerous notions of suicide than with a deliberate resignica-
tion of suicide or of masculinity itself. Moore and Knox drew associa-
tions between suicide, luxury, idleness and effeminacy. In addition to
climate as a cause of suicide, Moore was convinced that,
... ennui, habits of indolence and sedentary employment, [and] ... animal
Food all caused nervous affectation ending in melancholy and lunacy
[though] luxury and idleness as causes of suicide were thought to be prime
factors inuencing the high rate of self-murder.
Despite the extremely interesting dietary aspects of Moores argu-
ment in his references to animal food, which may well look back to
medieval superstition which connected animal spirits and despair,
creeping into these suicidal discourses was the moral notion of luxuri-
ous effeminacy which caused a rupture in the belief of heroic suicide.
Vicesimus Knox described suicide as exemplifying the danger of
submitting to the warm emotions of the heart in preference to the cool
deductions of reason.
John Herries had blamed luxury and deprav-
ity above all, and designated suicide as cowardly. The particular
depravity referred to appeared to be displayed by men of sensibility,
who were according to Herries the offspring of hell.
In the eigh-
teenth century, sensibility was thus deemed a major cause of suicidal
tendencies: sensibility, according to Knox rendered a man detestable
and a woman ridiculous,
and he was quick to cite Hogarths humor-
ous prints mocking effeminacy in support of his argument.
The coexistence of the verbal and visual meant that the power Knox
attributed to the visual gave further credence to his argument. The
sister arts are known to possess the power of exciting ... of rousing the
mind to manly virtue, or relaxing it to vice and effeminacy.
use of the feminine gender to describe the arts emphasizes the patriar-
chal ideology that informs his writing, and though his employment may
well imply the purity of artistic pursuit, it expresses also an uneasiness
concerned with temptation and mans fall. Described by MacDonald
and Murphy as a saccharine author, Knoxs essays actually make far-
reaching statements about meaning caught at a glance which epito-
mize debates about imagery and interpretation. Knox was concerned
that images of suicide would tempt people to kill themselves.
What had been a national problem and therefore masculine
increasingly became one linked to social, economic and mental prob-
lems, and through these the aspect of gender was relocated. The
gendered nature of suicide had been consciously evidenced as early as
Burtons Anatomy of Melancholy (+:8) which suggested clinical
motives for male and female suicides, while Bernard Mandeville, a
Dutch physician who had come to England because he thought it the
best place to study his specialism, had in +y+ published Hypochondri-
ack and Hysterical Passions, which tied both categories to suicidal
deaths, and added that these mental states were vulgarly called the
Hypo in men and Vapours in Women.
The juncture at which suicide changed from being represented as
having particular causes and outcomes according to gender to being
regarded as predominantly associated with the feminine is not clear,
but that it arose from a mixture of medicalization and notions of indi-
vidualism which insisted that man took control of his life and main-
tained it is more apparent. In the visual, the notion of Englands
propensity for suicidal death was countered by other means.
Rowlandsons The English Dance of Death includes two suicides.
These moral stories, in the same vein as Hogarths, contain a satire,
She Died for Love He Died for Glory, which might be seen as resis-
tant to the belief in the English as the suicidal nation par excellence.
The scene, a dissipated version of the story of Hero and Leander,
depicts the irrationality and foolishness of suicide in a pact by two
lovers. It may well be that Rowlandsons image is a direct reference to
the story of Hero and Leander. There are many visual references to
the story in European painting from the fteenth century to the
nineteenth. Carracci painted it in the sixteenth century. Rubenss
version of +oj is a dramatic piece depicting the lovers in a swirling
torrent with nymphs taking the bodies. Tourniere painted the theme
in the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth century Turner
painted a version. In Rowlandsons aquatint Death is shown as a
skeleton sitting back and wiping (his) brow. Deaths role in the dance
tradition is predominantly an active one, one that from the plague
years warned of the immanence of death, but here he is passive (illus.
). The caption below the aquatint gives further weight to his
passivity: Death smiles and seems his dart to hide, when he beholds
the suicide.
Crucial to Rowlandsons playful morbidity is William Combess
rhyming caption, which describes the events as follows:
Alas Ive such a tale to tell
Of one who lovd but lovd too well,
The Fair was graced with every charm,
... and virtues self was seen to shine
In the warm breast of Caroline,
The Youth to whom her heart she gave was
noble, generous and brave;
On the face of things the tale is one of Henry trying to save someone
in a turbulent sea, and drowning in the process. Caroline then throws
herself into the waves after her lover. The story represents in
gendered form the two types of suicide: for the man, a heroic volun-
tary death and for woman, dolor suicide as a result of irretrievable loss.
Caroline is wearing a white diaphanous gown in the style of antiquity,
and a red sash which might imply that the image is of a foreign,
Republican or Epicurean death. The mental concept triggered by this
visual image is of suicide as a foreign thing. Exteriority is forever at
work in these representations, and the image may be part of the
attempt to remove the stigma to (an)other.
The change to a different designation for suicide was signied in
works such as Charles Moores A Full Inquiry into the Subject of
Suicide, Vicesimus Knoxs Essays Moral and Literary and Caleb Flem-
ings A Dissertation upon the Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder: Occa-
sioned by the Many late Instances of Suicide in this City (and) caused by
the deep depravity of the morals of our country. Particularly zealous in
trying to fend off accusations that English(men) were prone to
suicide, the writers take pains in these essays to ensure that the deed
was given a moral dimension. Cause was redesignated towards the
love of trivial pursuits, habits of dissipation and luxurious modes
of living, combined with a melancholic and a desponding state of
Thomas Rowlandson, The Suicide, from The English Dance of Death, +8++, colour
In this case, the change was more pronounced in popular than in
high culture and, in both the written and the visual, popular culture
demonstrated a difference from high art, where an effective silence
was maintained on contemporary debates on suicidal death. In popu-
lar culture and in writing the act of suicide took on meanings of
mental instability and of alienation. Also, womens identity was seen
as fragmented: feminine deaths either erased identity or reafrmed it.
In high art, those meanings were silenced and a heroic death was
depicted. Chattertons image falls dangerously on the resultant fault
line between the two.
Much later Walliss celebrated Death of Chatterton perpetuated the
myth of the romantic artist and Chattertons medievalism. Walliss
depiction of the boy poets death in painting moved the focus away
from effect towards cause, and offered other meanings, more related to
the nineteenth-century myth of the artist. I would contend that in
the painting, suicide is secondary to the topic of alienation. Depicted
in the work is a boy whose only way to freedom was through death.
These romantic notions of suicide broke from the idea of suicide as
national and brought together the two different concepts of martyr-
dom and heroic suicide in one image. Above all, they pointed an accus-
ing nger at society as the perpetrator and Chatterton as its victim.
When Flaxman, much inuenced by Swedenborgian ideas, created
the drawings which were the seminal source for the painting (see title
page), he modelled for them himself, and envisaged himself as the
underpaid artist in the infamous rookeries of London. Wallis used his
friend Meredith as model (illus. y). Meredith was uncannily like
Chatterton in that his own ambitions of literary success had been
thwarted. However, the visual cult of Chatterton began with Flax-
mans drawing of around +yyj, and from the beginning the boy poet
was depicted as a martyr. Flaxmans ink drawing Chatterton taking the
Bowl of Poison from the Spirit of Despair depicts a youth in a nightdress
offered the cup by a crouching swarthy spirit and then being taken up
by a goddess in a chariot. Like Herakles of antiquity, Chatterton is
bypassing death to become immortal.
Chattertons death also provided a vehicle for debate on the
causes of suicide. I am aware that the climate has been urged as a
reason; wrote Mary Dawes Blackett in the preface to her Suicide. A
Poem, ... but if the argument holds good, why are not the nature of
other countries inhabiting the same parallel of latitude affected by
this horrid Mania.
Blacketts insightful comments are then
followed by reasons for the death of Chatterton:
Madness and frenzy siezd thy tortured brain,
Full in thy view the ready weapon laid
Despair suggested, and they had obeyed!

Suicide as a result of impulse or intuition thus became added to the

list of causes, in opposition to ideas of suicide as an exercise of intel-
lect and reason. In the history of the death of Chatterton is gured
the change towards suicide as an effect of (temporary) insanity. It was
the verbal and visual representations of Chattertons suicide that
marked the beginning of its modern interpretations. His sensational
death at so tender an age inspired a body of writing which was
sustained for over +yo years and which nally petered out as late as

From the work by Flaxman in +yyj to Wallis in +88, and

onwards into the twentieth century, the road of the historian of
suicide is littered with Chattertonia. No other death has been
immortalized in the same way. A memorial handkerchief depicting
the poet in his garret was offered for sale in +y8j (illus. 8). As bet-
ting an item of of memorabilia, it is not an image of the suicide but of
the body intact or the resurrected body of the poet contemplating in
his garret.
The handkerchief bears the title The Distressed Poet or a True
Representation of the Unfortunate Chatterton. The text that accom-
panies the image claims that it was drawn by a friend. In the centre is a
portrait of the boy poet at his folding table, and the bed is pressed up
y Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton, +8j, oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.
against the wall, indicating the lack of space. Bare, apart from a bottle
on the table, the room has no carpet, curtain or furnishing. The bottle
may be intended for a candle, alternatively, it may be the bottle of
arsenic, or it may be a symbol of salvation taking on an ironic meaning
within this dark claustrophobic scene. The brickwork is exposed
through the plaster where damp has leaked in. The latticed window
offers no view. In fact, it is sealed from the outside world, promising
no redemption for societys victim. Nothing can penetrate the space
within. No door is shown to allow exit or entry. For Chatterton, there
is no possibility of a way out.
There is little doubt that the indexical tinder which sparked the
idea of suicide as a result of feminine affectability was Goethes poem
Werther. Reprinted seven times in English translation before +8o,
Werther the popular ower-gathering hero was also a focus of high-
brow English moral abuse. So inuential was the Werther/Chatterton
debate that MacDonald and Murphy devote several pages to describ-
ing the visualization of Chatterton and the catalysing agent for his
legend, Werther.

8 A reproduction of the Chatterton Handkerchief of +y8j.
The D I S T RES SED PO E'r. 0;1\. A TR U E
Th.. l),lilllillg which tl.! Wn"nri:"c
Wll- fDkll nrllw: du,lrnse,1 rJ7'e.rerl&ateOll. ; Ahlwt.t aC"OIllrulllld.,., rllt.. potWII.ylJ
wonc. urllit' 5;) c.. f'llIdyr.....hnnah- nlalico:
(haUMiOh. 1.'l d rriclld drc:whml Ih.thr of e le BUI VIe;' I1 k thy h .. .. u.v.
f,IUII';"n i ll ...'hidl .... is rrpufc:nlcG In .....\t." ""nUl nn1 bJfuln.4d"J."L
da is pIRlr.. AUxllt'tin "lid C,1f'rS .llOId CHATTERTON. WtMdtnJUtlwt'iWottlw .
ad'.. u."ftl his 1iIi-. and Aud
""de,. IQOk 1ha n was fUllerlto ago:: BIt" and d"rrlnl.lTUftt.l.n gn,iU\
11... ["0",1' ap,lrlUlent porlr.,
,nOlh(' WithpowTlYAtKi .....,...'_ rllu thril:s-.J
prilll . tllf: folded ben, the broken &:nllr h:.I"d
utensil below it. th.. boulr."hrutlhins It Wl'IU" MOnlly thy reg,ard " .b
c.andk. a.nd th.. di,.. ... Ilnmt nftl.. Thcfrlmdly C'Ob-b.rrrVlllt fura
blnl..rrllUl,. ilwenliol.rI'.3IlUJ They nlrrlllut.ap.....tofwlVlIIIUllN'lwd b...., "
w""" f'C'l lltit"l,and;l upon an The bcd.whm:o" 1l.'Unh...." 'tIC
a.mt. lllt liQO uC .. rcMlly 11 &>uht A'llloft unltn."ln CIlr:1I1 anWJllh. .rp' " .Q
krs. <'Uf,f'licuous c:hJIr.cterillic --9 Or fpenl, In ck.,. dduWw ,j"""I'" lh..
But poor Ch.uerton _ bOC'1\ unP
.. To vU.... ne:d motn'n6.bul'oc\ariC-' lill,;
bad n..r: his paiions wtrr too impctuo.us" Too lhe fHti:.l\ h."J "' als. '
il nd ina diOr:utcd 1II0lncnt he dr.vrtmt Butlw.:fnrncb ,thelJI-dlllitlgdrn1 roht.."...
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_111d. uhdo..h'c:dl.1 ........ rcnclrrd roc:n" iujud! ltW'nl .tnC'rryrlll.
r... ,I.bl...lId happy Unknown .nd rntl And,lhol1e:brr.th,ntndcmo
erablc ",hill' "lit'C'. he un.... e:"II, (orth 9 tl11lllllrIN ll1uill Ilus Ilwe: li.rvpy
rl.l,i(l,; ty Il ...d 1I1fl'fllicm Mc... "rwit and And ..J
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hl.' ..I"nl . ... lld locJlI,rrfI 1hcir"i>l ,",IJ;lI- Thupinf.ltiy,,IncI wllh pkntyfC'd, ..0
il or'l ll(' wrihus:, Jfard IIldf'NI Ihll,:c rn thy mem'ryl Irt::ly the: fablr. plume
hit [,1.., hotll lit adnm rlul tim..' in ""hid. or thy fu....lt....d M/W'fMoo
hf InC'II. ....tlftllnpl'lIcd If) 10 M.,n Ihuu.Ml C'.nh'lSh.:.grroioM' (' I'n ,o
I'ti,k IInJ IHtVt'rtyt H_ Mlin)'" Cl1ld., tU,. will..,utl' fI.If .
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while' Ihl' botht thought ecitc$ . dmira- S1llhJld,,J\JI ..... ..rIAII.,I'rl;."".
,iOU,lhc rl"CUUn.1ioJl or his miruic' Lr. hunger J>t"lsh1,y dnJlflhcb-,:>
,a w.,lfCms ;I1('lIdct flmplthy Ilnd furraw. lllC'd""IY l'roUl I..., J}lIfI,"II" har,,"
\VI,o wuuld ,u" will> du.' he hod been h.lI..h m;"hd.y ,,!
fa forluha lr . ... 10 rriitw:' a fdlow IMl fn-tcn It to " 11 If IIOw, -....:J
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Mild it. llI"d fuicoidil"l ADd.btuk..t ....
Against a background of opinion that luxury and depravity was
bringing about a crisis of suicide in England, and the backlash against
sentiment and sensibility, the death of Chatterton shifted the debate
on suicide in another direction and mobilized a case for which the
moralists could argue. That the feelings of Werther, who died for love,
should be likened to Chattertons clearly offended Charles Moore,
who thought the marvelous boy was to be admired, not for his death,
but for his innate and early-ripened abilities.
Moore, a vicar, had
much to say about love and madness and, drawing on Virgil, nally
concluded that suicide was but a cowardly and effeminate revenge.
Vicesimus Knox described Chatterton in the following eulogy:
He had all the tremendous sensibility of genius ... Even his death, unfortu-
nate and wicked as it was, displayed a haughtiness of soul, which urged him
to spurn a world, where even his exalted genius could not vindicate him from
contempt, indigence and contumely ... Unfortunate Boy!

Unwilling to condone suicide, yet accusing Chattertons victimizers

of insolence, Knox blamed a cruel world for the poets death. In doing
so, he unwittingly pointed the way forward in suicidal discourse, to
the identication of a social cause for suicide and the resultant
Durkheimianism of a century later.
It was the fact of Chattertons youth that touched peoples hearts,
inspired poems, and helped to sell Herbert Crofts sensational Love and
Madness, which wove Chattertons death into a story of murder and
deception. Chatterton had become a symbol both of romantic suicide
and of a death motivated by a lack of recognition rather than a desire
for fame. In France his death was written into a play, by de Vigny.
At the other end of this jo-year period of change stands the case of
Castlereagh, Marquis of Londonderry. Arguably, the death of
Viscount Castlereagh was a signicant marker in bringing about
changes in the reception of suicide per se. Breaking the legal mould
by challenging the verdicts of non compos mentis and felo de se, the
Coroners verdict was that Castlereagh had committed suicide during
a moment of temporary insanity:
On the +:th August +8::, and for some time previously, under a grievous
disease of the mind ... and by reason of the said disease, became delirious,
and not of sound mind ... and while labouring under such disease ... did
strike and cut and stab himself on the carotid artery.
On that day in August, Castlereagh, then Leader of the House of
Commons, got out of his bed, interrupted his breakfast, which he
grumbled about, and went off to his dressing room. He then called his
personal doctor who arrived, moments later, to nd him bleeding to
death from his carotid artery. Castlereagh had severed this main
artery with a small penknife.
The outraged response to Castlereaghs burial in Westminster with
all honours demonstrated the gulf of meanings of suicide that existed
between academic opinion and popular belief; between government
and clerical religious belief on the one side and the popular masses and
lay religious belief on the other. How could his death be described? To
image it as an egoistic act would have indicated a weariness of life. To
portray it as self-sacrice would have constructed a death that raised
questions about Conservative politics in a period when the current
values of utilitarianism meant that his suicide might well be seen as
evidence of the freedom allowed an individual. Artistic intention is
notoriously difcult to discern, but I would guess that the imaging of
Castlereaghs death was designed to evoke sympathy for the dead man
(illus. ). It did the opposite.
The nations response contained elements of moral outrage at the
verdict of temporary insanity and his burial in Westminster, and the
political view that his death signalled the death of old European conser-
vatism. The case of Castlereagh thus acted as a modier. In death, the
Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons whose politi-
cal life stood as a symbol of Conservatism caused a political scandal and
a legal and moral dilemma. For the English at least, with Castlereaghs
death, perhaps the old, somewhat effete, nation was symbolically killed
off, to be replaced by a new, more bourgeois, masculinity.
E. H. Carr once said that the historian deals in a multiplicity of
causes. Before I am found guilty of reduction under the crux of
Cleopatras nose clause,
then, allow me to explain the importance of
this event. To some extent, like Chattertons death and its ensuing
publicity, the death of Castlereagh and the events following the coro-
ners verdict and burial in Westminster Abbey helped polarize popu-
lar thinking and legal and intellectual debates on the nature of
suicide. My argument is that it was clearly important in the hierarchy
of causes that brought about changes in suicidal discourse. Castle-
reaghs suicide was deployed as a marker of a shift away from suicide
as a national concern to suicide as a product of insanity (temporary or
otherwise) and, inadvertently, towards the perception of suicidal
death as feminine. George Cruikshanks image of the suicide was
published widely in a memorial book to evoke sympathy, and high-
light the temporary insanity behind Castlereaghs death.
The print after Cruikshank shows Castlereaghs doctor supporting
the bleeding Viscount, who still grasps the penknife in his right hand;
his wife hovers in the doorway, clasping her hands together. Castle-
Death of the Marquis of Londonderry, +8::, print after drawing by George Cruikshank,
hand-coloured frontispiece to T. P. Fitzgerald, The Political and Private Life of the Marquess
of Londonderry including Most important and authentic Particulars of his Last Moments and
Death (Dublin, +8::).
'13rtnklwat!.let-1n e .Fall.upony ow- Arrn._'TiY all o v e r ~
reaghs face is contorted, but the drawn features reect a tortured
mind rather than the pain of death. Even in extremis he retains a trace
of ideal, aristocratic decorum. The pose, despite his slumping gure,
is reminiscent of Reynoldss academic portraits of the period, in
which the Apollo Belvedere was interpreted. One leg is thrust
forward, one arm slightly raised. The spectators eye is drawn from
the left of the image to the horried wife framed in the doorway, then
to the physician, and nally to Castlereagh, to focus on the blood
gushing from his carotid artery, and then down to the open pen knife.
The graphic nature of Cruikshanks image was clearly a part of the
new nineteenth-century realism, imbued with its ideology of verisi-
militude; but, the graphic reality of the image functioned to show the
horror of the death and to connote a disturbed mind. Castlereagh is
holding the penknife, and Cruikshank clearly shows the gash in
Castlereaghs throat. The point that the image was designed to evoke
sympathy for the victim is strengthened by the depiction of his horri-
ed wife in the background.
The strategies employed by the coroners jury, and by the arch-
Tory parliamentarian the Duke of Wellington, were aimed at conrm-
ing Castlereaghs delusions, and a verdict of felo de se was thus
In the notion of temporary the verdict of non compos mentis
was also excluded. This important event signied a change in the
legalities of suicide as a criminal act; though it was a second related
event that aided and abetted the general cause and added a further
modication to the history of suicide.
A year after Castlereaghs death, an apprentice law student, Abel
Griffiths, was judged a felon de se and buried at a crossroads. The
public outrage that followed ensured his was the last ever recorded
crossroads burial. Public sympathy for Griffiths was universal. Yet
in Castlereaghs case, the public refused to sympathize with the
victim. Radical political opinion, represented in the scathing
passages of Byrons Don Juan, describes a particular conservative
sensibility, and reports the syllables of dolour yelled forth by the
newspapers ... the harangue of the Coroner in the eulogy over the
bleeding body of the deceased.
Perhaps the sickness of sensibility embodied in the character of
Werther found a cure in the nineteenth century with Carlyles ever-
lasting no, where suicide came to be seen as an act of disobedience or
moral cowardice that transgressed notions of heroic and religious
suicide. (It may come as no surprise that Carlyle thought Byron a
Werther.) The political sensibility of Castlereagh was represented as
born of aristocratic privilege. His death gave radicals hope, but also
signied a changing attitude to suicide, where a particular backward-
looking sensibility was seen as causal.
Through the deaths of Chatterton and Castlereagh the act of
suicide was publicized and politicized. In the former, death was
attributed to contemporary disregard for the poet, and more than
anything else, Chattertons authorship was brought to the fore as a
result. In the latter, the hand that held the knife was represented as
guided by forces that signalled the death of the ancien rgime, though,
once again, the death was deployed to make change.
That suicidal death should be exteriorized, displaced or relocated
on to a regime, or on to one national body, is explicable as a symptom
of cultural pressure, where suicide, England and the English were
posited by other nations as what-we-are-not. By operating to cement
together other national identities where suicide was not so readily put
to press, England became a mirror that offered stability and control
for others. At a symbolic level, the debates on the Englishness of
suicide not only represented a contest for meaning itself but also for
the authorship of meaning. From the death of Chatterton onwards
suicide was resignied, and by +8: suicidal discourse broadened to
include other congurations.
Preserving Life and Punishing Death
In the nineteenth century, the myriad evidences of suicidal discourse
imply both that its compass was widening and that its representations
resist simple compartmentalization. In fact, during the course of the
nineteenth century and forward into the early years of the twentieth, the
superimposition, one on another, of the many ideas conveying suicide
imply it had no leading sense; it still remained part of moral discourse
but many other things too. Rather, it imported variant and very different
constructions. The competing voices of the lexicon by which nine-
teenth-century artists and writers openly addressed the issue of suicide
obliges a more thematic analysis. This chapter will thus investigate a
series of differing writings and images with linking themes: suicide and
the city; suicide, gender, prostitution and drowned women; drink,
dishonour and falling and fallen women; pornographies of violence;
satires of suicide; the death of the heroic; public abasement; contami-
nated femininity and vampiric suicide; demonic ingression; suicide as
illness, suicide as feminine and lunacy. In the nineteenth century these
variant constructions formed a topology whereunder heroic suicide
becomes buried as the century progresses.
In the period stretching from late medieval to early modern times,
visual images of suicide represented this form of death as rational,
reasonable, heroic and praiseworthy, in the face of a competing reli-
gious discourse on death that represented its suicidal form as irra-
tional, bewildering, sinful, stigmatized, in some cases demonic but,
above all, as punishable. Many old stories were retold
in representa-
tion: for example, the fourteenth-century miniaturists version of the
twelfth-century story of St Jamess Pilgrim by Gautier de Coincy.
The story is of a man who castrates himself and dies. In the Marian
myths he is rescued by Mary, though as a eunuch who is made to wear
a red thread around his neck, and lives long enough to do penance.
Mary thus circumvents Gods justice. Rather than image the castra-
tion, Jean Pucelles illustration of around + shows him stabbing
himself in the throat. In the absence of records for the French case,
these stories and images provide a useful source of evidence of the
continuing presence of suicidal discourse. Roman law appeared to be
more sympathetic to suicides in its judgement yet, if proven guilty,
the severity of treatment was greater.
It was common to nd competing versions of the same story; and
subsequent translations further operated to inhibit stereotyping.
Murrays account of the representation of the death of Henry of
Hohenstaufen, King of the Romans, conrms that differing versions
existed of the same death, each tale with a history of its own. In his
analysis, motive was varied and ranged from jealousy, remorse and
inopportune love to repugnance.
In the early modern period, the hidden grammar of suicide was
iconographically represented and discursively constituted in an
engagement between the criminalization and mystication of suicide,
set against its decriminalization and demystication. In the course of
the nineteenth century the rational image of suicide was challenged
by the notion of suicide as the product of an unsound mind. By the
+8os suicide was also seen as sad, comic or downright bizarre. Yet old
ideas of suicide did not disappear, but survived alongside the new.
The actual recognition of the links between suicide and mental
illness is a modern phenomenon. Until then, from the earliest Protes-
tant notions of self-killing as mortal sin to the Hogarthian view of
suicide as an effect of luxury and self-destruction, the stigma remained.
In the course of the nineteenth century there was a dramatic shift away
from notions of the heroic to conceptualizations of suicide as irrational
and medical. In contrast, some thought that death by suicide repre-
sented a rational choice on the part of Christian and Epicurean alike.
This may well be explained by the philosophical principle that thought
itself, whether Christian or Epicurean, was deemed to belong to the
individual and was therefore an aspect of being.
In +8:, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge pub-
lished eleven volumes of Religious Tracts, of which the third volume,
Against Particular Vices and Errors. Sermons and Exhortations to a Reli-
gious Life, contained a short piece entitled Suicide: Its Guilt and
Punishment. This condemned suicide by means of two case studies
of female servants guilty of some material act of carelessness. The
rst told the moral story of two women who drowned themselves in
their masters garden. Adding what appears to be an element of pure
ction to the tale, the writer claimed that one had repented and tried
to free herself but was dragged down by her companion. The second
case also involved two female servants who had connected themselves
with some workmen (one of whom was a married man). Both walked
blindfold into the river one with a child. The problem of servants in
respect of suicide has been mentioned already and so too has the
silence around the strict regimens of punishment and abuse servants
often suffered. Georges Minois reports similar cases for France.

never appeared to intervene in these cases, though it has to be said that
miracula appears to be part of Catholic discourse. Shameful and sick,
these servants had succumbed to the Devil and as usual he was there to
help drag them further down. However, it is in the period of the nine-
teenth century that we begin to see illustrations of these deaths. At the
same time a growing relationship of suicide with mental alienation can
be seen in images such as Etienne Esquirols Maladies mentales of +8
or manifest in the growth of manuals in Britain warning of the poten-
tial danger of suicide for depressive patients.

Quoting from an earlier article in The Courier of +8+y, and skilfully

embellishing The Couriers reportage, the SPCK pamphlet made
much more of the linguistic notions of being dragged down. The
emphasis on the blindfold also served to indicate the foolishness of
the cause of the death though, according to the writer they had no
excuse, as no possible degree of insanity could be brought ... for
them. Moral stories like these abounded in religious pamphlets,
particularly in the year after the death of Viscount Castlereagh when
suicide became a topical issue and debates in parliament succeeded in
securing the abolition of the crossroads burial.
Female suicides by drowning were frequently reported as moti-
vated by disappointed passion. In the same SPCK pamphlet collec-
tion, female deaths were contrasted with male suicides, such as that
of a bankrupt tradesman who took deadly poison, a farmer whose
crops failed and who hanged himself and a mechanic with a large
family who could not maintain them and cut his throat. The violence
of these male deaths is contrasted to the more passive female mode of
drowning. This difference is not reinforced in the visual. The motive
for male deaths appeared to offer a parallel with heroic suicide, in that
it was represented as a lost battle, though in this case a battle against
natural, cruel, or unbearable economic forces. Female deaths were
attributed to disappointment in love or the loss of chastity. The latter
was thus seen as shameful and sick.
Summarizing, the writer of the SPCK pamphlet gives a useful
template for the analysis of the gendered representation of suicide:
male suicide is linked with pecuniary distress, female suicide with
disappointed passion. For the pamphleteer the motive in both cases
appears to be an avoidance of punishment, which is offered as
evidence of sanity. The opinion is clearly one carried over from earlier
religious discourse, and serves to illustrate the multi-discursive
nature of suicide in the period. There are, however, very few refer-
ences to satanic incitement to self-murder in these religious texts.
Clearly, these arguments can be placed within the context of the
economic and philosophical changes taking place in the period, and
viewed as a product of the Protestant, scientic and essentialist belief
in progress, in opposition to the fragmentation and dissolution
implied by suicidal despair. Also underlying the religious essays on
suicide published by the SPCK are assumptions concerning the work
ethic. In this instance, the semantic energy of the changing vocabu-
lary of suicide can be located within a pragmatic agenda that urged on
the new working class the value of moral, sexual and nancial caution.
While religion continued to condemn all aspects of suicide, what
came to the surface in the course of the modern period was the
continued and increasing identication of lunacy as a cause of
suicide. This replaced the earlier idea of suicide as linked with
thought and rationality with one where the association was with
unthought and irrationality. The movement away from a concern
with natural science towards biology, and a concern for the body as an
object of knowledge rather than nature, resulted in a change in the
typology of suicide. In the wake of this, the nineteenth century saw
suicide become the object of detailed historical scrutiny, manifest
above all in the works of Morselli and Durkheim and in the govern-
mental collections of suicidal data and statistics with their underlying
claims to relational truth.
It is useful here to pause and consider that what I am claiming as a
sea change in the representation of suicide in the late eighteenth
century can be contextualized within what Foucault describes as emer-
gent new modes of being. To apply such terms to the changing
meanings of suicide from the mid-century onwards would mean that
the similarities and differences demonstrated in our earlier iconogra-
phy would be replaced by representations that gave credence to a study
of man as a being who is physical, mental and social rather than spiri-
tual. Chatterton, as one of the most popular icons of the period, was,
in fact, portrayed as youth alienated from a cruel and increasingly
bourgeois world. Nowhere is this clearer than in de Vignys play where
he is framed as the victim of a modern society. Nineteenth-century
images of suicide thus revert to the representation of an authority
similar to earlier theological texts, but in the tales retold, a shift was
occurring in the designation of responsibility from God, or the Devil,
to Man, and from Christianity to the new religion of work.
In effect this is a shift from representation to self-representation,
which allowed the depiction of the Other, and the bringing together
of mental process with being. During the nineteenth century man
was perceived as a combination of thought and being. The very
nature of this combination meant thought and unthought were given
specic consideration, and out of this arose the strange construction
of feminine logic with its attendant discourses of suicide as irra-
tional, suicide as a product of feeling and, therefore, suicide as
unmanly. As an effect of this, representations of suicide became
concerned with cause and process rather than the deed itself.
It is historically feasible that the late eighteenth centurys large
body of suicidal discourses gave shape to this shift, and also made it
plausible. The perceptibility of suicidal imagery and discourse was,
on the one hand, a manifestation of a concern for life and its preserva-
tion; on the other, it gave rise to an expression of such uneasiness that
late-eighteenth-century preaching on suicide might be seen to have
heralded a new era of severity. However, it was more likely that it
signalled the dying gasps of value-driven signs of suicide as symbols
of either heroism or unholiness.
Such was the nineteenth centurys growing belief in the power to
sustain and control life, yet punish death, that suicides imaging
ceased to be about humankind, and instead became a didactic lesson
turned back on the spectator. Throughout the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth century, and through the whole of the modern
period, suicide remained criminalized, though increasingly sympa-
thetic coroners juries began to bring in verdicts of non compos mentis
or, for those unfortunates shed out of the Thames, of Found
Drowned. This notion is depicted in George Frederick Wattss huge
canvas of +88jo (illus. 8). Such a verdict avoided altogether the
issue of suicide as a felony, and attempted to circumvent the estab-
lished stigma, which associated a drowned woman with prostitution
or unwanted pregnancy. Towards the end of the century, Henry
Mayhews accounts in the Morning Chronicle of needlewomen forced
to take to the streets veries the reality of the desperation felt by
women in the casual labour market.
It was, however, the Regents
Canal rather than the oft-pictured River Thames where the reality of
suicide generally occurred.

The political nature of this phenomenon can be seen in visual

representations of Thomas Hoods poem, The Bridge of Sighs, which
aimed to discredit the New Poor Law, and referred directly to the case
of Mary Furley, a seamstress who had tried to drown herself and her
children after her purse was stolen.
Furley was tried for infanticide at
the Old Bailey on + April +8. The Times leader on :o April
declared that the New Poor Law had brought this poor creature to
the verge of madness.
In response to the case Dickens published an
ironic but savage letter entitled A Threatening Letter to Thomas
Hood from an Ancient Gentleman. In it he attacked the judge. Later,
he recalled Furleys case when he wrote The Chimes.

In the light of the emphasis upon family values and motherhood

under the new system of work, these representations were deployed
as propaganda for the social institution, where the family was desig-
nated as a site of primary socialization, or as part of what Louis
Althusser called ideological state apparatuses.
In Althusserian
terms, such a valued institution as the family would be disrupted by
suicidal death, and the hegemony of the state would be usurped and
challenged by those who took their own lives. Though an analysis of
the cultural signs of the mobilization and construction of the family
in the visual is not the topic here, it is important to raise it in this
context, since the usefulness of the mother/child/suicide format was
internationally recognized, and employed at different times to broad-
cast very different messages.
Indicating the broader European nature of these stories a parallel
German case can be seen in Max Klingers series of prints Eine
Mutter of +88+. Klingers story is of a family thrown into poverty by
bankruptcy, which leads to the wifes mistreatment by her husband, a
drunkard. In total despair the mother throws herself into the water,
dragging her young son with her, and the child drowns (illus. yo). The
mother is rescued, and is subsequently prosecuted for manslaughter
and attempted suicide. The minute realism of Klingers prints detail
the city as the backdrop for this melodramatic scene, demonstrating
how the rhetoric of realism was a forceful tool in picturing the social
and economic problems of urban modernity.
Klingers Eine Mutter expresses the fate of someone affected by the
changing economic climate; but it also appears to represent a loss of
faith in the concept of progress and the ability of economies to
sustain themselves. The Great Crash of +8y, which followed a huge
boom in Germany, was believed to have triggered the breakdown of
the very institution the new economic system had so condently
projected as the norm. Right up to World War I, the city is repre-
sented not as the locus of urban civilization, but rather as the site for
themes of demonic ingression and elemental inundation, as a dystopic
machine or a space characterized by madness. Later it was deemed a
cause of madness in itself. In Norway, in +8j, the theme of anxiety as
a product of modern urban life was taken up by Edvard Munch in
The Scream, in which his screaming, sperm-like personication of
anxiety is placed on a bridge, outside Oslo, favoured by suicides.
However, in the context of n-de-sicle Germany, anxiety was not
entirely due to moods or expressions of alienation. After the Franco-
Prussian War, Germany experienced extremely slow economic
growth interspersed with periodic recession. The problem was
particularly intensied in the cities after +8y. The notions of
dystopia described later in Simmels The Metropolis and Mental Life
are relevant to an understanding of images where the city was visually
expressed as a cause of alienation and psychological disturbance.
Suicide as pathetic and, above all, suicide as linked to the city, where
the public madness of modernism takes place, is a recurring theme in
these images.
In the cases of Furley and Eine Mutter, it is clear that the emphasis
on birth, death and propagation in the nineteenth century meant that
the round of life was subject to regulation and control. In the course
of that shift towards control and regulation of the body and its health,
womans role as mother was re-emphasized and womens suicide lost
its heroic aspect. The proselytizing of family values and the process
yo Max Klinger, Eine Mutter, +88+, etching.
of feminization were also tied in with the advance of medicalization.
Into a weave of earlier medical beliefs of women as weaker beings and
women as abnormal men, where feeling became feminine and reason
masculine, the suicidal propensity of femininity was drawn together
with earlier notions of sensibility to make a picture of woman as a
dead object.
By the mid-nineteenth century, suicide had become a concern that
fell within the realms of the condition of England question and,
indicating the social nature of suicide, Olive Anderson cites the
several images that visualized the arch of suicide.
In keeping with
the genre, Spencer Stanhopes oil painting Thoughts of the Past of
+8j8/, now in the Tate Britain, shows Hungerford and Waterloo
Bridges in the background. Waterloo Bridge was a popular spot for
suicide since a person could slip unnoticed into the water from the
steps. In the foreground is an image of a kept woman in a dockside
building. In the bare room are the fragments of her past life, and a
torn lace curtain at the window signies her own disjuncture. Implicit
in this sad image is her possible decline into prostitution, while the
cold Thames backdrop connotes her liquidity and signies the proba-
bility of her suicide in the river. Despite the verisimilitude, there is a
signicant difference here to the graphic realism of Eine Mutter.
The major difference, in this and many similar images, is that the
suicidal women are not simply depicted as social victims, but also
placed on display: the female is presented as the object of a masculine
gaze. A prime example of this is the treatment by English imagers of
Thomas Hoods poem The Bridge of Sighs, the source for many illus-
trations of the period. While Dors melodramatic version in the
Victoria and Albert Museum shows a windswept gure poised on the
bridge (illus. 8j), the etching by Lord Gerald Fitzgerald in the +8j8
edition Passages from the Poems of Thomas Hood, shows a scene under
the arches, with a drowned woman pulled from the river by a boat
hook, and a policeman shining a torch in her face. The event is
watched by a small boy. Abraham Solomons painting Drowned!
Drowned! exhibited at the Royal Academy in +8o features a horried
male masquerader gazing upon the dead woman. The painting is
illustrated and described in the Art Journal in June +8+. In the
Athenaeum a year earlier, a reviewer had complained that Solomons
drowned woman was not as beautiful as Hoods.
Common to many
of these images is the depiction of the ominous womb-like archway in
the background, a format that is repeated throughout the century.
Like the proscenium arch of a theatre, or an altar, the arch frames and
presents these beautiful female bodies to the spectator. There is a
simultaneous sense of theatre and of sacrice in the way the dead
women are displayed: sympathy mingles with sexual desire, as their
saturated clothes allow the artist to highlight or expose the female
form. Even in death, woman is destined to be consumed.
To assume a pre-existent context for these images is perhaps to
ignore another role, their power as cultural refractors. In spite of
these realist texts forming part of an ideology of verisimilitude
aimed at such a historicization as that amply described by Anderson,
these images are replete with meaning other than the social. Images of
female suicide are part of a male cultural obsession with dead women,
and such images are so inuential that they signpost a route to
Ruskins recognition of a discourse around seduction, prostitution
and suicide in Hunts Awakening Conscience.
In the mid-century, suicide fell within the scope of a radical and
modern realism, and though this realism might have raised the lower
groups to the position of subject matter, in the way described by
as part of an aesthetic and social protest, suicidal representa-
tions from this period are nevertheless highly gendered, and they
produced their effect by a powerful combination of Renaissance
perspective and nineteenth-century narratives around self-murder. It
is no wonder that Olive Anderson states that the most effective visual
works were juxtaposed with writing.
The reader may have a strong
desire to believe in the narrative but the interplay of words and the
image with its purported iconic link hides as much as it shows.
The Victorian viewer was obliged to take a step back from the
image to engage with the story and allow the authority of the narra-
tive to tell him/her what to think. At rst glance falling somewhere
between the readerly and the writerly, a closer look tells us that these
realist texts demand from the viewer charitable thoughts (and possi-
bly actions); from the reader an action, yet paradoxically, a degree of
readerly passivity. Both viewer and reader are to a large degree fore-
closed from the play of signication by the author; and this is signi-
ed in the obligation to step back and passively sympathize, rather
than empathize. Hoods poem ends with the following remarks:
Owning her weakness
Her evil behaviour
And leaving with meekness,
Her sins to her Saviour.
Like the images, the poem denes suicide as weakness (and woman),
suicide as evil and suicide as an effect of sin. In conjunction with the
visual such a poem must have at once appealed to the commonsense
view of suicide and been active in its formation. During the course of
the nineteenth century suicide also became associated, for both men
and women, with moral decline and worldly dishonour. Unwanted
pregnancy, prostitution or disgrace as recurring themes in suicidal
narratives have been well covered in the period.
Where popular culture and the yellow press played on the ambigu-
ities of suicide, the authorial yet maudlin narratives of high art
attempted to leave little unsaid. The last of Augustus Eggs series Past
and Present depicts a fallen woman, with a bastard baby, sitting under
the arches (illus. y+). The spectators eye is drawn to the moonlit
water behind her. A particular notion of chastening is apparent in
these representations of drowned women, and is evident in Mary
Watsons lengthy poem The Suicide Prostitute which begins with the
following verse:
These joys again, pale vice denies to me,
Doomd to remorse, to pain, and infamy;
To live by guilt, and for detested hire,
Lust to provoke, and to affect desire;
A female injurd, menacd, and distrest,
Provokd with insult, and with wrong opprest;
Sent forth each eve, stung with disease and care;
Soon as black shades invest the mantled air,
(For silent glooms the Prostitute invite),
As suits the murderers deed a moonless night.
It ends:
The struggles oer! my soul disburthened ies,
Quits its polluted clay, and seeks the skies:
May heavn the penitential spirit own
And streams of mercy from the awful throne
Expunge its sins, and leave no trace behind
of impure errors, and a tortured mind;
May it transformd and chaste as virgin snow,
Or shine an Angel, or a Seraph glow.
Watsons poem is an example of the working-out of a particular
discursive subjectivity on social disease and vice. The language of the
verse implies that while the unfortunate victim has been driven to the
river by impure errors and a tortured mind to expunge the sin of
prostitution, her chastity is regained through death. In the poem,
Watson relates prostitution directly to death, and suicide by drowning
as a relief from sin leaving no trace behind. The middle section
describes the swollen corpse and frantic sunken eye, the writhing
anguish and laboured sigh. Dedicated to Earl Percy of St. Johns
College, Cambridge, the poem images woman in several roles; as a focus
of earthly lust and desire, as corpse, offering, victim, ravaged/ravager,
martyr/suicide. The death is metaphorical and offers purity. The
suicide prostitute is represented as a split subject that relates the
ominousness of sexuality and death in the way described by Lacan.
Woman is constantly given meaning against the signier man in the
sense raised by Bronfen in her reading of Delaroches The Young
Martyr where the no-xed-abode of woman is illustrated in the
symbolic order.
Delaroches young martyr (illus. 8) oats in a
similar manner to Millais Ophelia, but where Ophelia holds her
hands up in a gesture of helplessness the martyrs hands are tied,
implying her death was not voluntary a saintly halo hovers above her
head, which is turned to the viewer in a gesture of appeal.
The split subject may be seen in a different context in the repre-
sentation of the suicide of Margaret Moyes.
Described as an
attractive woman, her case was covered by the press, which
reported her death and the subsequent inquest in minute and gory
detail. Her suicide note simply stated at the climax, ... I have made
up my mind to make away with Margaret Moyes. As Barbara Gates
y+ Augustus Egg, Past and Present, No. , +8j8, oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.
fascinating research into the case has shown, the signature at the end
and the absence of the reexive pronoun myself draws together the
agent as perpetrator and victim. Moyes thus authored and signed her
own death.
An absolute opposite is found in Cruikshanks limp, ragged gure
of the Drunkards Daughter, which shows the girl plummeting from a
bridge (illus. y:). Alongside the iconography of the fallen woman,
that is the drowned woman, the falling woman was one of the most
enduring and oft-repeated themes in the portrayal of womens
suicide. Despite Hogarths or Cruikshanks representations, actual
links between alcohol abuse, depression and suicide had not really
been formulated, and alcoholism was not recognized as a disease till
the latter part of the nineteenth century.
In order to illustrate the continuity and geographical spread of the
falling woman in suicidal imagery, two images similar to Cruikshanks
have been selected from the Illustrated Police News (illus. y, y).
Where images of drowned women had a salacious aspect, these ying
and falling women were frightening and clearly disturbed the viewing
The inclusion of the crowd also indicates the sad but accom-
panying aspect of spectacle associated with jumpers.
Cruikshanks print does not explicitly denote a fallen woman in
y: George Cruikshank, The maniac father and the convict brother are gone. The poor girl,
homeless, friendless, deserted, destitute and gin-mad commits self-murder, engraving, +88,
Plate VIII from The Drunkards Children (A Sequel to The Bottle).
y The Suicide of Alice Blanche
Oswald, from Illustrated Police News,
:+ September +8y:, wood engraving.
y Suicide of Two Girls, from Illustrated Police News, : October +88, wood engraving.
sexual terms, but a different order of social victim. In the context of
social protest Cruikshanks image stands in moral judgement of a
particular individual and a particular vice rather than as a critique of
an unjust social system. Evidently, the repeated image of falling
women may refer back to Cruikshanks judgemental text, but by the
end of the century the same image was mobilized for very different
purposes. Prurient rather than moral, pornographic rather than polit-
ical, sensational rather than social, these images heralded forms of
journalism far remote from Cruikshanks ethical stance.
In the +8os Cruikshanks format was employed constantly in the
yellow press. Cheap literature hawked on the streets of London was
full of sensational images that performed the dual purpose of warn-
ing off the potential suicide and highlighting the importance of keep-
ing ones place, while articles from broadsheets and police gazettes
which carried such images verged on the macabre. The text that
accompanied these graphic illustrations deliberately played on the
ambiguities around the deaths, describing them as deplorable
mystery, or claiming that a particular case appeared inexplicable as
it seemed to be the suicide of a respectable woman (illus. yj). In these
graphic images, social cause and effect were lost in a genre best
described as a pornography of violence. On the whole, the writing is
bad, the stories banal, and the graphic illustrations of these murders
most foul bizarre in the extreme. Yet it has to be considered that they
just might signal a growing ambivalence in attitudes to suicide. A
change was occurring in suicidal discourse, though this is more perti-
nent to the English case. In France such news was suppressed.
Above all, in England, suicide was newsworthy. The massive circu-
lation of such publications as the twopenny Illustrated Police News
indicated the popularity of the bizarre and grotesque for the public
and the curious attraction of morbidity. Despite their crudeness,
there is a distant echo of the Dances of Death in these representa-
tions in that other folks deaths or despair reminded those left behind
that they were very much alive and well, though life, it would appear,
was cheap.
Where Pissarros woman falls, the images of women in the Illus-
trated Police News y. They are more like witches or angels. Sran
Kierkegaards notion of a leap of faith is recalled, as these images
can be interpreted as showing willpower or wilfulness rather than the
lack of will connoted in the images of drowned women.
The graphic image (illus. y) of Alice Blanche Oswalds suicide,
for instance, depicts a witch-like Alice ying, soaring rather than
falling. The accompanying report includes the full content of the
yj Suicide on a Railway, from Illustrated Police News, : December +8yy,
wood engraving.
- . ' ---- - .
suicide note, found by William King, inspector of the Thames
police, and testied that the crime of suicidal death did not compare
to the present misery Alice was suffering.
For Alice, King thought
this was a reasonable way out. Social misery was indicated as the
cause and the death therefore acceptable. In +8jj Alexandre Brire
de Boisemont made similar comments on the problems of material-
ist interest and the privation caused by the industrial revolution in
France and its capacity to drive people to ruins, and inevitably,
suicidal death.
The Illustrated Police News reports also include the case of a decap-
itated woman on a rail track (illus. yj), lurid depictions of crucied
and guillotined men and a variety of bizarre or spectacular deaths and
suicides (illus. y8). The image of a man about to guillotine himself
plays on the moments before death. The suicide of a Frenchman by
guillotining, or the unsuccessful attempt by a working stove-tter of
Chateau Thierry to crucify himself
(a particularly French death
and an execution), indicates that the process of exteriorizing suicide
was not entirely inscribed on the female body. Yet it was the female
body that carried the brunt of representation although, through its
crude graphic realism, the image of the decapitated woman on the
railway line denies the spectator the voyeuristic pleasures of the
imagination gained in high art. These images were to be upstaged by
mechanical reproduction, though the authoritative reality of
photography also created a problem for publication. The graphic
representation stood in for the person the photograph was too
shocking. In the rst instance the advent of photography in the early
twentieth century for recording news events may have created a prob-
lem for the older suicidal narratives. Photographic realism may even
have affected the newsworthiness of suicide. Unlike death in war,
photographic images of suicidal death could not carry notions of
nation or manliness but, instead, messages of morbidity which the
censor would contain.
The text which allegedly reported the deaths and which accom-
panied these lurid images deployed a language aimed at representing
the description as accurate and was reinforced by the use of a quasi-
legalisms: indeed a legal status was conferred on the text by the
language of police reportage. The written text signies the category
of the stove-tters suicidal death as atrocious. These images are at
once exciting and awful. Yet, the frequent use of the term melan-
choly in these articles does indicate that suicide was thought to result
from a sad or disturbed state of mind. A great deal of space was given
over to the reportage of inquests, especially those that resulted in a
y A Man Crucifying Himself , from Illustrated Police News, : June +8,
wood engraving.
yy Singular Attempt at Suicide, from Illustrated Police News,
: June +8y, wood engraving.
verdict of death while of unsound mind. Crude and bizarre as they
may appear, it would be too easy to pass over these images without
noting their complexity.
In the nineteenth century, alongside the bizarre, the world of
suicides representation was invaded by humour and, interestingly
enough, suicidal depictions of the middle classes were more likely to
be found here, in caricature and satire, than in either high art or the
yellow press. Class differences here show how the status of volun-
tary death was always open. The comic response to middle-class
suicide was thus pitched against the horror and pity of working-
class death with its accompanying official language; the satires
offering a safety-valve.
The wood engravings for Dickenss Nicholas Nickleby by Hablot
Knight Browne (Phiz) include cartoons which show the demise of
rich and poor alike, but caricature the upper-class propensity for self-
killing. In one illustration, the absurd fop, atterer and woman-
chaser, Mr Mantalini, is shown in Mr. Mantalini Poisons himself for
y8 Suicide by a Guillotine, from Illustrated Police News, +: February +8y,
wood engraving.
the Seventh Time (illus. y). The dubious Mantalini is surrounded
by a group of gossiping women and supported by a male friend. In the
story Mantalini has pretended that he has poisoned himself in order
to gain sympathy from Mary King. Two pictures of dancers hang on
the wall symbolizing Mantalinis theatrical lifestyle and the melo-
drama of his pretence suicide.
Although, in representation, the felon of himself was more than
likely a woman, men did not escape the satirists gaze. Indeed, the
visualization of male suicide belonged more to the domain of the
popular print or cartoon than to high art. In the class-specic satires
and Hogarthian moralizing of the kind found in Cruikshank or
Rowlandson, which continued right through the eighteenth century
and into the next, the visual target was generally men (illus. 8o). A
small, highly detailed engraved cartoon after Cruikshank, titled A
Cure for Love: No Cure: No Pay, shows a aged and rather ugly fat man
y H. K. Browne (Phiz), Mr. Mantalini Poisons himself for the Seventh Time, engraving
from Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (London, +8).
about to hang himself in his outhouse. His vanity and masculine
authority are symbolized by his wig,
which has been thrown to the
oor and trampled under his left foot. Fragile masculinity is connoted,
as a man without his wig was an object of universal humour. His right
foot is mounting a milking stool below a noose hanging from a beam,
and the caption indicates that a woman is to blame: Oh my hard Fate!
8o A Cure for Love: No Cure: No Pay, +8+, cartoon after Cruikshank. British Museum,
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Why did I ever trust her ever? What story is not full of Womans
Falsehood. In the centre foreground is a letter signed Polly Perkins,
threatening to reveal his misdeeds to the public. The reader is thus
given two sides to the story. First, the physiognomic suggestion of
rural stupidity on the features of this red-faced man implies his
gaucheness, and the caption suggests that he has been betrayed by a
woman. Second, the letter indicates culpability on his part. It is a
poignant image despite its vulgar humour, for it suggests that there is
never a simple answer or a single reason for a person to take his own
life. However, it is difcult to pity this man. The lack of emotional
response evoked by the image is aided and abetted by the complexity
of the information in the letter and his suicide note contained in the
caption. Evidence from medical journals implies that the satirization
of the suicide of men who had failed in marriage or love was sup-
ported by a genuine concern from medical practitioners for male
honeymoon suicides who took their lives due to sexual problems.
Across the channel, the picture is the same. Daumiers Sentimental
Passions series includes two Goyaesque lithographs, The Drowned One
and The Hanged One. The latter depicts a dejected man sitting on a
branch ready to hang himself. In these biting yet humorous cartoons,
with their emphasis on the irrational nature of suicide, it is still the
intention to commit the act that is displayed, though the mould is
broken by an early nineteenth-century cartoon by F. Deeves (illus.
8+). The title disguises the historical complexity of this image, and
the pictorial structure indicates the problems of readings based
purely upon perception. The pointing man is Percy Kirke, appointed
to quash the Monmouth Rebellion. Kirkes reputation as a butcher
was conrmed when he marched into Taunton escorting a convoy of
prisoners and cartloads of wounded. He at once hanged nineteen
prisoners in the marketplace. Implied here is that this suicide is a
metaphorical result of following the ill-fated Monmouth.
In +8 Bentleys Miscellany contained a joint satire on the English
propensity to commit suicide and the growing market for insurance.
The journal included a three-page section oating a new insurance
company The London Suicide Company, with a list of directors
that included Reuben Graves, Esq., John Knell and Ephraim Bone,
under the chair of Lord Viscount Gravesend.
The company aimed
at facilitating suicide, and offered exclusive sites for convenient exer-
cise of self-murder. The offer included the promise to open up the
Penitentiary of Millbank for deepening the gloomy feelings of such
of the subscribers who may not have completely made up their
In +88j Gilbert and Sullivans Mikado satirized the idea
8+ F. Deeves, Colonel [Percy] Kirkes Brutal Conduct to a Lady Who Solicited the Life of Her
Brother, +8o, engraving with etching after Hamilton. Wellcome Library, London.
that the death sentence should be given for attempted suicide by
hanging Nanki-Poo for trying to take his own life. Satires of this kind
indicated the growing ambivalence towards suicide and helped allevi-
ate the anxiety relating to suicidal death.
However, the laughter disguised a real public anxiety about self-
murder. In contrast with the romantic view or moral stance of the late
eighteenth century these sometimes scathing images could be said to
punish the victim further. They acted as an abasement. In +yy Caleb
Fleming had indicated that the regularity of the phenomenon of
suicide was clearly a deep source of anxiety and concern but not an
object of humour.

What was it that brought about these changes?

Just how the felon de se was regarded in the nineteenth century was
inuenced by a growing concern for preserving life, the long-term
process of the regulation of the social body and an emphasis on fertil-
ity, birth, life, good constitution and longevity. The historical
Durkheimianism of much suicidal scholarship is the result. As a
result of this, Lucretia and Dido virtually disappear as subjects, signi-
fying the demise both of heroic suicide, and consequently of their
heroic status. To be sure, the picture is never that simple. In England,
one of the last images of female heroic suicide is an idiosyncratic
sketch by Richard Dadd that shows Lucretia clutching a huge knife
(illus. 8:). This unusual prole portrait gives emphasis to a hooked
nose and fashions a self that ies in the face of the agreed tradition of
the visual predicate of Lucretia. It is extremely difcult in this case to
ascertain if the hooked nose acts as a crude visual clue for a particular
physiognomy: either Roman or Jewish?
In the early part of the century, the more usual heroic image was
retained in the Royal Academy and in France where, prior to the Revo-
lution, the didactic tradition persisted and where moralizing and ideo-
logical debates encouraged heroic subjects. Jacques-Louis Davids
images of Seneca and Socrates are a fair example of this trait. In
contradiction to the changing conception of suicide as cowardly, heroic
suicide was temporarily brought back into the domain of high culture.
What is evident through all these shifts is that suicide so
confounded a society determined to enforce control over life that
suicide and death were brought to the centre of discourse alongside
sexuality. At the same time, the growing acceptance of depression and
mental illness as a cause for suicide meant that religious penalties for
suicide were abandoned in +8: and secular punishments in +8yo.
The Burial Act followed in +88o, and in +88: the right to carry out
8: Richard Dadd,
Lucretia, +8j, sketch.
Bethlem Royal
Hospital, Beckenham.
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ritual disgrace was ended. The death sentence as the ultimate regula-
tor for those who took life into their own hands not only acted as a
warning to the would-be murderer, but also symbolized the over-
weening importance of life and denied the individual the right to
choose death over life. That capital punishment should be carried out
by hanging also resounds noisily in the iconography of suicide, since
it stands as a reminder of Judass death as a tting end to a wicked life.
Throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century
French and English moralists, inuenced by Christian dogma, felt
obliged to comment on suicides punishment. Typical of the late
eighteenth century were the Abb Bergier, who thought self-killers
lacked virtue,

and Caleb Fleming, in his A Dissertation upon the

Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder, which showed the authors concern
that the suicide be punished and that the penalty should t the crime.
Fleming was able to argue that the forfeiture of goods had a manifest
severity to it, since it affected the criminals wife and children, who
were innocent.
His proposed solution was to abandon the forfeiture
of the convicted felons goods, but have the naked body of the suicide
exposed in some public place: over which the coroner should deliver
an oration on the foul impiety; and then the body, like that of the
homicide, be given to the surgeons.

Dragging, impaling and cross-

roads burial were discussed as suitable punishments across Europe.
In England, the argument that the suicides body should be
dissected and dragged through the streets to a crossroads for inter-
ment was discussed in popular magazines right up to +8:. Such
punishments were sometimes carried out. Cutters book illustrates
the small unlocated and anonymous engraving The Desecration of the
Corpse (illus. :) It shows a horse dragging a naked man through the
streets with a stake through his back, watched by horried women
and a small child. The female spectators are watching and we watch
them as they view the horror of the desecration. This image illus-
trates the actual abasement, which would be followed by burial at the
Womens bodies, however, were kept whole throughout the history
of suicidal imagery. The public abasement or public display of the
dead female body has, for the art historian, an altered signicance to
it. The naked or semi-naked bodies of the pseudo-Cleopatra or
Lucretia are, in effect, portraits of dead women re-presented for the
male, the ideal spectator, and are twice removed from the construct
of women in the everyday. On one level, images of female suicides,
such as that of Lucretia, fuse eros and thanatos. On another, the
penalty of exposure and the death act as a chastening. Suicidal
images of Lucretia or Cleopatra act for the masculine spectator as a
threat or a comfort but operate to stitch or place the female spectator
in a bind. In Doanes terms, for the narrativized female spectator,
there is an over-presence of the image she is the image.
predominance of the masculine position is conrmed in Lombrosos
The Female Offender where the female suicide is described as lacking
virtue and the maternal instinct. To the criminologist Lombroso the
female offender was powerful and erotic, though, unless scorned, she
was less likely to kill herself than the male.
Given the nature of these
images the feminine position must either involve a passive identica-
tion or masochism.
A similar case of abasement can be made for the ritual of cross-
roads burial with its old folkloric and vampiric associations. (The
victim was buried with a stake through the heart.) In England, the
crossroads burial became common law from +n y in the reign of
King Edgar. In some cases, to ensure that the spirit did not rise up, a
heavy stone was placed over the body. As with hanging, the corpse was
left in limbo.
An image from a novelette published in the +8:os, which precedes a
dark story entitled The Suicide: A Tale found on Facts (illus. ), serves
: The Desecration of the Corpse, +y,
to enhance the mysteriousness and ambiguity of suicide by its para-
text, which alludes to the story as fact, then gives neither an artists
name for the illustrations nor a writers for the text. Playing on truth
and anonymity the introduction to the story claims that It is a Tale
founded on Fact ... with numerous engravings by an eminent artist.
The image preceding the text is entitled The Suicides Grave and
shows a group of thirteen people in the background and seven in the
middle-ground. In the foreground, to the right, is a man with a stake
or a spade in the ground. To the left, an upturned cofn displays its
emptiness. The body is already out of sight, buried in the ground. In
folklore the vampire is disallowed a Christian burial, and the cross-
roads site prevents the malevolent spirit from nding a way, were it to
rise up. The vampiric connection is made clear in the text that follows:
At the period in which the history we are about to lay before our readers took
place, this unfeeling and foolish custom of burying the unfortunate who had
made away with themselves, in cross-roads, and driving a stake through the
body, was common enough, more especially in the remoter parts of England
and Wales, of Ireland and Scotland ... The bodies of persons supposed to be
vampires were treated in a similar manner in Germany not above a hundred
years ago.

Needless to say crossroads burial was still practised in England as well

as Germany in the period of this Gothic novelettes publication. The
identication of remoter parts adds drama to the story and marks off
the peripheries of otherness. The absence of a named author and
The Suicides Grave, Plate + from The Suicide: A Tale found on Facts, by the Author of The
Red Barn (London, +8:o).
artist heightens the unintelligibility and connotations of suicide, and
the disagreement over who or what is to blame. The sad tale that is
told of Percival Denham is not directly linked to the paratextual
image, but leaves the grave open for anyone. The story is prexed by
mystery but, in contrast, the tale itself is fairly clear on motive.
Percival Denham, the hero and victim, is at rst portrayed as a
virtuous and educated man with a awed character: the writer
describes him as: A young man of the highest promise, highly gifted
nature, highly improved by education, high in moral worth, high in
talent; polished as a courtier, sincere as the simplest child of nature.
The eulogies to Denham highlighted by the positional adverbs and
adjectives are then followed by the linguistic indicators of excess
which the anonymous author piles on: Denham is too lofty in
conception, too deliberate in feeling, too rened in taste, and too
romantic in sentiment, to go through this sordid, and bustling, and
callous world without imminent danger to the happiness of his life.
Denham, a child of nature possesses gifts evidential of his frag-
mented and injurious feminine susceptibility. He is [too] romantic,
lofty, deliberate in feeling and incapable of surviving a life which is
tough. This susceptibility is juxtaposed with ideas of demonic
ingression, connoted in the illustration of the vampiric funeral. The
vampiric links with the feminine and has romantic sexual implica-
tions, while the notion of Denhams effeminacy looks back to the
eighteenth-century phenomenon of men of sensibility. Somehow, it
appears that Denham is not quite a man. It is no surprise that he
should kill himself.
To associate suicide with sensibility and mental instability was there-
fore to associate suicide with woman. In this respect the fragmented
identity of Shakespeares Ophelia provides the ideal subject to portray
womans uidity (illus. ). In Millais Ophelia there is a further tension
between the signier and signied of womens suicides, where the
message of a heroic death is lost in the erotic, and the invalidity of
woman is implied. In an image like Ophelia motivation is misplaced and
the heroic is freed from its signier. Suicide, once a sign of female hero-
ism, is substituted for a sign of femininity in itself, though even in
Shakespeares text ambiguity surrounds Ophelias emblematic death.
The poisonous nettles and the profusion of owers, (analogy rather
than offering), the dead mens ngers, the long purples and orchis
(commonly called fools ballocks), and the dissembling daisy, have
been designated as connecting the characters and throwing a backward
glance at the absent hero. It is an important image, however, since it
signies both womens uidity and a medicalized suicide.
In the numerous nineteenth-century images of Ophelia, the ratio-
nal motive for suicide is replaced by a demeaning motivation associ-
ated with illness, weakness and the disintegration of self. Womans
identity is even further questioned and punishment is continuous and
patriarchally instituted. Visual narrations of female suicide, such as
Millais Ophelia, interpret and construct suicide as part of womans
hidden identity: imperfect, uid, weak, fragmented. Caught in the
process of the wake, we the subject/spectator view the liquid body
of Ophelia. Her garments resemble the bright colours of a dragony,
or an anglers y skipping the water; the bait. Like a bright-coloured
stain on the water, watery against the water, a ower against the ow-
ers, Ophelia mimics the background and fuses with nature. Ophelia
is caught in the process of a transition. Laying down the body in
bright colours the painter portrays Ophelia at the terminal moment.
Overowing the body limits and conrming outside-with-in, Ophe-
lias image also conforms to Kristevas notion of the abject.
is thus portrayed as a deathly monument to lack (the phallus), a drift-
ing currency that precedes all other lacks.
In Millais image of
Ophelias suicide, nature, life, death and woman is con-fused. Prior
to Millais, Fuselis ink drawing of Ophelia shows her body merging
with the water; her face is featureless, blank, connoting her madness,
her loss, or lack of character, and she holds onto a thin branch of a
broken willow (illus. j). The boldest detail is the strong curve of the
river. The lack of detail creates a sense of dissolution, the feeling of
John Everett Millais, Ophelia, +8j+:, oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.
someone caught up in the current, unable to resist, will-less.
Even prior to the nineteenth century, there is an astonishing array
of debate and opinion surrounding the subject of suicide. The selec-
tion of texts discussed above demonstrates just how arbitrary is the
nature of self-murder, and the quality of such arbitrariness implies
we are in the realms of myth. From the eighteenth century onward,
madness and melancholy are constantly evoked as reasons for suicidal
death. At the same time the motivation for suicide takes on a connota-
tive and gendered signication. The play of signication in womens
suicide is a manifest sign of patriarchy, where woman becomes myth.
In the period in question heroic identity breaks down and the surety
of the heroic motive is replaced by questions of chance. Chastity and
defeated love, which once validated the heroism of deaths such as
those of Lucretia, Portia or Dido, were further condensed to bear
meanings related to an absence of self for women. In the nineteenth
century world of visual and verbal representations, heroic suicide is
purged and suicide is given a social and moral meaning.
Women therefore, appear predominantly in high art, and jump or
j John Henry Fuseli, Ophelia, +yyo, sketch. British Museum, London.
drown themselves for reasons of chastity or rejection. In contrast, in
popular culture, men hang, shoot or poison themselves as a punish-
ment for failure. A violent masculine death is thus contrasted to
notions of a feminine death, which signies an easy way out. The
downward slope for men was never portrayed as easy (illus. +oo).
Friths series The Road to Ruin, drawn for The Art Union of London in
+8y8 and etched by Leopold Flameng, traces the demise of a rich
young man, whose concerns are sensual, from his days at the Univer-
sity of Cambridge to a garret in London and his suicide with a gun.
An examination of Friths pencil, chalk and wash drawings has
revealed that important changes occurred between the drawings and
the nished lithographs. The changes exaggerate the decline of a
once sophisticated man into the depths of dissipation and despair.
This process of change is particularly evident in Friths treatment of
the nal scene, which is more sympathetic than the graphic illustra-
tion. Friths drawing situates the man in his dressing gown at home in
his drawing room. The nal published illustrations show him as a
desperate man in a garret and his gown discarded. I have argued else-
where that this image is not about suicide as such but a peevish repre-
sentation of Whistler, Wilde and Swinburne and the aesthetes.
moral of Friths story is that art cannot triumph over death. Ironi-
cally, we might wonder whether, for the ageing Frith, art may have
lost its meaning.
Signicant changes in attitudes to suicide, and in its visual repre-
sentations, are evident between the +y8os and ++. Then, after the
mass slaughter of World War I, ideas of death changed dramatically.
The attitudes to suicide considered above may not have had the sever-
ity of the early modern period, when suicide was regarded as punish-
ment-deserved; in fact they signal the growth of an attitude which,
while more sympathetic, was even more demeaning towards self-
killers than that which had opposed suicide as criminal and heinous.
It was above all the death of the poet Chatterton in +yyo that shaped
the nature of representation in the following period and gave public-
ity and meaning to notions of contaminated femininity and to the
social causes of suicide.
The poems of Mary Dawes Blackett and Mary Watson help to
highlight two further aspects of suicide: rst, that temporary
madness in this instance the madness associated with Chattertons
death became represented as a cause of suicide, and second, that
prostitutes (and poets?) were particularly susceptible to self-murder.
Underneath the criminality and the wrongness of it all was a
recognition that personal distress can unhinge the mind. This is
Leopold Flameng, College, print no. + from The Road to Ruin (engravings after drawings
by William Powell Frith), +8y8. British Museum, London.
y Ascot, print no. : from The Road to Ruin.
8 Struggles, print no. from The Road to Ruin.
Arrest, print no. from The Road to Ruin.
clearly exploited in the coroners verdict on Castlereaghs suicide,
when the jury decided that he had killed himself while temporarily
insane. In another sense, the image of Castlereaghs death anticipates
the later preoccupation with graphic reportage and realism
discussed above and the fascination for morbidity in the burgeoning
yellow press after the +8jos. In the Illustrated Police News, images of
An Extraordinary Suicide (illus. +o+) and a Shocking Suicide at
Crystal Palace (illus. +o:) show in vivid graphic detail the bizarre
cases of a man using a candle to burn through a guillotine rope, and a
man hurtling from the Crystal Palace. Exciting and dreadful, but
neither evidence nor fantasy, these shock news images test out the
boundaries between fact and ction. The text and image claims to
report a real suicide, a death, or an attempt at suicide.
Yet, in some way, these vivid representations of those suicides are
transformed into ction, partly as a result of the media employed,
partly by the fact they depict the act; the unnamed victims are lost to
us, and only the ction survives in reality. It was probably after World
War I that such topics of human interest found their way into the
realms of photography, and photographic realism killed the litho-
graphic image stone dead.
+oo The End, print no. j from The Road to Ruin.
+o+ An Extraordinary Suicide, from Illustrated Police News, + August +8y,
wood engraving.
+o: Shocking Suicide at Crystal Palace, from Illustrated Police News, :j May +8y,
wood engraving.
At the same time links between suicide and sexuality had become
established within medical discourse. In the pages of The Lancet and
the British Medical Journal, or in Morsellis II Suicidio of +8y, there
is an ongoing dialogue which reected earlier discourse and images of
prostitutes and promiscuous women as a high-risk group. This is
countered by the suicides of impotent men who thought themselves
to have failed sexually. In the +8os and yos there was also much
discussion about male masturbation, which was thought to lead to
insanity and death; though this too was a view challenged by medical
practitioners. The evidence suggests that the artists brush remained
still on both these issues. Yet death was given a differing aspect in
discourses on masturbation where a petit mort is connoted.
It is curious that within a few decades the clinical example was to
turn about face. Freuds notion of drive (Trieb), and in this case the
death drive (Thanatos), as intimately bound to sexuality (Eros) meant
that, from Freud onwards, suicide and death have become inextrica-
bly bound up with sexuality and with wish fullment; the ambiguity
of death is once more heightened by those who never meant to kill
themselves but only to cry for help.
Depression as a cause of suicide also became associated with one
particular image, that of Ophelia. The popularity of Ophelia as
subject matter for visual art really begins in the nineteenth century
and is signicatory of a shift in the meanings given to suicide, towards
suicide as a result of sickness. The widespread popularity of Hamlet
in the nineteenth century indicates a European fascination for this
dissipated Oedipal plot that culminated in Freuds writing at the turn
of the century. Ophelia, portrayed as problematic, liminal, transient
and mutually exclusive from man, was the ideal subject for the portrayal
of suicide as feminine and as a leurre, a trap for the gaze.
Fuselis drawing of the subject heralded the depiction of a change
from stigmatized suicide to the portrayal of an irrational theme and
through its iconography it helped move suicides imaging towards a
depressive theme, which by the twentieth century had changed again
as a result of a growing ambivalence towards suicidal death. However,
the stigmatized and irrational image of suicide lasted well into the
nineteenth century, overlapping the heroic, and was replaced by
themes of sadness and depression, and a representation of suicide
motivated by illness or apathy. Missing from these representations is a
concept of assisted suicide, though Fuselis depiction in +8oj of the
strangling of a Medici duke, on the order of his wife, as a relief from
pain can be read as an image of assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Cultural collapse was signied in the n-de-sicle, and with the
crisis of culture in the +8os the dehumanization that led to suicidal
death was represented as brought about by the rational/technical
world. The object and the subject become intertwined, and the ideol-
ogy of suicides gendering began to be peeled away. Yet, it was some
years before the crime of suicide was expunged from the statute
books, and by the time the law was changed in the mid-twentieth
century, suicide as an aspect of sociology had already been replaced by
its own eld of study, suicidology.
In a broader European context, this change can be seen in Dors
lithograph, The Street of the Old Lantern, depicting the suicide of
Grard de Nerval, author of The Black Sun, which so inuenced
Kristeva, and which symbolized his depression; or Manets The
Suicide, but accompanied by the equally condemning image of the
capitalist system in Max Klingers Eine Mutter, discussed above, or
the anarchist Pissarros series Turpitudes Sociales; Lautrecs La Pendu
(+8o); Vallatons woodcut Le Suicide (illus. +o) and Ropss Selbst-
morder bei Scittya (c. +8o). Camille Pissarros album of :8 drawings
documents his strong political beliefs and contains a drawing of a man
hanging, Le Pendu, which carries the inscription: A millionaire is too
heavy, he troubles the harmony of interests, he disrupts the equilib-
rium of rights, he crushes the poor (illus. +o). Clearly, for Pissarro,
the capitalist millionaire is a Judas. Slightly earlier is an engaging
piece of work by the Italian sculptor Adriano Cecioni. Il Suicida is a
plaster of a young man about to thrust a knife into himself. Stood
against a slim broken tree trunk symbolizing his youthful but immi-
nent demise, his right arm holds the handle of the knife, his left holds
his twisted gown which is pulled up to his face in a gesture of torment
and hopelessness (illus. +oj).
The projection of suicide in the period of the sign suicide has
been shown to have many different aspects, where the iconic is made
problematic by the symbolic and ambiguous nature of suicidal death.
The discourses and debates on suicide indicate a multi-discursivity
where suicide is coloured by the visual and is polysemic. In the middle
of the stark oppositions, life and death, where ritual and taboo arose
was continuously placed a representation of Woman.
For me, Grassets dark and erotic lithograph of a woman injecting
herself, The Drug Addict, symbolizes and sums up the vast changes
taking place in this eld of representation at the end of the nineteenth
century. It stands on the edge of the twentieth century not simply in
chronological terms (illus. +o). Counter to history it might be, but I
would rename it The Modern Lucretia. It is not a suicide at all, but a
millennial image that heralds the twentieth centurys main preoccu-
pation with humankind as irrational and self-destructive, where clini-
cal pathology gets tied up with consumption and with the active
production of new meanings of life and death and a new and real
concern with death-by-instalments. One of these was the recognition
of the unconscious wish to die. At the same time, too late perhaps,
Tissots illustration of Judas in The Life of Christ looked backward to
remind the Christian reader of the outright condemnation of suicidal
death (illus. 8y). This stark image shows Judas in a desolate landscape
that pre-empts later painted images of war torn Europe.
Pertinently, Freud stated that the unconscious behaves as if it were
immortal. For the study of suicide this is particularly apt. If Freuds
+o Flix Vallaton, Le Suicide, +8, woodcut.
challenge to history is to be fully realized, the imprint of history as
ideology that has been a prime concern in this survey will need to be
problematized even further. The unconscious will require a history,
and the nature of ideology as it has been employed will need to be
contested. If this is to be achieved, the psychodynamic approach must
stand side-by-side with the social. It is evident that the visual world
+o Camille Pissarro, Le Pendu, drawing from Turpitudes Sociales, +88o,
pen and ink over pencil on paper. Private collection.
+oj Adriano Cecioni, Il Suicida, +8j, plaster. Galleria dArte Moderna, Florence.
clearly played a functional role in making suicide. From Ajax to the
unnamed suicides of the late nineteenth century, the imaging of
suicides story is not so much a past denite, as a past-in-the-present.
Throughout its represented history each image tells a story, each
interprets the story, and each constructs further ctions. What
happens after ++ makes this problematic.
The history of the variety of iconographic and other traces of the
kind that objectify suicide constitute a history of representations
from which it would follow that every age offers new and unique
congurations of suicidal death. In addition, a second level of repre-
sentation emerges of suicide as a construction that has a clear relation
to discourses and visual practice. In the twentieth century, the visual-
ization of suicide changes again to express, rst in a self-conscious
way, a personal reaction to death; and from then on the signier
suicide is set free from its referent, leaving the spectator to choose.
+o Eugene-Samuel
Grasset, The Drug Addict
(Morphinomaniac), +88,
lithograph from Ambroise
Vollard, Album des
Peintres-Graveurs (Paris,
The Century of Destruction
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is
suicide an act like this is prepared within the silence of the
heart, as is a great work of art.
+rura+ c+ts
Without God, death becomes simply the end: brief, at, nal.
The heart stops, the body decays, life continues elsewhere. This
is tomorrows zero
+. +rv+arz
Reafrming nineteenth-century views of urban life as chaotic, Rilkes
The Notebook of Matte Lauride Brigge of ++o represents the city as
simultaneously a site for the discovery of the alienated self and as its
cause. The subsequent dissolution of self takes place as a result of
isolation and alienation and leads to the protagonists suicide. Rilke
relates the story of a man roaming the city to uncover the fragmentary
nature of his self. In the story, modern reality is reinforced as some-
thing short-lived and frail. There is something in these romantic
representations of city life as a web, a snarl for the sensitive soul,
which recollects the sociologist Ferdinand Tnnies separation of
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (where the failure of the former to over-
come the latter leads to madness, death, suicide), Georg Simmels
analysis of the stiing rationality of the modern city in The Metropolis
and Mental Life, or Webers pessimism about modern life expressed
in his description of the iron cage of modernity and his bitter
complaint that modern life was full of specialists without spirit,
sensualists without heart.

In Simmels critical analysis, the city was read as a site for the
struggle for gain, and therefore, for some, loss must ensue.

cant loss is a continuing aspect of suicides representation where loss
is represented as a motive for suicide. For women, the victims and
sinners in suicidal representation, the loss is of a loved one, or the loss
of purity; for men, it is pecuniary loss in the gamble of life, especially
in the period of bourgeois capitalism. In a situation where gain is
accorded maximum credence, loss is inevitable and risk-taking
becomes associated with suicidal behaviour. As an effect of this, in
representation, the conscious social aspect of suicidal motive inter-
mingled with deeper unconscious desires as psychodynamic motives
were also ascribed to suicide. Loss or deprivation is represented as a
factor in both conscious and unconscious motivation. In the early part
of the century Simmel thought: With each crossing of the street,
with the tempo and multiplicity of economic and social life, the city
sets up a deep contrast with small town and rural life with reference to
the sensory foundations of psychic life.
The city as a locus for suicide has a long history, but Simmels
analysis goes beyond earlier representations to see the uniformity and
indifference of life in the modern city as having an effect on the
psyche. In Simmels thinking, modernity had created a split between
the world of emotions and the rational-technical world, so much so
that the city dweller became a cog in a vast machine. As a result of this
unbearable pressure, the subject would then reassert the sensuous
side of life which placed its emphasis on the social body, in dress, style
and leisure. In Webers critique, this is a supercial sensuality, in
response to which death becomes less of a threat than ageing, whereas
art constantly looks for and re-evaluates the experiences of life, and
aestheticizes it. In a sense, Boccioni, the Futurist and follower of
Henri Bergson, who idealized technological change, was right when
he insisted that in modern art the spectator would be put in the

For Breton, the Surrealist, internalization was the only way

for art to go, and for inspiration he turned to Freud. At the same time,
suicide became interlinked with depressive illness and the Freudian
world of the unconscious. As a result the picture and painting of
suicide changed.
In the twentieth century, as Camus said, the act of suicide was
prepared within the silence of the heart like a great work of art. One
could go further, to state that suicide became art, and art suicide. Art,
which had once mirrored life, had now become life, or rather, in the
early part of the twentieth century, it illuminated life. The art of
suicide now formulated a critique of society, while art itself waged
war against art and attempted to destroy itself . In a peculiar sense
art showed signs of self-destruction and its forthcoming voluntary or
assisted death. When art ceased to represent, but instead acted as a
provocation, suicidal imagery then spoke for the subject, the author,
the self: it consciously questioned modern death. Marinettis Futurist
Manifesto proclaimed the apocalypse and death of museums, libraries
and academies of every kind. Likening museums to cemeteries or
absurd abattoirs where painters and sculptors slaughtered each other,
Marinettis aims probably had more to do with the elevation of Italian
art than the destruction of art and artists, and was connected with Ital-
ian nationalism in a way that hinted at the relationship between
nihilism and fascism that emerged later in the century.
For the art of suicide, the claim that the gallery is akin to a ceme-
tery resonates throughout its history. The spectral images of the dead
that haunt the holy space of the gallery may well provide immortality;
timelessness for those who took their lives, but as we have seen, the
gallery is an unquiet grave, purgatorial; a waiting room for hell or
heaven; a place of pain, a place of expectation and hope; a connotative
space wherein the signier suicide is not allowed to rest. The concep-
tions of voluntary death that we bring to our interpretation are added
to, they constantly supplement the original. They may have moral or
intellectual signication, or be to do with our concept of what is right,
or the result of our innermost fears and anxieties, or curiosity,
morbidity, or pleasure. There has yet to be a major exhibition of
works of art that depict the theme of suicide; such an exhibition
might well resolve the sense one has that social interpretations of
suicidal death are lost in the gallery where individualism is enhanced
and collective meaning marginalized. Suicide is seen as a highly indi-
vidual act.
The objects, artefacts and sculpture of suicidal imagery in the
twentieth century speak volumes about the subject. The suicidal
subject images suicidal death as a part of a life experience for his/her
self and others. In the process, the signier suicide has been contin-
uously emptied out and relled, perhaps for each individual. The
work of art has become a part of the world-text, attempting to
capture and hold onto the sense, the feel, the experience of suicide.
Images of suicide have always contained an element of present-
centredness. In the processes of modernity this relationship was
absolute. The ambivalence towards suicidal death contained in late-
twentieth-century images implies a further change, where resistance
is at a minimum, and a new experience of death is depicted where the
aesthetic becomes anaesthetic, as in the works of Andy Warhol. It is
clearer in the twentieth century that the cries for help are reected in
the painters work as signs of desire and anxiety arising in the artist.
Paradoxically, where the process of the aestheticization of life takes
place, the signiers art and suicide suffer erasure. Man Rays personal
explanation of his celebration of mechanical art, and the death of
painting, the abstract airbrush image Suicide (illus. +oy), which was
later featured in Andr Bretons Is Suicide a Solution in La Rvolu-
tion Surraliste, was that the painting was intended as part of his own
suicidal act.
As an effect of Man Rays despair at the poor reception
of his mechanical pictures, and with his personal life, he intended to
point a loaded gun at the picture and set it off with a string while he
stood behind it. He decided against this, and instead, he continued to
shoot and dismember the female body in a celebration of another
mechanical art, photography.

In another way, the text referred to

avant-garde art and its close relationship with life itself, and therefore
death. Underlying Man Rays painting and his explanation lies his
frustration at his lack of success, attention-seeking and a cry for help.
Accompanying the notion of depressive illness leading to suicide,
the twentieth century saw self-injury, suicide or parasuicide as a call
for help. As part of the massive growth in suicidology in the +os,
+oy Man Ray,
Suicide, ++y,
airbrushed tempera
on cardboard.
Private collection.
Shneidman and Farberows work The Cry for Help was in itself an
optimistic representation that gave explicit expression to the concern
at rising suicide rates and implicitly the lack of a meaning in modern
life; the lack of what Sartre called essence.
Recognizing the lin-
guistic nature of suicide, and the difculty of denition, Schneid-
man suggested, as a nal solution, that where voluntary euthanasia
was practised, suicide would be eliminated. Cutters documentation
of works of art imaging self-destruction is underpinned by the naive
idea that these images of suicide and self-destruction may be of use
in public health education in order to avoid clinical suicide. Ignoring
their role as cultural refractors, he optimistically observed that
Minimal suicide rates are approachable in the United States.
what happened?
Cutters analysis falls within what can be classed as a phenomeno-
logical iconography, where it is presumed that the mind, self-destruc-
tive or otherwise, has a coincidental relationship with the images he
writes about, and assumed that the knowledge of the image and its
message might lead to suicide prevention. The story of the art of
suicide has indicated that the cultural sign system suicide has actu-
ally manipulated and dened suicide, and that, in some cases, read-
ings are possibilities only. In each historical and social context one
nds competing interpretations. Without some understanding of the
class, gender and national nature of these ideological representations,
however, an effective reading of suicide becomes meaningless.
Cutters engaging survey would be extremely apt if the works of art
discussed were univocal. They are not. On the contrary, they are uid
and open to interpretation. The mass suicide of Heavens Gate at
Rancho Santa Fe, in +y, and the still images of the bodies of the
victims taken by the American Photo Syndicate which were distrib-
uted on the Internet, or the suicide in Quebec of ve members of the
order of the Solar Temple, are a sad and chilling reminder that simple
solutions to the nature of suicidal death will inevitably be proven
wrong, especially where the consensual will to die is strong. In the late
twentieth century, suicide, rather than being an individual and lonely
act, has recalled the mass suicides of Masada: the threat in this case
imagined, mystical, and death seen as a release in the same manner as
philosophical death.
Expressions of anxiety and of the alienation of urban modern life
were not entirely lost after World War I; but as the century progressed
they were replaced by a sense of imminent global disaster, genocide,
atrocity, and the constant fear of annihilation. Out of this were born
theories of chaos. On the one hand life appeared to have no meaning,
and on the other, death appeared to have no cause. But if death has no
cause then suicide becomes a futile gesture.
In the face of this, a
growing ambivalence developed towards the suicide. It is no wonder
that the late twentieth-century artist scraped away the layers of paint
on the at surface of the canvas to evoke or look for traces and memo-
ries of life in a depthless world. The regard for surface which has
replaced the passion, anxiety and decision of individual man of
which Sartre spoke, and the accompanying desire to know for certain
that we exist which manifests itself in the quest for purpose and
projects that will justify our existence is part of a simulacrum.
Sartres analysis we are born, we exist, and then we search for an
essence. In such metaphysical philosophy, suicide might seem a
tting way out for those failing to nd an essence to life. Or, personal-
ity can only realize itself in death.
For Sartre, however, we have to
decide our own being, pour soi in relation to the alien world, en soi:
what Iris Murdoch describes as mans useless futile passion.
It is no surprise that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
century Munchs modernist images of The Suicide and The Scream
and Masereels series The City of +:j show the city either as a back-
ground or as a site for sickness and death. Munchs images reect the
alienation and anxiety of the age. In a peculiarly Durkheimian way
they refract the relationships of alienation, anomie, unbearable isola-
tion and dissolution. Munchs Scream is the internal cry for help that
the homunculus on the bridge cannot hear, or if you like, a picture of
the inside-out of the self that Frederick Jameson described so well
in Euphoria and Annihilation.
After Nietzsches declaration that God is dead a growing ambiva-
lence developed towards suicide. Suicide clearly lost a source of
meaning. As a result, the suicide, male or female, was seen as pathetic.
Initially, however, suicide was placed in the realms of medical and
psychoanalytic analysis and seen as a result of depressive illness. The
French and the English had been ruthless in sentencing the cadaver,
and right up into the twentieth century the French refused burial to
suicides. Across Europe suicide was decriminalized from the nine-
teenth century, and nally in ++ The Suicide Act removed the
penalties and restrictions from suicidal death in England, and in so
doing recognized that it was not entirely a clinical matter and handed
over the right of choice to the individual. Liberal, but last as usual in
making change, England gave up sentencing the suicide, and rather
than having something to do with changes to legalities per se this
signied a fairly complex shift from public to private sphere in terms
of decision making.
The control and political economy of death
hinted at by Baudrillard has yet to come.
In the early part of the twentieth century, suicide in the public and
highly gendered space of modernism, the city, was regarded as part of
the sad spectacle of modern life (illus. +o8). In one of Masereels
serial images of death in the city, the anonymous crowd is pushed to
the very touchline of life itself, a uniform mass congured as specta-
tors looking upon death. The illustration shows a dead man on the
roadside; in the background the city buildings reach to the very top of
the picture plane, obliterating the sky and leaving no breathing space.
The feeling of urban claustrophobia is enhanced by the passive
crowds viewing the dead man, who is framed in a triangle of light
between the city, the well-dressed bourgeois crowd and the cold black
+o8 Frans Masereel, untitled woodcut from The City, +:j.
triangle of the road. It is not clear whether the dead man is the victim
of an accident or a suicide, and it does not seem to matter. The well-
dressed spectators stand with their arms dependent, hands clasped in
a gesture that implies either helplessness, or the loss of desire to
help. A pace or so away lies the dead man. No one shows a sign of
movement. What appears to be a black police-wagon stands off to the
side. The crowd closes ranks in front of the towering dark buildings,
the front group holding back those gathering behind. A small child
breaks the uniformity and peeps curiously from behind the specta-
tors. The viewer is not put in any position to participate, but is held
back as a spectator on the opposite touchline, spectating life
watching death.
In contrast, in the same series, Masereel shows an industrial acci-
dent, with a mans body at the foot of the scaffolding of a tall new
building. One of his workmates cradles his head, while others stand
around shocked. Three bosses, recognizable by their bowler hats,
stand at the back in deep conversation with a fourth, and appear sepa-
rate from the main group. In the rst image, the city is seen as a site of
alienation, and death is witnessed as a spectacle where a loss of cause
is connoted. In the second is depicted the sheer futility of modern
life, where the cause of death is itself an aspect of modernity.
Indeed, reading these representations of death and suicide in the
period of high modernity, brings to mind the perishability, capri-
ciousness and invisibility of reality described by Foucault and inu-
enced by Nietzsches Will to Power. By the late nineteenth century it
was already clear that suicide was losing its meaning, or rather, in
representation meaning was becoming elided. For Camus, it was life
itself that had become absurd. If suicidal imagery in the nineteenth
century was either a product of anxiety, as in Millais Ophelia, or in
Friths The Road to Ruin, a peevish nger pointed at the aestheticism
of Whistler and Wilde, in the twentieth century representation of
suicide became truly problematic.
In the godless remains of Europe after World War I, suicides
meanings were primarily linked with depression; subsequently suici-
dal representation took on a certain ambivalence, as if life itself were
deemed pointless. It was in Germany, and above all in the anxious
images of Expressionism, that the theme or motif of suicide was most
prevalent in the rst part of the twentieth century. The response of
the German Expressionists to suicide and death was probably a result
of moral indignation levelled at modernity; it was also a reection of
the deep-rooted malaise of what Camus in LHomme Rvolt called
the century of destruction, which manifested itself in a desire to
picture death. At the same time death was being systematically put
under control and the dying removed from sight. The existentialist
philosophy of free will offered by Camus existentialism or Sartres
Marxist humanism insisted that man must make choices without
reference to any pre-established values. The underlying philosophy,
of the need to begin again, and the liberating existentialism of Camus
is given meaning in his Myth of Sisyphus. Both Sartre and Camus
resisted the idea of suicide as an answer to the eternal question of
whether life was worth living. Camus justication for living was that
the absurd was a rejection of suicide; It escapes suicide to the extent
that it is simultaneously awareness and rejection of death.
To be or
not to be.
In Expressionism, moral indignation at suicide and death replaced
the idea of the spirituality of death, and represented their fury at a
world full of immorality. This was a world that the War had lled with
politics, which had led to the new and depressing knowledge of the
irrationality of humankind expressed in Freuds Beyond the Pleasure
Principle. Denying historical specicity, but providing ample food for
thought, Deleuze and Guattari argued that by the +os, with the
realized nihilism of Fascism within Germany a state heading for
destruction, the suicidal state was born.
In this regard we have
come a long way from the antique personication of defeated Gaul,
but the comment does have an uncanny resonance to it.
In an artistic sense, the Dadaists acted out the stupidity and
violence of modern warfare, and gave expression to the contemporary
mood of futility, in an art which was all about the worthlessness and
the psychotic nature of self. Paradoxically, Dada nurtured a belief in
art that meant that actual suicide was avoided, though the path from
Dada led to Jean Tinguelys auto-destructive works, which killed
themselves. Such works of art deconstructed aesthetics, but gave
emphasis to the historical subject and threw light on the problems of
individual status in the modern world.
When Picasso painted the body of his friend Carlos Casagemas in
the Goyaesque Burial of Casagemas, after Casagemas had committed
suicide with a pistol in a caf, he signalled very clearly that for Casage-
mas life was over (illus. +o). The painting of the white, shrouded
cadaver is clearly that of a corpse, the body after death. The trace is
gone, though the shrouded image evokes a tinge of regret or a feeling
of pity for the victim. His face is blank, featureless, and there is an
open tomb to the right, with what looks like a shadowy gure walking
into it. The eight mourners in black shrouds are also featureless, and
adopt various positions that gesture their despondency. However, in
+o Pablo Picasso, Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas, +o+, oil on canvas. Muse dArt
Moderne, Paris.
the heavily painted sky (one that refers to Expressionism and parodies
it), detracting from the sadness of the front scene, two nude female
gures stand together, and three dishabille female gures watch
another naked woman kissing what appears to be the dead man on a
white horse that faces upwards towards heaven. Two children face
outwards arms outstretched, and a further cloaked gure, with a baby
held tight, cuts across the picture plane. In the manner of the rst
exegesis of Herakles, Picasso has painted the nineteen-year-old
Casagemas on his way to heaven. In spite of this reference, the heroic
component is lacking. Picassos image lacks contingency, and looks
backwards to call up the Almighty for his dead friend. The equivocal
nature of the painting is manifest in the white horse which doubles as
a symbol of desire and instinct, and as transport for the dead body.
Picassos idea of transformation, signied by the heavenly steed, is
also a motif in the early writing and visual works of Ernst Barlach,
where conicting notions of suicidal death can be found. Both
include ideas of resurrection. Inuenced by theosophy (thus having
parallels with Flaxmans Swedenborgian image of Chatterton) and by
Gnostic ideas and, in his earliest works, by Rosicrucian thought,
Barlachs illustrated drama The Dead Day describes a mother who
rst kills the heavenly steed and then herself. This instigates the
death of her son. The lithograph shows the mother pitching
forwards, the knife falling from her left hand (illus. ++o). The gure is
in complete isolation. Like Picassos image of Casagemas, it has lost
its characteristic individuality, though it may be that in both these
cases this has more to do with a concern for the expression of abstract
ideas than is the case with Fuselis Ophelia, described earlier, where
the lack of facial characteristics signies the lack of will or character
of the drowning Ophelia. Barlachs The Poor Cousin includes the
suicide of Hans Iver who does away with himself in order to be at one
with God. In The Dead Day death asserts itself and triumphs over the
spiritual world, but this is reversed in the later work when for Iver
death becomes the way home by the shortest possible route. There
are echoes of Pauls epistles in Barlachs text, which, like them, voices
the desire to be with Jesus in heaven.
In +8 Frida Kahlo painted the suicide of her friend Dorothy
Hale. Kahlo shows her plummeting headrst from a New York
skyscraper, surrounded by a ery mist (illus. 88). At the base of the
painting Hale is portrayed on the pavement, looking very much alive.
Similar to Picassos painting of his friend, and no doubt informed by
staunch Catholic beliefs, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale is a response to
the death of a friend; though in contrast to Picassos acceptance of his
friends death and his hope for an afterlife, Kahlos work holds her
friend in stasis, in the present, as fallen, but alive. Is this a modern
Catholic Marian myth in which the artist intervenes between God
and the victim and resurrects her? Or does it refer to Freudian
psychology? In this instance, the splitting appears to act as a visual
image of the two sides of the unconscious drives and aims to keep the
image of the person alive.
Picassos painting gives the victim a send off, but also communi-
cates the sense and feel of Casagemass and Picassos unfullled
desires. However, the drive for death is strong, and so too is the desire
to control death. Kahlos image is not so much a denial of her friends
death as an uncanny representation of an out-of-body image, which
reveals an acceptance of the active nature of suicide and the passive
nature of death. It functions partly to show Kahlos concern for
womans plurality: womans life, womans death and womans life as
death. There is no confusion here between life and death. Life is
death. A year later Kahlo painted The Two Fridas, indicating her
++o Ernst Barlach, Mother Kills Self , lithograph from his play The Dead Day (++:).
insight into the fragmented nature of womans gender identity.
The mistiness around the falling gure of Kahlos friend partially
obscures the body, and makes the whole question of her suicide inde-
terminate. The unclear nature of the death is further enhanced by the
image of Hales stylishly dressed body on the pavement. It is as if
Kahlo and Picasso are searching for a language for suicide and death
in keeping with their strong Catholic beliefs, though Picassos work
may also connote his own anxieties around death and sexuality.
In Picassos and Barlachs images suicidal deaths are held in suspen-
sion or seen as journeys. In general, this notion changed after World
War I, as moral anger at suicide replaced ideas of spirituality; and in
suicidal representations a certain resentment can be traced. Characters
in post-war images of suicide tend to appear as abased humans (illus.
+++). Kthe Kollwitzs Suicide by Drowning shows a woman
descending the steps of a canal with her children. Her woodcut The
Man with a Noose shows an old man looping a rope round a beam. The
gure is clothed in black, his shoulders hunched in a gesture of total
despair, but his head is turned upwards, and his face set on the task of
securing the rope.
More recently, the image is recalled of the old prison librarian
Brooks in the + lm The Shawshank Redemption. After his release
from prison to a halfway house, he slowly and deliberately carves his
name on a beam before hanging himself. His is an interesting case, for
it is freedom that brings his death and his compelling desire to be back
inside. His signature remains as a sign of his life, that Brooks was
here. Despite raising questions about the nature of inside, the genre
of prison lms is interesting in this respect as it raises existential
questions about freedom and escape. Brookss death is as a result of
freedom. Where Picassos image hints at the cause of Casagemass
suicide, and at his unrequited love, in the portrayal of the naked
woman who is placing the young man on the horse, and where Kahlo
questions the idea of cause and images a doubling which is about
womans life, in Kollwitzs woodcut, the cause is life itself. The old
man is sick to death of living. Like Brookss, his death is an escape.
Already killed many times over, Ophelias trace was to reappear in
+8 as a suggestion of Millais Ophelia in Leonor Finis painting of
the same title, where she is portrayed in the same manner, but as a
muddied gure with a tortured expression on her face that ies in the
face of the dreamlike quality invested in Ophelia imagery (illus. 8).
This is a dirty death, and the dirt might symbolize her own entrap-
ment in the plot. Later she appears again, as a spectral abstraction in a
print by William Hayter. In the twentieth century the concept of
Ophelia was constantly evoked in the work of Artaud, Masson,
Redon, Pinkston and Berman. In terms of suicidal discourse these are
not heroic images; rather they invite the spectator to reect on the
cause of death or recall romantic suicide. The ambiguity around
Ophelias death is constantly brought back, and with it the ambiguity
of suicide. When Camus looked around for an example of heroic
death in the twentieth century, he chose to look beyond the Western
world to refer to the political suicides of protest by the Chinese
during the revolution as having honourable considerations.
Though Ophelias death was viewed within discourses on mental
illness and depression, there is a suggestion in these ambivalent
images that meaning might reside with the viewer. They are ambiva-
lent in that they invite speculation, rather than attempting to resolve
method and motive in representation. All meaning is lost in the swirls
of Hayters abstraction, as they call up the abyss, the oblivion of
suicide, though the spectator may nd a call for help in the furious
swirling masses. The vibrations reach out towards the viewer like a
cry for help from the past, but subside inwards more like sound-
+++ Kthe Kollwitz,
Suicide by Drowning,
leaf from Scenes of
Poverty, +o, drawing.
waves than print. There is a presence underneath the surface, perhaps
Ophelia. In +8o, Irnshaw depicts Ophelia in what looks like a garden
pond with a gure running away, her hands clasped over her head to
prevent her hat from coming off (illus. o).
In +y, Antonin Artaud penned his Van Gogh: the Man Suicided by
Society, which resurrected a modern and sinister equivalent of auto-
phoneutes, the person in antiquity ordered to kill himself out of neces-
sity or the sinister equivalent tre suicid (to be suicided), revived in
the Nazi death camps in Germany during the +os and throughout
the war referred to those killed by their persecutors. Artaud may have
been suffering from some instability, but his comment that modern
man has never been able to live, has never thought of living, except
as one possessed, has a poignancy to it.
Artaud claimed that it was
the collective consciousness of society that punished Van Gogh for
escaping from its clutches. That the painters Van Gogh and Jackson
Pollock are held up as the paradigmatic examples of modern author-
ship and yet that both killed themselves (in accidents?) has a dreadful
irony to it. Though impending death has been read into Van Goghs
image of the wheatelds, his death requires an open verdict in the
same way as Pollocks tragic crash in +j.
In Fred Cutters book are two images from a series by Pollock that
carries the ominous title of Ten Ways of Killing Myself (++:) (illus.
++:+). In the catalogue raisonn of Pollocks work they are untitled.
In +y, the picture on the recto was exhibited as Figure Composition.
Cutter indicates that Pollock gave these two drawings the Killing
Myself title. The PollockKrasner House and Study Center have
stated very clearly that whoever decided to call these drawings Ten
Ways of Killing Myself has done a disservice to Pollocks intent.
One might assume from Cutters text that Pollock made personal
statements about his self-destructive nature and about art-as-therapy,
where a cry for help, and the artists survival are both signied.
Indicating the purgatorial power of connotation, and the desire to
name, these drawings have been given a title and thus a meaning. The
notebooks, produced while Pollock was undergoing therapy with the
Jungian doctor Violet Staub de Laszlo, are crammed with abstract
images inuenced by Orozco, Miro, Picasso and by Native American
symbolism. They represent a certain self-consciousness about death
rather than an inscription of suicidal death upon an other. His thera-
pist, de Laszlo, encouraged Pollock to bring along drawings to the
sessions, and it may even have been that he paid for some of the ther-
apy with his works.
After World War II, death took over from sex as the prime social
taboo. Some o or so years later, the AIDS crisis brought the two
together. Before that, death was conned to private life. Aris has
argued that the beginning of the twentieth century saw the removal of
death from society. By lming his own suicide, the Japanese lm
director Yukio Mishima helped to break that conspiratorial silence
around suicide, and parodied and paid lip service to the problem of
suicide by capturing a continuing aspect of suicidal imaging in high
art, that death is a thing of beauty, but equally a destroyer of beauty.
That is the paradox that we are left with.
Since then, the media: press, photography, video-lm and televi-
sion have provided the public with a pornography of violence and
spectacle. There is no need to go outdoors to wait and watch for
death. The pleasure principle has gone so too has the reality of
death. In the suicidal images of Warhol and in his death series can be
seen the beginnings of Baudrillards volatilization of the real, where
real death becomes an allegory of itself.
With the apotheosis of Marilyn Monroe after her apparent suicide
++:, ++ Jackson Pollock,
Figure Composition,
++:, each side of a
double-sided sheet of
in +:, the iconic trace is stronger than ever before but, in general,
there is an awful commodication in the images of the suicidal
Monroe they are all image. Warhols rst Marilyn was completed two
years after her death. Monroe appears as the vacuous blond, an empty
signier, fragmented; but unlike Ophelia, who is given shape (be it
diffuse) by the artist, Monroe waits to be given her shape and meaning
by the male audience. There is no value judgement of the suicide in
these pictures. One might assume that judgement is left open for the
spectator. Lucy Lippards examination of the death-and-disaster
series is correct when she states that choice is with the viewer.
Monroes death and subsequent imaging gave the male audience a
modern Ophelia to consume in the way Grasset gave the n-de-sicle a
Lucretia. Lippards comment that after World War II the tear glands
of the world dried up from over use is a useful starting point for an
analysis of Warhols death scenes.
Warhols position in the work is as
an uninvolved spectator but a man haunted by death.
Though not
overtly practising his faith, Warhol was a Catholic, and the fact that
death was a constant theme and a process in his work requires some
explication. It may be that unforeseen death still carried a medieval
fascination for Warhol, or that his early Roman Catholic teaching
with its visions of hell motivated his fascination for violent and
unforeseen death. What is clear is that in direct contrast to Picassos
image, Warhols suicidal images verge on ideas of simulation, or
represent an attempt to produce a high modernist history painting.
Warhols screen-prints and paintings reverse the Christian ideas of
an afterlife in heaven that underlay Picassos work to commit the dead
to total and lasting extinction. Warhols dead, sometimes famous,
sometimes anonymous, are committed to be image. They are denied a
disposal. The real presence was Warhol. The process of transforming
a news photo on to silk screens or canvas mechanically, and then
repeating it, has less to do with the machine aesthetic, or machine as
killer, than the machine as anaesthetic. If the photograph is a repre-
sentation of the original death, then the medium of silk-screen is
distanced even further from the original accident via the indifferent
medium of photography and its technical processes, so that the nal
images are twice removed from their source and therefore meaning-
less. There is evidence from Henry Geldzahler, an acquaintance of
Warhol and a curator, that Andy Warhol was particularly anxious
about suicide and that his motivation in these pictures was to negate
the strength of death.
In effect, Warhol committed emotional
suicide. His anxieties over death and suicide found expression in his
death-and-disaster series, where he worked through his own prob-
lems on life and death and which, in this case, were a genuine cry for
help from the artist and not about the victim.
With as much emotion as communicated by the soup cans, the o
or so repetitive images of Monroe aimed at making screens of her
beautiful face transformed Marilyns beauty into a ction. The gold
paint, a deliberate reference to religious icons, meant Warhol came
very close to placing Monroe back in a past time, while emphasizing
her iconic quality as a screen goddess in the present; though the
emphasis on Marilyns masquerade, in the changing make-up between
the differing images, detracts from this and gives her a two-dimen-
sional quality. These images act more as a disclaimer of beauty and of
death than anything else. Hughess description of them as taxidermic
portraits of the dead Monroe says as much about Hughes as it does
about Warhol.
The reverential title of the +y Australian show Homage to Mari-
lyn leaves little, if any, doubt as to what the show was about and in
doing so gives a clue to what was included and, of course, excluded
from the exhibition. Cutter notes two important exclusions, both
images by women painters: Sahri Shermans Death of a Goddess and
Guilly Joffrins The Death of Marilyn Monroe. Joffrins image shows
the dead woman on her bed. This is clearly not in the nature of a
homage, though the beauty of the still gure is caught at the moment
of death. After her suicide, the Los Angeles Times for Monday
August +: carried Monroes photograph over the caption: Help
She Needed to Find Self Eluded Marilyn All Her Life. In this case
the cry for help came far too late. Marilyn, according to this paper,
never found her self. Shermans and Joffrins pictures reveal the worst
that can happen when the cry is not heard or passed over. Both depict
the dead body. Connotation being what it is, there is an intriguing
muddle here with the deaths of Ophelia and Lucretia, where the myth
of these heroic women intervenes in the process of reading, and we
either attempt to make the leap of faith, and believe in the sense we do
with the heroic death of Lucretia; or leave it, with the thought that
the image reveals the deep and active desire to die by ones own hand.
Joffrins painting represents the passive accident of her death as in the
case of Ophelia. In truth it is neither, and it does not x an identity in
the way Warhols mechanical image-sign does.
Often seen as making a social comment on the dehumanization of
modern life, Warhols images seem to have more to do with self than
other, where the repetition of the image aims to neutralize the horror
for Warhol, but somehow fails miserably for us, the spectator. Review-
ing Warhols Whitney exhibition in +y+, and referring to the artists
existentialist edge, Lawrence Alloway describes White (illus.
++) as a remarkable image of a suicide who jumped and fell onto a
car and the roof buckled around her body, (like a bed or a crusade
The condition of being an uninvolved spectator may well be a
part of Warhols relationship with these images and their sources, but
not far below the conscious surface of these texts there is an artistic
attempt at mastery over deeper anxieties of dying and death as a
theme and process in the death series. In his +8y eulogy to Amer-
icas Most Famous Artist the art dealer Pierre Nahon described the
death series as metaphorical works of art, which made obvious the
vanity of our world and the cruelty of its psychological destiny.
Clearly, Warhols deep-rooted Roman Catholic fears and sense of
presence led him towards drawing an image of death that appeared
matter-of-fact; but the fact of the superciality of modern life is dealt
with in the content. The meanings of suicide lie both inside the image
and in Warhol himself or with the spectator. In the process, the
suicidal subject shifts away from Durkheimian portrayals of alien-
ation, anomie and madness to self-portraits of general fragmentation.
It is no wonder Ophelia stays the course and the painter stays whole.
One gets the sense, the feel of an exorcism in the works of Warhol.
In the +os, the projection of the historical subject in the era of
modernity was killed off and replaced by a split subject. In turn hell
and heaven were marginalized; though for some heaven, and perhaps
hell too, was on earth. From then on, according to Baudrillard, media
coverage of death resembles a simulacrum. The simulacrum has an
obvious sensual appeal to it but, in this case, disengages the signier
suicide from its historical roots and this uncoupling fails miserably to
explain and probe its contemporary history. The late-twentieth-
century artist has shied away from an analysis of suicide, one that
separates suicide from society and the sociological aspect. Yet along
with the depthlessness is a forestalling that veers away from a critical
analysis of the discursivity of suicide and the power struggles
contained within these texts.
Joffrins painting attempts to re-place the dead Marilyn as a subject
and is a dialogue with the inequality of treatment that woman has
suffered in representation. Warhols mechanical images are signs only
of his-self. As I have already hinted, if the representation and reality
of suicidal death is to be further investigated in postmodernity, a
history of the symbolic order will be required that will unveil the class
and gendered nature of death in all epochs and reconsider the decen-
tred self, or the disappearance of self in historical terms. Beneath the
++ Andy Warhol, Suicide (also known as White), +y+, acrylic and silkscreen ink on
canvas. Collection of the Dia Art Foundation, Bridgehampton, NY.
art of suicide we have witnessed a historical domination at work. Even
in the twentieth century, where suicide appeared increasingly super-
cial, works of art helped to create our pathology; and the images we
absorbed worked to dene our bodies and minds, and ameliorate and
maintain, or debase and destroy, the social system in which we live.
These suicide texts are, however, part of that social system, part of
an ideological sign system, and the power that directs them needs to
be analysed as part of that social structure. Under the umbrella of
postmodernity, and on the world wide web, suicides representations
are even further removed from the deathlike photographic negative
which Warhol imaged, but they are not, and can never be, detached
from the social reality that knitted them together. The self-conscious-
ness of modernism has been replaced with a postmodern conscious
acceptance of the aesthetic in which suicide is once again being ques-
tioned in visual and legal discourse. At the beginning of the twenty-
rst century suicide is linked to a different spirituality, a different
social clime, and made problematic in terms of economies in a period
where many people may no longer deem it either practical or tting to
keep folk alive against their will.
++j The Heavens Gate suicides, March +y.
We know that it is only while we are in these physical vehicles
(bodies) that we can learn the lessons needed to complete our
own individual transition, as well as offering the Kingdom of
Heaven to this civilisation for the last time We fully desire,
expect and look forward to boarding a spacecraft from the Next
level very soon (in our physical bodies) It could happen that
before our spacecraft comes, one or more of us could lose our
physical vehicles (bodies) due to recall, accident, or at the hands
of some irate individual or there could be attempts to incar-
cerate us or to subject us to some sort of psychological or physical
torture (such as occurred at both Ruby Ridge and Waco).
By the time you read this, we suspect that the human bodies we
were wearing have been found and that a urry of fragmented
reports have begun to hit the wire services.
The Heavens Gate mass suicide promises to be the rst great
Internet mystery. When the members of the UFO/computer
cult shed their containers they left behind a trove of clues on
the Internet about their work, their suicide and the Hale Bopp

As reported in the Jan/Feb issue of the Ragged Edge,

Kevorkian, yo, has killed +o disabled people in his 8-year
spree. I nd Kevorkians campaign and message terrifying,
and the absence of critical comment even more so. For example,
the USs most respected TV news show o Minutes recently
ran Kevorkians own video tape of him actively killing a man
with ALS.

On the twentieth-century terrain of wicked categories individual

suicide became marginalized. Decriminalized and superseded by
mass destruction and the mass suicides of the late twentieth century,
such as Heavens Gate, represented on the Internet, the suicide is
buried, disposed of in the churchyard if requested, and though sad, is
treated as everyday. Confronted by actual images of individual suicide
on video lm by Dr Jack Kevorkian, known as Dr Death, convicted
in + for murder in the United States, the reader is presented with a
different picture. Here, in these cases, the visual representation is of
the dead bodies, and of the actual death of the victim. In the case of
Heavens Gate suicide the images takes on a ctive aspect, despite
their investment as documentary evidence. The colours do not shock,
the cropping does not give a particular view that enhances the horror
of it all, the small pictures are reminiscent of Warhols death-and-
disaster scenes but more passive. Further to this, the text assigns these
voluntary deaths mystical and religious meaning, the souls are
recalled, the physical bodies they were wearing are left behind in
the transition. Concomitantly, they are commodied, and their
capacity as record is made problematic. For those who visit the
website to see the shells of those bodies it will be a real test of their
imaginativeness to call up the experience of these sad deaths. Rather
than have a kind of afterlife in the manner of Lucretia, these repre-
sentations are consigned to their website limbo held in stasis. Pecu-
liarly, I have the sense of an unburied body.
Notwithstanding, suicide is here linked to the spiritual; the website
images of the self-annihilation of Heavens Gate do indeed have an
eerie, unworldly stillness to them. The wish to quit the world for the
Kingdom of Heaven also recalls the dramatic mass suicide of Masada,
and the posed threat to their existence by psychological or physical
torture, whether real or imagined makes their last words resound nois-
ily in the light of the history of suicide. In this case, there is little doubt
that suicide has been endowed with religious meaning. For the late-
twentieth-century viewer however those meanings are lost.
In the now notorious case of the American doctor Jack Kevorkian,
suicide is, in his argument, a celebration of self-determination.
the United States three-fths of Americas states prohibit suicide.
Kevorkian had already been to court several times and been acquitted.
It is not Kevorkians campaign I am interested in here, but the video
image, the only image I shall refer to that is of a real-life killing.
Early in + I watched a programme on British television about
Kervorkian, Dr Death, who had recently been imprisoned for carry-
ing out an assisted suicide. Kevorkian has been the focus of a
campaign to legalize the deed. Recorded by the video camera, he
administered a lethal injection to a terminally ill man, and on the tele-
vision screen the viewer was allowed to watch a man die. The mass
audience watched a man killed. There was no historical problem
here of who the image was of, or for, or who the audience were. It was
lmed for a mass audience as evidence, and in order to explicitly fore-
ground a particular belief in the right to die or choose death when the
pain of life becomes too much. The suffering of the man was evident.
However, and this is highly tting for the study of suicides repre-
sentation, the lm subsequently became evidence of another sort in
the trial and conviction of the doctor. The legalities were complex;
but, as the lethal dose was administered by another, it was deemed by
the American jury to constitute murder, rather than euthanasia or
assisted suicide. Shifting the emphasis from the crime to the crimi-
nal, the prosecution saw the victims sickness and vulnerability as no
good reason for the assisted suicide, but placed stress on the fact
that Kevorkian (like the artist?) was looking for victims. Clearly, the
questions revolving around any one suicide are extremely complex,
moral and emotional issues. After watching the programme, it
occurred to me that the problem of obfuscation that surrounds the
issue in law was not dissimilar to the obfuscation that surrounds the
history and analysis of suicide and its representation.
For me it was a poignant image and a telling case that made the
painted or graphic representation seem supercial and fragile, and the
notion of interjection redundant. It raised numerous questions about
my topic, not least that of the nature of evidence and its multiplicity
or duplicity, and the notable absence of photographic representation
in my work, but also forced me to confront important bioethical ques-
tions on the right to die and my own deeper motives for my work. At
rst, faced with the reality of seeing an actual death on the screen, the
other reality, that of the sense and feel of discourse, paled into
insignicance. Do we have the right to choose to die? Who will have
the right to make decisions concerning death? How will we make
these decisions. Do we ever have the right to take life?
To be sure, I have hinted in my text that the recent interest in
death and suicide might well be the working through of an agenda on
the operation of death and dying as a social service. If the reader has
been reading below the text and thinks that there is a certain
inevitability in the change to the law, I think that is probably the case.
The central and worrying question concerns abuse. The video lm
also indicated that there was an agenda in which popular support for
a change in legislation is widespread. Yet, like the paintings, it too
was a representation and my perception of the video a representation
itself. Mechanical reproduction has an uncanny knack of disposing
of the subject.
There is a problem here of nding new contexts for examining
these images against the traditional contexts for studies of suicide;
the statistical approach, ego psychology and Durkheimian posi-
tivism. Truthfully, if a synthesis of previous stories comes about in
this history of suicide, it is due to the fact that the art of suicide
rejected most of these approaches and replaced them by a search for
meaning. And, stemming from this, it is difcult to displace ortho-
doxies in a eld so full of ambiguity.
How do these images invoke the life of signs in society? What then
is the context for the late twentieth century and for the early twenty-
rst century? Giving emphasis to Baudrillards simulacrum, the
photographic signiers on the net of the victims of Heavens Gate
have a supercial deathlike quality. One has to ask, however, if such a
detachment from the sign veils the power of submerged grammar and
negates the experience of authority that these images project.
As I have mentioned already, the block of images by the American
Photo Syndicate are uncannily like Warhols format for his death-and-
disaster series, but showing different bodies in similar clothing (illus.
++j). Like a sheet of stamps they arouse little emotion, little feeling at
all. They could be asleep, but we know they are not. The pictures are
dispiriting and sad, the victims anonymous; to date they represent the
ultimate in mechanical reproduction and the similarity of each body to
another, and though one recalls Warhols replications of Marilyn these
are different people. These gures remain distant, unfamiliar.
Once again in the history of suicide, the thin crust of representa-
tion is beginning to be worn away as these pictures question the deno-
tative power of images. It would appear to be death that is trivialized
here, made supercial, part of the practice of simulation. Neverthe-
less, the consensual element of the death of these : persons demon-
strates the negative face of social control in a period of bewildering
change. They also look back in history to arcane mass suicides. To
consider that they do not make sense in a post-Christian era is to deny
them a history. However, one can no more assume a pre-existent
context for these images than for any other in this problematic history.
At each step of the way, I have undertaken to reconstitute as repre-
sented the differing traces in order to establish the nature of suicides
meanings. In the course of this long history, I allowed the mobility of
the sign suicide to take me along and, at times, the perplexing histori-
cal traces and relays that disallow simple denition left me hanging (if
you forgive the expression). The focus on the image-meaning poten-
tial of these images has also meant that the images have not been
discussed as physical objects, and the consequent gaps in chronology
and glosses will be apparent. How to give expression to the gaps and
discontinuities in writing and the visual created problems of a differ-
ent historical nature. How do we ll a gap? For example, how do we
describe something that is as elusive as suicide in Early Christianity or
in the medieval period? I think we have to try.
In the process of writing, the simple binary of good or bad deaths
that informed my semiotic approach collapsed under the weight of
history, the grey areas, and the slippages and shifts that occurred.
This was particularly clear with the Judas/Jesus binary, where the
elusiveness of the evidence also meant a partial construction may have
emerged. Historically, suicides heroic cause became lost in the play
between method and motive, and was nally eluded in representa-
tions where suicide became submerged in the subtext.
For the twenty-rst-century historian of suicide there is still a
difcult task ahead. The phenomenon of mass suicide will require
further explication, as will the twentieth-century notion of human
rights. Photography, television, lm, and now the world wide web will
need consideration. One will need to think over the ambivalence
which has developed in the late twentieth century towards suicidal
death, as a product of these media and their willingness to portray the
dead body, since this might include the lming of actual suicide in
newsreels and so on.
As a response to the historical problem of reading images across
time, I was obliged to adopt a more self-critical analysis where in each
case the concept of suicide was evoked and then questioned. In the
meeting of the different processes that make up the sign suicide I
have probably only touched upon the vast array of life-signs that
contribute to its meaning. The value of semiotics in a broad sense, as a
tool for understanding the nature of art and arts continuing contri-
bution to the construction of meanings of suicidal death, has been
benecial. I may have lled a small gap in this history.
Throughout the work, I have wrestled with the context, always look-
ing for and trying to provide something that does not look or feel like a
stage setting or a backdrop. At times, this has forced the images to the
margins. The rapid expansion of writing and representation in the eigh-
teenth century were cases in point, and clearly brought with it other
problems. This was relevant to my case study of the late eighteenth to
early nineteenth-century An English Dance of Death?, where the
actual growth of suicidal discourse and overexposure by the press
helped to create the English Malady. In turn, this heralded new
forms of graphic realism in the nineteenth century, which played
upon the personal tragedies and death of others.
The quest for context also led me to try different ways to question
context. The diachronic survey element of the early history, and the
more synchronic elements of the later, provide evidence that the
latter gives rise to unique and differing congurations, whereas the
long history shows a more linear shifting. There is little doubt that
this reects the lack of extant images for the earlier period and is an
effect of the differing historical modes. The diachronic survey gave
rise to the exacting task of trying to grasp the varying social, cultural
and collective consciences of differing cultures and societies across a
long period of time.
All through, this has been a struggle, yet I have stayed with my task
and argued that images of suicide from differing geographies,
cultures and religious settings generate multiple meanings. I have not
particularly interrogated the reasons why artists were drawn to these
images, or why so many artists may have committed suicide them-
selves, though the centrality of anxiety and desire in the artistic self
has been offered as an explanation for the attraction of death, espe-
cially the death of beautiful women.
Art, rather than civilizing in the sense Kenneth Clark spoke of, is
perhaps more to do with ordering emotional experience in the way Ella
Freeman Sharpe addressed, and which cannot be communicated in

In Sharpes analysis it would be introjection and projection that

are at the core of suicidal imagery and would seek to preserve self and
master the object. Yet, there has always been an element of magic in art
and the desire to control is strong, the quest for pleasure constant.
The notion of intention is always problematic, but it has to be
considered. The tendency of other writers in the eld has been to see
artistic intention as moral, or to see these images in the art historical
sense as memento mori. That the search has unearthed very few images
of the dead body, and only one image of delement, however, ques-
tions their status as memento mori. Most have caught the body before
the act. In most cases what survives is the trace, which is never
destroyed. The moral slant, however, is exampled by Judas as a
statement of how not to die. Yet the power of these images is that they
cast doubt upon the straightforward idea of a passage from life to
death and cut radically across linear time sequences.
Bearing in mind the problem of extant images, what is apparent in
this history is that images of suicide have not always been a part of
cultural history and philosophy. It is only from the early modern
period, and in the modern period, where a sense of self came about,
that the body became of particular importance and suicidal death
began to be regularly imaged. I would argue, however, that it is incor-
rect to assume that important questions were not asked before they
were written, and it would be unsound too, to ignore them as context.
In the nineteenth century, the resurrection of Hamlets lure, Ophelia,
raises questions about this. In this sense, the networks of signiers
and texts from differing periods acted as context for later periods
where life itself is ctionalized. Finally, in Ophelias case, ction
became life.
A rewarding aspect has been the discovery of individuals like
Vicesimus Knox and their commentary. Knox wrote his Essays in
+yy8, and articulated with some clarity the notion that images carry
extremely powerful messages and can be inuential in causing
suicide. Knoxs statements have been in my mind throughout. His
clever notion that the idea from a work of art be caught at a glance
has been a thread that runs through the work.
In answer to Knox, I
would say that nothing is self-evident.
In my reading of visual representations of suicide I have tried to
consider this agenda and to combine disciplines into a unied subject.
It has been a battle. More work will need to be done if a translinguis-
tic approach is to be developed where disciplinary boundaries and the
pejorative suicide is truly broken down. Despite the difcult nature of
the engagement, the study of the visual history of the last taboo has
been a fruitful one. Suicide has been seen to be an expedient outlet for
intellectual debate, an exorcism, philosophy, aesthetics and moral
opinion. If images of suicide say one thing above all, it is that this
strange death has never had a xed meaning. It is tempting too, to say
that in the twentieth century, when art stopped being a means of
representing and became destructive, the art historians task became
intertwined with that of the suicidologist and the correct topic for
study became death.
In truth, visual representations of suicide ceased to image the
external reality of death and began to focus on the canvas surface,
but, underneath that, the all-important appearance, the subjects rela-
tionship with the world and the work of art are brought together.
Visual representation has thus turned its gaze on the problematic
nature of suicide and the identity of the subject to turn the image
outside-in. The unconscious apart, images of suicide indicate that the
outside world is within all of us. That so many of these images are of
women indicates that the visual representation of suicide is less about
self-killing than male visual discourse about Woman. The connec-
tions and interrelations of these internal relationships with modes of
visual representation and social forms of domination still need to be
addressed further if a common culture is to emerge where suicide is
truly understood.
Down Among the Empty Boats
Sonia Lawsons recent painting Down Among the Empty Boats indi-
cates the continuing presence of suicidal death in art and enduring
fascination with self-slaughter for artists and how, above all, oil on
canvas can truly capture the unfeigned horror of pending self-slaugh-
ter. This late-twentieth-century image of a distressed woman among
the cobles wielding a large knife does not call up an Ophelia, nor a
Lucretia. It pictures a determined woman bent on destruction,
drifting among womb-like empty boats (illus. +).
What messages and meanings does this sanguine image actually
project? When I came across it, I immediately saw it as a suicidal
representation. But is it a suicide? Her loneliness and her demeanour
imply she will kill herself. In the artists words, the woman is caught
between the land and the beginnings of the innite sea (an ambigu-
ous zone literally and metaphorically), the atmosphere is dark and
louring, the red dress connotes sanguinity. This is someone on the
edge, nally being in charge.
The lonely woman is about to kill herself, the boats, those powerful
symbols of the womb, stand wanting, vehicles or symbols of the
womans body. The red of her dress invades her very self, and imports
both her irrationality and the inevitable bloody sacrice. A deeper
symbolism is implied that this woman is caught in the liminal zone
between the ebb and ow of the tide, neither land, neither sea, never
herself. Not to be.
Lawsons image, like others from the postmodern period, is I
believe, relevant to the sanctity of life argument. Throughout their
recent history, images of suicide raise troubling questions about
rights. The right to die is still denied to us by law, unless the doctor,
the lawyer or the state allows it. Above all, the reason for this is that
end-of-life choices impact on the problematic notion of individual
rights. If, however, the legal problem is seen as one of nomenclature
and language, and I believe that the history of the art of suicide above
might bolster this opinion, then the paternalistic models of history
and the legal system will need to be questioned. The way forward is to
challenge ontological approaches with a deontological one.

then can the debate be shifted from the ambiguous notion of rights.
For me, these images give rise to these debates, help to form them,
and in some cases, actively take part in them.
+ P. Veyne, Comment on ecrit lhistoire: Suivi de Foucault revolutionne lhistoire (Paris,
+y8), p. :. In Veynes tribute to Foucault he indicates that each age might
recongure or resignify elds of discourse and make them unique. Veynes idea
facilitates a further shift from a totalizing history that is determined by the
economic to one that considers successive relationships to objects and to
objectications that, in this case, might resignify suicidal death.
: M. Foucault, Right of Death and Power over Life, in Foucault, History of
Sexuality, vol. r (London, +y8), pp. +8.
C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Culture (London, +yj), p. 8.
E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England .,cc.,Sc
(New Haven and London, +:).
j M. MacDonald and T. R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern
England (Oxford, +o), pp. jy.
L. Nead, Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain
(Oxford, +8), pp. +8. Neads analysis of prostitution in visual
representation and the visual links made with suicide demonstrates the potential
of applying Foucaults ideas of power in Discipline and Punish, trans. A. Sheridan
(New York, +yy). See also Seduction, Prostitution, Suicide: On the Brink by
Alfred Elmore, Art History, v/ (September +8:).
. Representing Voluntary Death in Classical Antiquity
+ B. Russell, The History of Western Philosophy (London, ++), p. +8. That
suicide was deemed unlawful in Orphic tradition gives emphasis to Socrates
death as forced murder by poison: We are strangers in this world and the body is
the tomb of the soul, and yet we must not seek to escape by self-murder we
have no right to make an escape, J. Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (London,
+o), p. +o8. Also see W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, vol. r
(London, +8). These works imply that classical antiquity may not have been as
open as previously thought in its treatment of suicide, though to prove otherwise
would be difcult as epigraphic sources are limited: P.Veyne, Suicide, sc,
esclavage, capital et droit romain, Latomus, o (+8+), pp. :+y8; A. J. L. van
Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical Antiquity (London
and New York, +o); M. F. Grifn, Philosophy, Cato and Roman Suicide, I &
II, Greece and Rome, xxxrrr/r (April +8), pp. yy. J. M. Cooper, Greek
Philosophers on Euthanasia and Suicide, in B. A. Brody, ed., Suicide and
Euthanasia: Historical and Contemporary Themes (Dordrecht, Boston and
London, +8).
: J. Elsner, ed., Art and Text in Roman Culture (Cambridge, +).
Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. j. See also L. Burn, The British
Museum Book of Greek and Roman Art (London, ++).
D. Novak, Suicide and Morality: The Theories of Plato, Aquinas and Kant and
Their Relevance for Suicidology (New York, +yj).
j R. Garland, Death Without Dishonour: Suicide in the Ancient World, History
Today, xxxrrr (+8), p. j. Slaves, soldiers and those charged with capital
offences were forbidden to take their lives. See also A. H. W. Adkins, Moral
Values and Political Behaviour in Ancient Greece (London, +y:).
Plato (:y-y uc), The Trial and Death of Socrates, trans. J. Warrington
(London, +), p. . See also R. G. Frey, Did Socrates Commit Suicide?,
Philosophy, j (+y8).
y D.Gourevitch, Suicide Among the Sick in Classical Antiquity, Bulletin: History
of Medicine, (+), pp. jo++8.
8 Plato, Socrates, John Warringtons introduction, p. xiv.
D. Daube, The Linguistics of Suicide, Philosophy and Public Affairs, r (+y:),
p. o.
+o J. M. Cooper, Greek Philosophers on Euthanasia and Suicide.
++ Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide. See also Cooper, Greek Philosophers
on Euthanasia and Suicide.
+: Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide.
+ A. Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. r, The Violent Against Themselves
(Oxford and New York, +8), p. 8.
+ D. W. Amundsen, Suicide and Early Christian Values, in Brody, Suicide and
Euthanasia, pp. 8o8+.
+j M. MacDonald and T. R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern
England (Oxford, +o), pp. +j+ and pp. :y. For a critical review: D. Friest,
Social History : (May +:), pp. joj.
+ Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. +yj.
+y R. Wilie, Views on Suicide and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy and Some Related
Contemporary Points of View, Prudentia, j (May +y), pp. +j:; Van Hooff,
From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. +yj. See also R. Garland, The Greek Way of
Death (London, +8j); E. Vermeule, Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and
Poetry (Berkeley, +y).
+8 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. +yj, is citing Philostratos,
Eikones, +, .
+ Ibid., p. +yj, citing Eikones, +, +:+.
:o Plato, Apology in Socrates, p. x.
:+ T. K. Hubbard, Nature and Art in the Shield of Achilles, Arion, /+ (Winter
:: S. Freud, Collected Works (London, +::), p. ++. See especially the essays
Medusas Head and Civilisation and its Discontents, where Freud states that
the desire for destruction when it is directed inwards mostly eludes our
perception unless it tinged with eroticism.
: Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. +y. O. Touchefen, ed., Lexicon
Iconographicum Classicae (Zurich, +8+) contains a list of 8 objets dart featuring
Ajaxs death.
: C. James, Whether tis nobler. Some Thoughts on the fate of Sophocles Ajax
and Euripides Heracles, Pegasus, +: (+).
:j R. Flaciere and J. Devambez, Heracles, Images et recits (Paris, +), p. :. See
also J. D. Beazley, Red Attic Figure-Vases, vol. : (Oxford, +); A. R. Rose,
Seneca and Suicide. The End of the Hercules Furens, Classical Outlook, o
(+8), pp. +o++.
: Plato, Apology.
:y Ibid.
:8 Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J. E. King (London and New York, +:y) +,
y. In the writings of Cicero and Seneca Cato and Socrates migrate from
darkness to light. It is clear that fear gave them the right to die. See also Van
Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. :y; F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die
(Chicago, +8), p. . Cutter mentions that a Hellenistic sculptured relief of
c. :oo uc depicts Socrates drinking the hemlock. No location is given for this work.
: J. D. Tabor, A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom Among Christians and Jews in
Antiquity (San Francisco, +:), pp. +y:+; Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to
Suicide, p. +o, drawing on the work of J. Baechler, Les Suicides (Paris, +yj). Van
Hooff points out that the self-killer was part of a cosmos, p. +8. To affect that
cosmos was to affect nature itself. Self would be to some extent determined by
that cosmos, or by community. Although self-killing implies one sees oneself as
an object the historical specicity of self must be born in mind.
o E. Durkheim, Suicide, trans. J. A. Spaulding and G. Simpson (London, +j:).
Durkheim divides suicide into four categories; egoistic (much overestimated in
his account at the expense of) altruistic, anomic and fatalistic. See also S. Taylor,
Durkheim and the Study of Suicide (London, +8:).
+ F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, The Lure of Classical Sculpture
(New Haven and London, +8+), pp. ::j and :8:.
: Ibid.
G. Bazin, A History of World Sculpture (New York and Greenwich, c+, +8),
p. jo+.
C. Mitchell Havelock, Hellenistic Art (London, +y+), pp. +j and +j. See
also J. Pollitt, The Ancient View of Greek Art (London, +y) pp. ++j. In a
discussion of naturalism versus realism Pollitt states that the rst professional
treatise on sculpture was that of Polyclitus in the fth century uc, framing ideas
of beauty and the commensurability of the body.
j E. Q. Visconti, Opere var italiana francesci (Milan, +8:y+), pp. :j; M.
Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age (New York, ++), p. +:; Bazin,
History of World Sculpture, p. jo+. Also Haskell and Penny, Taste and the Antique,
p. :8:. Perhaps indicating the ambiguity of suicide itself the writers above
conrm that the statue has been taken to be representations of Sextus Marius
killing his daughter to protect her from the lust of Tiberius, and that he himself
had been accused of incest with the girl. At different times it has been
mistranslated as Pyramus and Thisbe (Pyramus is killed rst in Ovids story). See
Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford and New York, +8), p. y8.
J. Charbonneaux, Hellenistic Art (London, +y); Y. Gris, Le Suicide dans le
Rome antique (Montreal and Paris, +8).
y Bazin, History of World Sculpture, p. jo+.
8 R. Brilliant, Portraiture (London, ++). Brilliants notion of the authority of
likeness and authenticity of the autoicon is more readily seen in funerary
sculpture where it is employed to enhance the once lived quality of the original,
pp. +:j+.
N. Llewellyn, The Art of Death (London, ++), p. j. Llewellyns argument that
the body portrayed does not constitute an iconic sign is pertinent in this case,
though the power of the sculpture to portray the natural body and effectively
cloak the social body and suppress representation makes for a problem of
analysis. My analysis attempts to reveal the strategies that give off this effect. In
this sense, the reality (realism) is a signifying practice.
o J. Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G. Spivak (Baltimore, +y), pp. +j and
::. See also Charbonneaux, Hellenistic Art, p. ::.
+ A. Vernhet, Une four de la Graufensengue, Gallia, (+8+), p. for the story
of foot soldier Tiberius Claudius who decapitated Decebulus and gained
immediate and immense popularity.
: J. Winckelmann, Monumenti antchi inediti, : vols (Rome, +yy). The work has
been referred to as The African Fisherman. See, for example, the cover to Seneca,
Four Tragedies and Octavia, trans. E. F. Watling (Harmondsworth, +y:). The
images history is evidence of the desire to name. It could be a slave and therefore
might represent all slaves. See Rose, Seneca and Suicide, pp. +o++.
Haskell and Penny, Taste and the Antique, pp. :8:.
Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, p. +:.
j J. Forsyth, Remarks on Antiquities, Arts and Letters during an Excursion in Italy in
the years .Sc: and .Sc (London, +8+). Forsyth comments: These busts are all
anonymous, authenticated by no model, and as questionable as the genius of
Seneca himself , p. :.
J. Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political
Thought (Oxford, +8).
y Ibid.
8 Ovid, Metamorphoses, pp. y. See also C. Segal, Ovids Metamorphic Bodies:
Art Gender and Violence in the Metamorphoses, Arion, j/ (Winter, +).
F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, p. :o+. Cutters example is evidence of the
changing meanings given to suicide where the image is re-spoken. In this case the
pagan is turned into the Christian. The conversion has more obvious meanings in
the context of Christianity as a proselytizing religion.
jo M. Grant, Myths of the Greeks and Romans (London, +), p. 8:. The original
text uses the expression mischance, p. y8. The translator also notes that visual
adaptations occurred through to the nineteenth century, p. xxxvii. See M. Grant
and J. Hazel, Whos Who in Classical Mythology (London, +). My concern is
with myth as a second order semiotic system in the sense Barthes spoke of in
Mythologies (London, +y).
j+ An image of Canace can be found in Garland, The Greek Way of Death, p. .
j: Y. Gris, De la frequence du suicide chez les Romains, Latomus, (+8o),
pp. +. See also I. Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia. A Myth and its
Transformations (Oxford, +8:). Donaldson refers to images contradicting Gris,
but gives no clue to their whereabouts. Van Hooff s reference to Plinys Naturalis
Historia, , :8, indicates there were no statues devoted to Lucretia among the
Roman heroes and heroines (From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. :8y). It was in the
Renaissance, when the notion of honour became an accepted norm, that Lucretia
could serve as a positive example of female virtue. See also M. Warner, Alone of
all her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York, +8); P. Schmitt-
Pantel and A. Goldhammer, A History of Women in the West, vol. r (+:). The
latter notes the dearth of information on women in ofcial sources and the
profusion of texts and images created by men that are concerned with women
and gender.
j J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (London, +:y). The dual importance of this
citation is that it illustrates that the traces of these suicides linger on as the play of
the cosmic and the natural combine. It was hanging, not suicide per se, that was a
bad death in antiquity. Hanging, however, has a fairly imperspicuous and
complicated symbolic history. The victim of hanging is caught between heaven
and earth left in suspension. Jung saw hanging as a tense expectation or
unfullled desire, see K. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, in Collected Works,
vol. v (London, +j). It also has to be seen as a tting end to a heinous life: Van
Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. +j. Van Hooff s fascinating work in
this eld indicates that hanging had sinister connotations in antiquity. He refers
to the noose of ghastly death (nodum informis leti). The body of such a death was
thrown away like that of an enemy or those guilty of treason.
j Frazer, Golden Bough.
jj Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. +y. No location is given, but he
notes that the statue breaks from Euripides story to have Jokaste hang herself.
j Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, p. +8j.
jy R. Chartier, ed., Cultural History (London, +88), pp. :y8.
: Self-killing from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance
+ D. W. Amundsen, Suicide and Early Christian Values, in B. A. Brody, ed.,
Suicide and Euthanasia: Historical and Contemporary Themes (Dordrecht, Boston
and London, +8), pp. yy+j.
: B. A. Brody, Jewish Casuistry on Suicide and Euthanasia, in Brody, ed., Suicide
and Euthanasia, pp. yj. A key factor in suicides categorization was that the
suicide caused their own death, the martyr allowed it, p. jo.
A. J. Droge and J. D. Tabor, A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among
Christians and Jews in Antiquity (San Francisco, +:). The method of stoning
implies a martyrdom by a non-Christian of a Christian. The robed gure who is
being stoned has a costume reminiscent of that worn by Christ in images: the
executors wear a garb similar to a Roman toga. See also: F. E. Reynolds and E. H.
Waugh, Religious Encounters with Death. Insights from the History and
Anthropology of Religions (Pennsylvania, +yy); J. T. Clemons, What does the Bible
say about Suicide? (Minneapolis, +o).
Droge and Tabor, A Noble Death, p. +8y8. In the nal analysis the distinction
between suicide and martyrdom devolves upon personal commitment.
j Ibid., p. +j. See also P. Brown, The Cult of Saints. Its Rise and Function in Latin
Christianity (Chicago, +8+); M. Gatch, Death: Meaning and Mentality in
Christian Thought and Contemporary Culture (New York, +).
M. Camille, Master of Death: The Lifeless Art of Pierre Remiet, Illuminator (New
Haven and London, +), p. ++j.
y M. Camille, The Gothic Idol. Ideology and Image-Making in Medieval Art
(Cambridge, +8). See also review by R. Scribner in Social History, xvrr (May
+:) pp. y.
8 M. Camille, The Book of Signs: Writing and Visual Difference in Gothic
Manuscript Illumination, Word and Image, r/:, (AprilJune +8j).
Droge and Tabor, A Noble Death, refer to a Platonic loophole that allowed
Socrates death to be used as a justication and as a means of moderating against
the act of a voluntary death. See also Augustine, City of God, trans. J. Healey and
R. V. G. Tasker (London, +jo), book x, ch. xxiii. p. :. The ambiguity of the
act was clearly recognised by Plato, see Phaedo, p. , in The Trial and Death of
Socrates (London, +), pp. 8y+yj, where Socrates states we must not set
ourselves free or run away.
+o M. Zerwick and M. Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New
Testament, vol. +, GospelActs (Rome, +y) and Revd A. Marshall, The
Interlinear GreekEnglish New Testament (London, +j8), pp. +: and .
++ F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die (Chicago, +8), p. +j.
+: Samsonic suicide can, however, be seen as revenge, see M. P. Jeffreys, Samsonic
Suicide or Suicide of Revenge Among the Africans, African Studies, vr/ (+j:),
pp. ++8::. Also M. H. Spero, Samson and Masada: Altruistic Suicides
Reconsidered, Psychological Review, j (+y8), pp. + .
+ Camille, The Gothic Idol, notes that the propaganda value of the visual focus
meant that debates on otherness were turned against the Saracens and the Jews.
+ D. Daube, The Linguistics of Suicide, Philosophy and Public Affairs, r (+y:)
p. y8.
+j Ibid.
+ Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, pp. +y.
+y Augustine, The City of God, book r, ch. xvii; see pp. :+ where Augustine breaks
from Matthews version of the story. While on the subject of self-killing he
muddies the water on Lucretias rape, shall we say she was an adulteress, or was
she chaste?, p. :. Yet at the same time Augustine refers to suicide as voluntary
death and eeing from sin, pp. :+ and +. Philosophically his text has much in
common with Platos attempts to dene virtue in Theaeatetus, trans. R. A. H.
Watereld (London and New York, +8y).
+8 Augustine, The City of God.
+ Droge and Tabor, A Noble Death, p. j. See also D. Parkin, ed., The Anthropology
of Evil (London, +8j). Parkin notes that the Hebrew word for evil is ra which
also means worthlessness, uselessness or, a bad or sad urge like suicide, p. :y.
The problem of martyrdom/suicide appears inseparable. Both are symbolic
deaths. The argument here is that Christian theologians attempted to resolve the
issue but the slippage between the two makes denition difcult.
:o In the King James Bible, Judass desolation is gured in Psalms as a prophecy
(::j). King Davids prophecy concerning the eld of blood ties David with
Judas, and makes stronger the link between Ahitophels death and that of Judas.
:+ I discovered this in the Warburg Library. No location was given for the
:: These personications are crucial to the development of abstract ideas of
good/evil, vice/virtue, and act as aids to the process of analytical thought and
allegorization. Impatience, despair and suicide are thus linked.
: A. J. L. van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical
Antiquity (London and New York, +o), p. +y8.
: C. A. Prudentius, Psychomachia [+oj], English trans. in Works, trans H. J.
Thomson (London, +j:). Pictures illustrating Prudentius text can be found in
D. de Chapeaurouge, Suicide in the Middle Ages in Zeitschrift fr
Kunstwissenschaft, + (+o).
:j I. Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia. A Myth and its Transformations (Oxford,
+8:), p. +. See also E. Muller, Humanist Views on Art and Morality: Theory
and Image, in P. Bange et al., eds, Saints and she-devils: images of women in the
.,th and .6th centuries (London, +8y) p. ++, where he afrms that notions of
Lucretias chastity appealed to the Church and its teachings. The tile in Vyne
House chapel near Basingstoke is evidence of this. In Cleopatras case, the
question of the anti-type to the Virgin Mary is raised. In J. Alexander and P.
Binski, eds, Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England .:cc.,cc (London,
+8y), p. , Abimelech is described as a kind of Antichrist.
: Augustine, City of God, book r, ch. xviii, pp. ::.
:y Ibid.
:8 Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia.
: Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. :y8. Pliny, Naturalis Historia, , 8.
See also J. Gould, Law, Custom and Myth: Aspects of the Social Position of
Women in Classical Athens, Journal of Hellenic Studies, +oo (+8o); M. R.
Lefkowitz and M. B. Fant, Images of Women in Antiquity (Bromley, +8).
o Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. +yy. See also J. Blitz, Tragedies van
Euripides op Macedonische reliefbekers, Hermeneus, rxrr/+: (+o).
+ Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, p. +y8.
: B. Taylor, The Medieval Cleopatra: The Classical and Medieval Tradition of
Chaucers Legend of Cleopatra, Journal of Renaissance and Medieval Studies, y
(+yy). See also Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. :+, who notes that
the idea that Lucretia contained a male soul in a female body can be found in
Valerius Maximus Memorable Facts and Sayings in Valerius Maximus (London,
+8+), .+.+.
F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, The Lure of Classical Sculpture
(New Haven and London, +8+), pp. +8y.
Taylor, The Medieval Cleopatra. See also L. Hughes-Hallett, Cleopatra:
Histories, Dreams and Distortions (London, ++). Hughes-Hallet sees Cleopatra
as a site where power and desire intersect, pp. +y8. Also M. Hamer, Signs of
Cleopatra (London and New York, +). There are varying interpretations of
what Cleopatra meant. They range from passive object to virago.
j Remiets image displays the lth of death in the way Mary Douglas describes in
Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London
and New York, +8), p. +y.
M. MacDonald and T. R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern
England (Oxford, +o), pp. +jyy. The authors divide the era of severity into
three: The Crime of Self-Murder, The Instigation of the Devil, and Opposition
and Ambivalence. The period extends from the sixteenth century through to the
early seventeenth century. If this is applicable in this case, then Drers image of
Lucretia falls into the rst. The popularity of Lucretia was, however, also
enhanced by an interest in the classics. One image (c. +j:8) by Lorenzo Lotto in
the National Gallery depicts a fully clothed lady holding a drawing of Lucretias
suicide. Beside the woman is a table and a written text which states that through
the example of Lucretia not a single immoral woman shall remain in existence.
y J. Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G. Spivak (Baltimore, +y).
8 Revd Mr W. Tukes, Discourse on Death (London, ++), p. :+.
A. J. Droge, Mori Lucrum: Paul and Ancient Theories of Suicide, Novum
Testamentum, o (+88), pp. :8.
Conict and Change in Early Modern Europe
+ A. Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. r The Violent Against Themselves
(Oxford and New York, +8), p. +y. Murrays research has located the word
suicida as early as ++8 in a passage by Walter of St Victor, Contra quator
labyrinthos Franciae, p. 8.
: Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, pp. 8.
M. MacDonald and T. Murphy, Sleepless Souls. Suicide in Early Modern England
(Oxford, +o), pp. :y. Protestantism offered a shield against suicidal despair
instigated by Satan. See also D. Freist, review of MacDonald and Murphy, Social
History, xvrr/: (May +:), pp. jo j. In his Daemonologia Sacra (Edinburgh,
+yy) the Nonconformist clergyman R. Gilpin espoused such a view. See also D.
Stannard, The Puritan Way of Death. A Study in Religion, Culture and Social
Change (Oxford, +yy).
j K. E. S. Zapalac, In His Image and His Likeness: Political, Iconographic and
Religious Change in Regensberg, .,cc.6cc (Ithaca and London, +o), pp. +:+j.
MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls.
y Ibid.
8 Revd Mr W. Tukes, Discourse on Death (London, ++), p. :+.
MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, p. 88.
+o T. F. Mayo, Epicurus in England, .6,c.,:, (Columbia, +); F. D. Miller,
Epicurus on the Art of Dying, Southern Journal of Philosophy, + (+y),
pp. +yy.
++ J. Addison, Cato: A Tragedy (London, +y+), Act v, scene i; Mayo, Epicurus in
England, p. 8; W. Charleton, Epicuruss Morals (London, +j); L. Richeome,
Ladieu de lme dvote laissant les corps (Lyon, +jo).
+: F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, The Lure of Classical Sculpture
(New Haven and London, +8+), p. oj; E. McGrath, Rubens Subjects from
History, vol. r (London, +y). In England the portrayal of heroic antiquity
continued into the nineteenth century. The popularity of the theme of Senecas
death is evidenced by its presence on Italian porcelain copies of antique subjects.
Referring more to a new heroism and the values of modern bourgeois life than
those of antiquity, Senecas image appears as late as the early nineteenth century
in intaglio on ne Wedgwood china. Perriers engraving has +FP inscribed at the
bottom left and may be a copy of Rubenss Seneca, though it is not clear if the
number refers to the date ++. Antony and Cleopatra were also popular on
Italian porcelain and English earthenware. An illumination from a fteenth-
century French manuscript in the British Library shows Antony and Cleopatra
both about to kill themselves, Cleopatra with a snake at each breast. L. Hughes-
Hallett refers to an unsigned painting by a follower of Leonardo which shows a
Cleopatra neither passive nor a virago: Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and
Distortions (London, ++), p. , pl. jo. Angelica Kaufmans painting Cleopatra
shows her kneeling at Antonys tomb fully clothed (Courtauld Institute of Art).
An earlier sixteenth-century Flemish engraving in the Warburg shows Cleopatra
beside a tree, thereby associating her with Eve, the Fall and temptation.
+ I. Watts, A Defense Against the Temptation to Self-Murther wherein the Criminal
Nature and Guilt of it is Displayed, the various Pretences for it are Examined and
Answerd (London, +y:). A Congregationalist and hymnist, Watts argues that
Satan walks about through the Great City seeking who he may devour, p. iv.
On the same page he refers to the ambiguous verdict of found dead in the Bills
of Mortality, and in the weekly news. See also the much earlier anonymous
Religious Tracts to the True-Hearted British Reader (London,+::), p. j. In
both texts the malice of Satan is blamed for suicide as it made a man both the
active and the passive subject of his own action.
+ R. Blackmore, A Treatise of the Spleen and Vapours: Or, Hypochondriacal and
Hysterical Affections with Three Discourses on the Nature and Cure of the Cholic,
Melancholy and Palsies (London, +y:j). See also G. Cheyne The English Malady:
or a Treatise of Nervous Diseases of all Kinds; as Spleen, Vapours, Lowness of Spirits,
Hypo-chondriacal, and Hysterical Disorders, :nd edn (London, +y), p. :o8 and
introduction pp. iiii. Cheyne, a Scot, thought all nervous disorders arose from
glandular distemper. His treatise is an exemplar of contemporary medical
attempts to classify self-murder.
+j W. Rowley, A Treatise of Female, Nervous, Hysterical,Hypochondriacal, Bilious,
Convulsive Disease with Thoughts on Madness and Suicide (London, +y88). This
interesting treatise makes ties between illness/women/suicide. See T. Castle,
The Spectralisation of the Other, in F. Nussbaum and L. Brown, eds, The
Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature (London, +8y); S.
Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (New York, +yy). Increasingly suicide and madness
were drawn together, as Rowleys lengthy title implies, and women were the
prime focus of these medical investigations. See E. Showalter, The Female
Malady. Women, Madness and English Culture. .Sc.,Sc (New York, +8j). Also
Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist
Criticism, in P. Parker and G. Hartman, eds, Shakespeare and the Question of
Theory (London, +8j).
+ R. Scribner, review of M. Camille, The Gothic Idol. Ideology and Image-Making in
Medieval Art (Cambridge, +8) in Social History, xvrr (May +:), pp. y.
+y J. Herries, An Address to the Public, on the Frequent and Enormous Crime of Suicide
Delivered at the Old Jewry on the :nd January, .,,, (London, +yy). In Herriess
argument luxury and depravity are signalled as cause. Herries describes the
suicide as the most depraved of human characters, p. j.
+8 C. Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide (London, +yo), p. y.
Luxurys effects, according to Moore, deprave morals and corrupt the heart.
+ J. Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London and New York, +8). See also, A .J.
L. van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical Antiquity
(London and New York, +o), pp. :o. Clearly suicide has to be feminized in
order for a feminine analogue to be seen as problematic in these terms.
Alternatively, the feminine analogue may have been an integral part of the
feminization process. Van Hooff s wistful section on the subject of Ancient
Werthers concludes that antiquity was not acquainted with the type. See also
Higonnet, Speaking Silences, in S. R. Suleiman, ed., The Female Body in
Western Culture (Cambridge, +, and London, +8), p. y+.
:o O. Anderson, Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England (Oxford, +8y).
:+ Hughes-Hallett, Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions, p. :o. In K.
Reynolds and N. Humble, Victorian Heroines: Representations of Femininity in
Nineteenth-Century Literature and Art (London, +), Cleopatra is labelled a
femme fatale, p. ++j. In Charlotte Brontes Villette (+8j) Lucy Snowe examines
an eroticized image of Cleopatra. It has been identied as A Dancing Girl by De
Biefre, which Charlotte saw at the Salon de Bruxelles.
:: Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, lists over +o images. The current research has
revealed many more. Guido Renis Lucretia in the Royal Collection is an example
of the anti-type of the virgin.
: D. Owen Hughes, Representing the Family: Portraits and Purpose in Early
Modern Italy, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, r/r (Summer +8).
: E. S. Shneidman, Suicide, Sleep and Death: Some Possible Interrelations
among Cessation, Interruption and Continuing Phenomena, Journal of
Consulting Psychology, xxvrrr (April +), pp. +o:.
:j C. W. Wahl, Suicide as a Magical Act, in E. S. Shneidman and N. Farberow, eds,
Clues to Suicide (New York, +jy), p. :.
: J. Yates, Chariote of Chastitie (London, +j8:).
:y When the Elizabethan printer Purfoot (who inserted miniatures of Lucretia in
his works) announced his wares were to be purchased in St Pauls Yard he was
referring to Thomas Berthelets publishers at that address. See M. D. Faber,
Shakespeares Suicides: Some Historic, Dramatic and Psychological
Reections, in E. S. Shneidman, ed., Essays on Self-Destruction (New York,
+y), p. .
:8 E. Cropper, Pietro Testa .6.:.6,c, Prints and Drawings (London, +88),
pp. :jj. The refusal of Augustine to compare Samsons death (martyrdom) to
Catos is a noticeable oversight. Clearly Cato could have been vindicated in the
same way as Samson. See Augustine, City of God, trans. J. Healey and R. V. G.
Tasker (London +jo), book r, ch. xxiii, p. :. Croppers work also includes
images of the studies and rst state engravings of The Suicide of Dido, c. +jojj,
p. :8.
: Ibid., pp. :8yo.
o Ibid.
+ Thanks to Hugh Stevenson, Assistant Keeper, Fine Art Department of Glasgow
Museums and Art Galleries, who provided me with this reference and that of
Francesca del Cairos Death of Cleopatra.
: Z. Pierce, A Sermon on Self-Murder (London, +y), p. y.
Mayo, Epicurus in England, p. j:, for reference to Jean Francois Sarasin, Oeuvres
(Paris, +y:).
L. Richeome, Ladieu de lme dvote.
j Mayo, Epicurus in England, p. j.
Addison, Cato, Act v, scene i.
y MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, pp. :o. L. Stone, The Family, Sex
and Marriage in England, .,cc.Scc (New York, +yy). N. Llewellyn, The Art of
Death (London, ++), pp. +:y. S. W. Goodwin, Kitsch and Culture: The Dance
of Death in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Graphic Art (New York, +88). See
C. Gittings, Death, Burial and the Individual in Early Modern England (London,
+8); E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England,
.,cc.,Sc (New Haven and London, +:).
8 T. Browne, Religio Medici (London, +:).
Watts, A Defense against the Temptation to Self-Murther, preface p. iii.
o J. Sym, Lifes Preservatives against Self-Killing or a Useful Treatise concerning life
and Self-Murder (London, +y), p. :y. Sym, a minister of Leigh in Essex,
noted the randomness of suicides victims in terms of age and all types: Clergie,
Laity, Learned, unlearned . male, female, p. +.
+ Gilpin, Daemonologia Sacra, p. +++. Gilpin thought that Satan drove in the
design of Self-Murther, yet spoke in awe of Lucretia, and Catos death. For a
similar appraisal see Yates, Chariot of Chastitie. See also J. Hillman, Suicide and
the Soul (London, +); K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London,
+y), pp. +, +, jj, jy, :+. Also J. McManners, Death and the
Enlightenment. Changing Attitudes to Death in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford,
+8j) and M. Zell, Suicide in Pre-Industrial England, Social History, xr (+8).
For a discussion of the changing pattern of evil see P. Ricoeur, The Symbolism of
Evil (Boston, +); D. Pocock, Unruly Evil, and D. Taylor, Theological
Thoughts about Evil, in D. Parkin, ed., The Anthropology Of Evil (London,
: Zapalac, In His Image and His Likeness.
K. Menninger, Man Against Himself (New York, +8). Menningers thesis is that
the wish to harm (sadism) turns in on itself and becomes the desire to be killed
(masochism). Cranach painted three Lucretias and differing authors give
differing dates. A. Stepanov, Lucas Cranach the Elder (London, +y), refers to
three, two painted in +j: in the Akademie der Bildenden Kiinste
Gemildegalerie, Vienna (tempera on red beech), and a third in +jj in the Art
Museum, Nizhni-Novgorod (oil on wood). The three show Lucretia in a similar
pose and bejewelled, but in varying states of undress. In the +jj image the veil
drops to reveal the beginning of the crotch. Cranach also did a woodcut of The
Self-Sacrice of Marcus Curtius in +joy. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York is a pen and brown ink over black chalk drawing of Lucretia by
Raphael (c. +j+o). Raphaels drawing was copied by Raimondi Marcantonio
(+yj+j) and Marcantonios engraving from the drawing (c. +j+o) bears the
title Dido. This interchangeability of names shows the popularity of these female
suicides but also the gradual dissipation of the original stories and of the
individuality of the heroines.
M. Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo
(London and New York, +8), p. +y.
j J. Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection, trans. L. Roudiez (New York,
+8:), p. y+.
C. Moore, Backgrounds of English Literature, .,cc.,6c (Minneapolis, +j), pp.
+8+. Moore draws on the Abbs writing in the journal Pour et Contre from
y Ibid., p. +8. The English upper classes were the focus of puritan criticism here,
and their suicide seen as a result of idleness.
8 J. Foxe, History of the Actes and Monuments of the Church (London, ++), p. :.
The cases of the apostate Judge Hale of Kent who committed suicide after his
arrest, p. , and that of Clarke, an open enemy of the gospel, p. , or of
Bomelius, a student at Louvain who drew on the company of Tyleman, master of
the popes college indicate further the willingness to tie suicidal tendencies to
papists or to believe Roman Catholicism led to despair and self-killing, p. 8.
J. Donne, Biathanatos (London, +). A survey of the Bible will indicate that
Donne was correct. Donnes poem The Legacy is also worth reading in respect of
his argument on voluntary death, with its theme of mans immutability. See also
L. G. Crocker, Discussion of Suicide in the Eighteenth Century, Journal of the
History of Ideas, no. + (+j:), pp. yy:; McManners, Death and the
Enlightenment; T. I. Beauchamp, Suicide in the Age of Reason in B. A. Brody,
ed., Suicide and Euthanasia: Historical and Contemporary Themes (Dordrecht,
Boston and London, +8); Zell, Suicide in Pre-Industrial England; M.
MacDonald, The Secularisation of Suicide in England, Past and Present, +++
Foxe, Actes and Monuments.
jo J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (London, +o), p. :jj.
j+ Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, pp. :o:.
j: V. Knox, Essays Moral and Literary (London, +yy8o).
j Holbeins image can be read in the context of the age of severity as a result of
wider changes, crusades against popular culture and suicide beginning to be read
as a polarity of Christian hope.
, An English Dance of Death?
+ E. Young, The Complaint: Or Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality
[+y] (London, +8o).
: T. Warton, Ode on Suicide (London, +yy+). Along with Gray and Percy it was
Warton who recognised the Rowley poems as fabrications.
M. MacDonald and T. Murphy, Death lAnglaise, in Sleepless Souls. Suicide in
Early Modern England (Oxford, +o), deals with the topic in some detail, pp.
oy+. The argument is that Bills of Mortality and newspapers convinced
natives and foreigners alike of Englands malady.
G. Minois, History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture (Baltimore,
j Young, Night Thoughts.
Z. Pierce, A Sermon on Self-Murder (London, +y), p. y. Pierce was Bishop of
Bangor, then Rochester.
y J. Henley, Cato Condemnd or the Case and History of Self-Murder, Argued and
Displayed at Large, occasioned by a Gentleman of Grays Inn Stabbing Himself in
the year .,c, and other instances (London, +yo), pp. 8+o.
8 Ibid., p. +o.
Lord Byron, Don Juan, ed. L. A. Marchand (Boston, +j8), p. +8.
+o D. Hume, Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul (London, +yyy), p. :+.
++ D. Diderot, Oeuvres Complete, eds J. Asszat and M. Tourneaux (Paris, +8yjy),
vol. , p. :.
+: Gentlemans Magazine, rvr ( April +y8), pp. +o++.
+ Ibid., rrv ( April +y8), pp. 8yy8.
+ Hume, Essays on Suicide, p. :+.
+j C. Fleming, Dissertation Upon the Unnatural crime of Self-Murder (London,
+ B. W. Oddy, The Suicide, An Ode, in Gentlemans Magazine, rxrr (JulyDecember
+y N. Llewellyn, The Art of Death (London, ++), pp. +:y. See also J. Hayes,
Thomas Rowlandson: Watercolours and Drawings (London, +y:); T. Rowlandson,
The English Dance of Death (London, +8+j), p. +. Also R. Paulson, Rowlandson:
A New Interpretation (New York, +y:).
+8 C. A. Moore, Backgrounds of English Literature (Minneapolis, +j). For the
growth of romantic suicide see A. Marchwinski, The Romantic Suicide and the
Artists, trans. I. Green, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, crx, (February +8y),
pp. y. Marchwinski gives the voluntary deaths of the French Revolution as
exemplum virtutis, p. . It is these ethical values that Neoclassicism espouses in
the face of open condemnation of the act of suicide.
+ G. H. Lewes, The Life of Goethe (New York, +j), p. ::.
:o R. Williams, The Country and the City (London, +8j), p. +.
:+ I. Watts, A Defense against the Temptation to Self-Murther wherein the Criminal
nature and the Guilt of it is Displayed, the various Pretences for it are Examined and
Answerd (London, +y:).
:: G. L. le Sage, Remarques sur ltat dAngleterre (Paris, +y+j) cited in C. A. Moore,
Backgrounds of English Literature, p. +8:.
: Mercurius Politicus, June +y:o. The anonymous writer insisted that the English
were more prone to suicide than the rest of the world.
: On English Suicide by a Foreigner, Gentlemans Magazine, v (: May +yy),
p. :o.
:j On English Suicide by a Foreigner, Fogs Journal (+ May +yy). That this
continued into the nineteenth century is evidenced in Forbes Winslows work
The Anatomy of Suicide (London, +8o). See also The Classic Land of Suicide,
The Psychological Journal (+8+).
: Henley, Cato Condemnd, p. :8.
:y W. Gough, To the Christian Reader (London, +y). Goughs sermon of +8 April
is cited in the preface to J. Sym, Lifes Preservatives against Self-Killing, or a useful
treatise concerning Life and Self-Murder (London, +y).
:8 G. Cheyne, The English Malady or a Treatise of Nervous Diseases of all Kinds; as
Spleen, Vapours, Lowness of Spirits, Hypo-chondriacal and Hysterical Distempers,
:nd edn (London, +y).
: On Suicide, Gentlemans Magazine, rr (August +y:), p. +.
o I. Lucas, ed., Peter Kalms Visit to England on the Way to America in .,,S (London
+8:), p. jy. Kalm thought the east wind might be a cause. Climatic factors as a
cause of suicide reected a longstanding belief in the capacity of the weather to
unbalance the humours, leading to melancholy. In England, the high rate of
winter suicides would seem to support it.
+ Gentlemans Magazine, vrr (: May +yy), p. :o. A survey of the Gentlemans
Magazine in the period from +y+ to +y8 revealed a growing variety of opinion
of suicide. Suicide was satirized, suicide was voted for and against, but above all,
there was an ongoing and dynamic discussion of suicide as crime and a product of
madness, lunacy, or a tortured mind.
: Ibid.
The Connoisseur (Thursday, January +yjj), p. :: a dull day was looked upon
as a natural order of execution, and Englishmen must necessarily shoot, hang or
drown themselves in November.
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Law, trans. T.
Nugent and J. V. Prichard, in Great Books of the Western World (Chicago, +j:),
p. +oy.
j Ibid., p. +o8.
Hume, Essays on Suicide, p. 8j.
y C. A. Moore, Backgrounds of English Literature, p. +8:.
8 N. Llewellyn, The Art of Death (London, ++), pp. :y.
J. Foxe, Acts and Monuments, th edn (London, +8yy), p. :.
o Ibid., pp. .
+ Ibid.
: Gentlemans Magazine, xxxv (August +yj), p. +y.
Minois, History of Suicide.
The Connoisseur (Thursday, January +yyj), p. :y.
j C. Fleming, Dissertation Upon the Unnatural crime of Self-Murder (London,
J. Herries, An Address to the Public on the Frequent and Enormous Crime of Suicide
Delivered at the Old Jewry on the :nd January, .,,, (London, +yy).
y Hume, Essays on Suicide, p. +. Here, Hume draws on Rousseaus Eloisa.
8 V. Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. rr (London, +yy8), p. .
C. Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, to which are added two treatises
on duelling and gaming (London, +yo), pp. o+.
jo C. Tilly, Social Change in Modern Europe: The Big Picture, in L. Berlanstein,
ed., The Industrial Revolution and Work in Nineteenth Century Europe (London,
+:). Tillys argument is that communication was European and not local or
national. Tillys concept that non-coercive wage labour (capitalism) and the
political unit of the state were the social context for change is useful here as the
rst offers freedom and a concept of usefulness, the second offers regulation
and control over life until death. In this respect, see also M. Foucault, Right of
Death and Power over Life in History of Sexuality (London, +8+).
j+ Anon., Du Suicide (Paris, +yy), pp. :.
j: Ibid., p. .
j M. D. Blackett, Suicide: A Poem(London, +y8). Blackett clearly illustrates the
problem of the pre-statistical era in her acceptance of the frequency of suicide.
See M. Zell, Suicide in Pre-Industrial England, Social History, xr (+8).
j Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, p. o.
jj Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. rr, p. ::.
j Herries, An Address to the Public, on the Frequent and Enormous Crime of Suicide,
pp. . Herries refers to melancholy as a demon.
jy Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. rr, p. :+8.
j8 Ibid., p. ::o.
j B. Mandeville, A Treatise of Hypochondriack and Hysterical Passions (London,
+y++). Also R. Blackmore, A Treatise of the Spleen and Vapours: Or,
Hypochondriacal and Hysterical Affections with Three Discourses on the Nature and
Cure of the Cholic, Melancholy and Palsies (London, +y:j).
o The English Dance of Death (from the design of Thomas Rowlandson) (London,
+o), pp. +:+.
+ Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, p. +.
: Blackett, Suicide: A Poem.
There is a vast ledger of Chattertonia in the British Library. The last, rather
sad, entry is from a Daily Mirror report on the vandalizing of his statue in Bristol
during +j.
j The image is referred to by MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, p. +:. See
also C. K. Cieszowski, The Legend Makers: Chatterton, Wallis and Meredith,
History Today, xxxrr (November +8:) pp. j.
MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, p. +.
y Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, p. +:.
8 Ibid., pp. :+y+8. Moore describes suicide as a cowardly and effeminate revenge
[motivated] by dissipated love.
Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. rr, p. :j:.
yo H. Montgomery Hyde, The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh (London, +j8),
pp. :o:. See also B. T. Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories
(Princeton, J, +88), pp. .
y+ Gates, Victorian Suicide.
y: E. H. Carr, What is History? (London, +8y), p. 8.
y Hyde, The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh.
y Byron, Don Juan, p. +8.
, Preserving Life and Punishing Death
+ A. Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. r, The Violent Against Themselves
(Oxford and New York, +8), pp. :8:.
: Ibid., pp. +y and :8.
SPCK, Suicide: Its Guilt and Punishment. Earnestly Addressed to all classes
particularly those of Humble Life, in Religious Tracts, circulated by the SPCK in
eleven volumes in +8. This excerpt is taken from vol. rrr, published in +8:,
pp. y. In part it draws on an article in The Courier (: August +8+y). G. Minois,
History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture (Baltimore, +),
indicates that a similar attitude existed in France.
O. Anderson, Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England (Oxford, +8y) p. :+.
j E. P. Thompson and E. Yeo, eds, The Unknown Mayhew (London, +y),
pp. :oo:+.
Ibid. See also Anderson, Suicide, p. o.
y Anderson, Suicide, pp. :o:.
8 The Times (:o April +8). The furore over Furley lasted months. At the end of
the year The Northern Star (:8 December +8) was still making mileage from
the case.
M. Slater, Dickenss Tracts for the Times, in M. Slater, ed., Dickens .,,c
(London,+yo), pp. +:.
+o L. Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, in Lenin and
Philosophy and other Essays, trans. B. Brewster (New York, +y+), p. +8.
Foucaults ideas of suicide, expressed in History of Sexuality, are extremely close
to his tutors.
++ K. Ittmann, Work, Gender, and Family in Victorian England (Basingstoke, +j).
Also L. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England .,cc.Scc (New York,
+: Anderson, Suicide, see chapter Mid-Victorian London pp. +:::.
+ The Print in Germany: .,Sc.,, exh. cat. (London, +8). In the background
of Klingers ironic nal image is pictured the Akademie deutsche Kunst. Klingers
work inuenced a series of later German Expressionist works by Hans
Baluschek, Heinrich Zilles Simplicissimus (+o) and Kathe Kollwitzs
Simplicissimus (+o), although Klingers portrayal was of a cry for help, which in
later expressionist works turned to a scream.
+ Art Journal (June +8+), and Athenaeum(+: May +8o).
+j J. Ruskin, letter in The Times (:j May +8j).
+ T. J. Clark, Image of the People, Gustave Courbet and the .S,S Revolution (London,
+y). For the latter part of the century, E. W. Herbert, The Artist and Social
Reform: France and Belgium, .SS,.S,S (New York, +y+).
+y Anderson, Suicide, pp. +:::.
+8 J. Clubbe, ed., Selected Poems of Thomas Hood (Cambridge, +, +yo).
+ M. Watson, The Suicide Prostitute (Cambridge, +8oj).
:o J. Lacan, Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Baltimore, +8). If Lacans
notion of rst and second deaths is applicable here then the second death takes
place in the symbolic order.
:+ E. Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic
(Manchester, +:), p. :+.
:: B. T. Gates, Suicidal Women: Fact or Fiction? in Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes
and Sad Histories (Princeton, J, +88), pp. +:jjo.
: B. Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: The Temperance Question in England,
.S.,.S,: (London, +y+), pp. :+:.The word alcoholism was rst used in +8o,
and by +8yy alcoholism was described as a disease.
: Gates, Suicidal Women, pp. +:y. The method was violent and contradicted
passive notions of feminine suicide. The choice of descent was also important.
The idea of monstrous women, women as furies, is discussed in chapter + of N.
Auerbach, Women and the Demon (Cambridge, +8:).
:j S. A. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Sickness unto Death [+8], trans. W.
Lowrie (Princeton, J, +j).
: Suicide from Waterloo Bridge (The Suicide of Alice Blanche Oswald),
Illustrated Police News (:+ September +8y:). Also, Suicide of Two Girls (:
October +88).
:y A.-J.-F. Brire de Boismont, De linuence de la civilisation sur le suicide,
Annales dhygine (+8jj).
:8 Singular Attempt at Suicide, Illustrated Police News (: June +8y).
: For a more extensive analysis of wig-wearing see M. Pointon, The Case of the
Dirty Beau, Symmetry, Disorder and the Politics of Masculinity, in K. Adler
and M. Pointon, eds, The Body Imaged (Cambridge, +).
o G. H. Savage, Suicide as a Symptom of Mental Disorder, Guys Hospital
Reports, rd Series, xxxv (+8).
+ Bentleys Miscellany, vr (+8).Thanks to Dr Julie Rugg for this amusing
: Ibid.
C. Fleming, Dissertation upon the Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder Occasioned by
the Many late Instances of Suicide in this City (London, +yy).
Abb Bergier, Examinen du materialisme, ou refutation du Systeme de la nature
(Paris, +yy+).
j Fleming, Dissertation, p. +8.
y M. Doane, Theorising the Female Spectator, Screen, xxrrr, /
(SeptemberOctober +8:) p. +8.
8 C. Lombroso, The Female Offender (New York, +8j), pp. +joj:.
Anon., The Red Barn (London, +8:o).
o J. Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection, trans. L. Roudiez (New York,
+8:), p. y+.
+ Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body, pp. :oj:. Also B. Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity:
Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Sicle Culture (Oxford, +8); M. Higonnet,
Speaking Silences: Womens Suicide, in S. R. Suleiman, The Female Body in
Western Culture (Cambridge, +, and London, +8), pp. y:.
: R. Melrose Brown, The Road to Ruin, PhD dissertation, University of Sussex,
6 The Century of Destruction
+ A. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (London and New York, +yj), p. ++.
: A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (New York, +yo), p. ::j.
G. Simmel, The Metropolis and Mental Life, in Classic Essays on the Culture of
the City (New York, +). See also M. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit
of Capitalism(London, +y), p. +8:.
Simmel, The Metropolis and Mental Life.
j Ibid.
U. Boccioni, Futurist painting: Technical Manifesto, reproduced in C.
Harrison and P. Wood, Art in Theory: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. .,cc.,,c
(Oxford and Cambridge, +, +), p. +j+. First published in Poesia in leaet
form in ++o.
y F. T. Marinetti, The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism, rst published in
Le Figaro (:o February +o).
8 A. Breton, Is Suicide a Solution?, La Rvolution Surraliste, +: (July
+:jDecember +:).
M. A. Caws, Ladies Shot and Painted: Female Embodiment in Surrealist Art, in
S. R. Suleiman, ed., The Female Body in Western Culture (Cambridge, +, and
London, +8).
+o J.-P. Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism[+8], trans. P. Mairet (London, +y),
pp. +:+.
++ F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die (Chicago, +8), p. :. Cutter is quoting a
letter from E. Shneidman, a key gure in the eld of suicidology, whose work
includes Essays on Self-Destruction (New York, +y).
+: Ibid.
+ J. Baudrillard, The Hyper-realism of Simulation, in Jean Baudrillard. Selected
Writings (Stanford, +88).
+ Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism.
+j I. Murdoch, Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (London, +), p. +o.
+ F. Jameson, The Deconstruction of Expression, New Left Review (July/August
+8), pp. j:.
+y J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since .Scc
(London and New York, +8+), pp. :j+:.
+8 J. Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. C. Levin, in J. Fekete, ed.,
The Structural Allegory (London, +).
+ Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, pp. jj.
:o G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (London and Athlone, +88),
pp. :o+.
:+ Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, p. +.
:: A. Artaud, van Gogh: the Man Suicided by Society [+y], in H. Weaver, ed.,
Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings (Los Angeles, +88).
: This is in an email in my possession from the Pollock Krasner Trust. Thanks to
the Trust for this valuable information.
: L. R. Lippard, Pop Art (New York, +), pp. y+o+.
:j Ibid.
: R. Hughes, The Shock of the New (New York, +8+), p. 8. See also J. Updike,
Fast Art, New Republic, :oo (:y March +8), pp. :8; B. R. Collins, The
Metaphysical Nosejob: The Remaking of Warhola, Arts Magazine, : (February
+88), pp. yjj; A. Warhol and P. Hackett, Popism: The Warhol 6cs (New York,
+8o), p. ::.
:y P. Bergin, Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine, Art Journal, xxvr/ (Summer
+y), pp. j.
:8 R. Hughes, The Rise of Andy Warhol, New York Review of Books, xvrrr
(February +8:), pp. +o.
: L. Alloway, Art, The Nation, ccrr/:+ (: May +y+), pp. 8.
o P. Nahon, Americas Most Famous Artist, Cimaise, j (SeptOct +8y),
pp. 8:.
+ Heavens Gate, Our Position Against Suicide,
: Heavens Gate, Press Release, :: March +y.
D. Plotz, The Cult, the Comet and the Web: From Rancho Santa Fe to Heavens
Gate, www.slate.com/TangledWeb/yo:8/TangledWeb.asp.
esse the K, Re: Jack Kevorkian,
j D. M. Pappas, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in G. Howarth and P. C. Jupp,
eds, Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Death, Dying and Disposal (London
+), pp. +y+j.
E. Freeman Sharpe, Similar and Divergent Unconscious Determinants
Underlying the Sublimations of Pure Art and Pure Science in Collected Papers
on Psycho-Analysis (London, +jo), pp. +yj. See also Sharpes excellent paper
The Impatience of Hamlet, pp. :o+.
y V. Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. + (London, +yy8), p. :+8.
8 S. Lawson. Thanks to Sonia for the notes on her painting.
S. McLean, Law at the End of Life, in M. Mitchell and A. M. Gilroy, The
Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal, th International Conference
Proceedings, Glasgow Caledonian University (Glasgow, +8) pp. +oy8.
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In general, I would like to acknowledge my debt to the many curators, librarians and
museum staff who answered my enquiries and helped me along the way. I owe thanks
particularly to the British Museum, British Library, Wellcome Institute and Warburg
Institute. Thanks to Roy Porter who took time out to discuss the work with me some
years ago when I knocked on his door on spec, and to Olive Anderson for replying to
my letter with sound advice. If I was to list all of the institutions and people who
helped me in my task, it would require another book. I thank them all.
In particular, I owe a huge debt to Nigel Llewellyn, who was my DPhil tutor at the
University of Sussex and whose patience kept me going in what was a long up-hill
struggle. Nigels book The Art of Death (++) was a major inuence. Thanks also to
Maurice Howard at Sussex, who was always prepared to assist and guide me.
Here at Leeds Metropolitan University, I involved a host of staff in the project.
Denise York read my typescripts and made many astute observations. Veronica Lovell
chased up images with relentless vigour. Sylvia Reid read earlier versions of the script,
and those all-important commas were put in. Hans van Lemmen was especially help-
ful in obtaining images of tiles and giving his expert advice on them. Our reprographic
service deserves a special mention. Finally, I owe a debt to the University and to
Professor Howard Green for the sabbatical which gave me valuable time to write.
I wish to extend my thanks to Reaktion Books, to Harry Gilonis for his expertise
as picture editor, and to Andrea Belloli for her guidance with editing.
Photographic Acknowledgements
The author and publishers wish to express their thanks to the following sources of
illustrative material and/or permission to reproduce it (other than institutions
named in full in the captions):
Photo ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London :ooo: 8; photo: The Andy
Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York/ARS, New York and DACS,
London :ooo: +, ++; photo: ARS, New York and DACS, London :ooo: ++:, ++;
photo: Bayerische Staatsgemldesammlungen, Munich: :, ; Biblioteca Apostolica
Vaticana, Rome: +y, +8 (Cod. Lat. ::j), : (Vat. Gr. yyF:jRo), :j (Vat. Gr.
yyF::Vo), j (Vat. Lat. yF8Ro); photo: Bibliothque Nationale de France,
Paris: + (Ms fr. +:, fol. :jjv); photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Reproduced with permission. :ooo Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All Rights
Reserved: (Francis Bartlett Donation); Bridgeman Art Library: :, , +, :8, :, +,
, (Paul Mellon Collection), (William Hood Dunwoody Fund), 8, 8y, o;
photo: British Library Reproductions: , 8; British Museum, London: :o, ,
j+oo, title page; photo: DACS, London :ooo: +++; Gallia (:, +8+): +:;
Giraudon: :y (Ms. /+:8 fol. +y v); Giraudon-Bridgeman Art Library: , +;
photo: Istituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, Mexico City: 88; Lauros-
Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library: :+; photo: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and
DACS, London :ooo: +oy; photo: National Library of Ireland, Dublin: ; photo:
Succession Picasso/DACS, London :ooo: +o; photo: Tate Picture Library/ Tate,
London :oo+: y+, 8 (purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the
National Gallery and donations from the National Art Collections Fund, Lord
Duveen and others, and presented through the National Art Collections Fund);
photo courtesy of Hans van Lemmen: j; photo Vatican Museum, Rome/M. Sarri:
o; photos: V&A Picture Library/ The Board of Trustees of the Victoria & Albert
Museum: y:, 8j, +o; photo courtesy of the Trustees of the Watts Gallery, Compton,
Surrey: 8; Peter Willi: 8.
Abimelech j8, ,,, o,
Absalom o, ++
Addison, Joseph +, +o+
Ahitophel jy, o, :, , ++, ..S
Ajax +8, :c, :j, :6, :,, :8+, :,, j,
8, 8o, +
alcoholism +jy; see also drink
Alloway, Lawrence :+:
Althusser, Louis +j+
Alvarez, A. +, +
American Photo Syndicate +8, :+8
Amusements des Anglais Londres +:j,
Amykos Painter, the +, :
Anderson, Olive +, +j, +j
Andics, Marguerite von 8
Anena :
antiquity 8, +++, +8, :+, :, y, o,
:, 8, j+:, j, j8, y8, 8, 88, o,
:, +::, +, +y, :o8
Antony j:, 8:, ,
Aris, Philippe :o
Arria :
Ars Moriendi +, jo, 8, 8
art history , +o, ++, +, +y, +8, , ::+
art of suicide +j, +8, :+8, :::
Art Union of London, The +8
Artaud, Antonin :oy, :o8
Attalos , ,, j
Augustine of Hippo :, , y, 8+,
+, +oj
autocheira j
autophoneutes :, :o8
Avelli, Francesco Xanta +oo
Barlach, Ernst :o, :c,, :o
Bartolozzi, Francesco +
Baudrillard, Jean :oo, :o, :+:, :+8
Bazin, Germaine
Beham, Hans Sebald .cS
Bentleys Miscellany +
Bergier, Abb +yy
Bergson, Henri +j
Berman, Eugene :oy
Berthelet, Thomas
Bible, the +:, , jo, j, , y, ++j,
++; see also New Testament; Old
Bieber, M. 8
bioethics ++, :+y
Blackett, Mary Dawes +, +8, +8
Blackmore, Richard :
Blair, Robert +:
Blake, William +:y, +:, +, .6,
Boccaccio +o
Boccioni, Umberto +j
Boulanger de Boisfremont +
Bourdon, Sebastien ++
Braudel, Fernand +
Breton, Andr +j, +y
Brire de Boisemont, Alexandre ++
Brilliant, Richard
Britain +:
British Medical Journal +88
Bronfen, Elisabeth +j, +j
Browne, Hablot Knight (Phiz) +,
Browne, Thomas +o+
Brutus :, ++8
Bruyn, Bartholomaeus, the Elder
Burial Act +8
Burton, Robert 8, +j
Byron, Lord +
Cadmos .
Camus, Albert +8, +, +j, :o+:, :oy
Canace +, :, :
Canlassi, Guido +o
capitalism +:, +o+, +:, +8, +j
Carlyle, Thomas +
Carr, E. H. +:
Carracci, Annibale +
Casagemas, Carlos :o:, :c, :oj, :o
Cassius :
cassoni 8, ++
Castlereagh, Viscount, Marquis of
Londonderry +, +:, +:8, ++:,
.,, +j, +8, +8, +8
Cato +, :, +o:, .cc, +o8, ++8, +:
Cecioni, Adriano +8, .,:
Czanne, Paul +
chaos +8
Charleton, Walter +
Chatterton, Thomas +, +j, +:, +:,
+:8, +, +8:, .,, +j, +, +8,
:o; Handkerchief +, .,c
Cheyne, George 8, +o
Christianity +:, +, , , j+, j, ,
y, 8, ++, +; see also Early Chris-
Church, the y, :, j:, 8
city, the +j:, +j, :oo
Clark, Kenneth ::o
Clark, T. J. +j
class ++, +:8, +o, +:, +, +8, :+:
Cleopatra , j:, ,, 6,, 8:, S:, :,
, y, ,6, +o, ++:, +, +y8
Cobb, Richard ++
Colombe, Jean 6,
Combes, William +
Comenius, Johann Amos y8, ,S
Connoisseur, The ++
coroners +, +o, ++, +:, +, +jo,
+yy, +8; see also inquests
Council of Auxerre y
Council of Braga y
Council of Orleans y
Council of Toledo y
Courier, The +8
Cranach, Lucas, ,c, +o
crime and criminalization +o, ::, 88, ,
+o:, +:, +, +y, +jo, +8, +8,
:+y; see also crying crimes
Croft, Herbert ++
crossroads burial 88, +, +8, +yy
Crudens Concordance to the Old and
New Testament j
Cruikshank, George +, +:, .,, +,
+jy, .,,, +j, +, .6,
crying crimes +, 8y, 8, +o:, +:y
Cutter, Fred , y, ++, +yy, +8, :o8,
Dadaists :o:
Dadd, Richard +y, .6S
Dances of Death ++j, +:, +:y8, +j
danse macabre +, jo
Daube, David ::,
Daumier, Honor +:8, +
David, Jacques-Louis ++, .:c, +:8, +8
de Laszlo, Violet Staub :o8
de Vigny, Alfred ++, +
Decebulus , y8, S, ,, , j
decriminalization +, +:, +y, +, :+j
Deeves, F. +, .6,
Delaroche, Paul +j, .,.
Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari :o:
Delftware tiles ++j+, ..6, ++8, ..S,
Denham, Percival +8o
depression and depressive illness +o:,
+o, +8, +jy, +8, +88, +y, +,
:o+, :oy
Derrida, Jacques y, 8j
Desecration of the Corpse, The +yy, .,S
despair :, jj, y, yy8, 8, +o:, +o,
+o, +++, +:y, +:8, +j, +, +,
+j, +8
Devil, the j+:, y, yy, , , +o:, +8,
+; see also Satan
Dickens, Charles +j+; The Chimes +j+;
Nicholas Nickleby +, .6,
Diderot, Denis +:y
Dido :, jy, ,,, ,6, j+, 6S, ,:, 8:,
:, , +oo, ++:, +++j, ..,, +:8,
+, +y, +8:
Doane, M. +y8
Donaldson, Ian 8+
Donne, John 8, ++o
Dor, Gustave +j, .,c, +8
Douglas, Mary +o
drink +:, +:, +; see also alcoholism
Droge, A. J., and J. D. Tabor j+
Du Suicide +
Duffy, E. +
Drer, Albrecht , 8, S,, ,
Durkheim, mile o, , y8, +
Durkheimianism ++, +y, +, :+:,
Early Christianity +:+, +8, :, ,
j+, j, 8+, 8j, :+; see also
Egg, Augustus +jj, .,6
Elmore, Alfred +
England +, :, 8, 88, +o, +++, ++j,
+:, +:j, +:yo, +, +, +j,
+j, +y, +y8, +; condition of
Enlightenment, the 8, +:, +:y, ++
Epicureanism +, +:, , +o+, +++,
+:, +, +y
Epicurus +,
Esquirol, Etienne +8
eternal damnation y, ::, yy
Euadne :j, +
Euripides +, :, , ,,
euthanasia +88, +8, :+y
exagoge o, j, j, ++, :o
Exekias :,, :8
Expressionism :o+:, :o
family, the +o+, +j+:
Fini, Leonor :o, .,,
Fitzgerald, Lord Gerald +j
Fitzgerald, T. P. .,
Flameng, Leopold +8, .S,
Flaxman, John +8, :o
Fleming, Caleb 8y, +:, +y, +y, +yy
Fogs Journal +o
folklore j, yy, , +o, +y8
Forrest, Mr +:y
Forsyth, Joseph
Foucault, Michel +o, +, :o+
Foxe, John, History of the Actes and
Monuments of the Church (Foxes
Book of Martyrs) +++, ++:
France +, jo, 88, 8, ++, ++8, +:j,
+:y, ++, +8, +j, ++, +8
Francia; see Raibolini, Francesco
Frazer, J. G.
French Revolution ++, +:y, +8
Freud, Sigmund :8, +o+, ++:, +88, +o,
+j, :o:
Frith, William Powell +8, .S,; The
Road to Ruin +8, .S,6, :o+
Furley, Mary +joj+, +j:
Fuseli, John Henry ,:, ++, +, +8+,
.S:, +88, :o
Garzi, Luigi +oo
Gates, Barbara T. +, +j
Gautier de Coincy +
Geldzahler, Henry :+o
gender , ++, +, :j, 8+, +o, +j, +,
+y, +, +8, +j, +8:, +8, +8,
:o, :+:
Gentileschi, Artemisia 8, +o
Gentlemans Magazine +:y, +o, ++,
Grard de Nerval +8
Germany +, 8, 88, 8, +o, +:y, +j+,
+j:, +y, :o+, :o:
Gesta Romanorum :, 8+
Gilbert and Sullivan +
Gilpin, William yy, +o:
Giotto 66, yy8, +oy
Gislebertus ,,
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von , +:;
Dichtung und Warheit +:; The
Sorrows of Young Werther +:, +:8,
+, +o
Gough, William +o
Grant, Michael :
Grasset, Eugne-Samuel +8, .,, :+o
Great Crash of +8y +j+
Greenland ++
Grifths, Abel +
Gris, Y. :, y
Halbwachs, M.
Hale, Dorothy .,, :o, :o
Hales, Bishop +:
Haman y8o
Hamilton, Gavin +, +, .6,
Hamlet y, , ::+
hanging :, :j, +, j, 8, j+, jjy,
o, , y8, 8o, o, ++o, +++, +:8,
+:, +8, +, +yy, +y8, +8
Haskell, F., and N. Penny j
Hayter, William :o, :oy
Heavens Gate +8, :.,, :+j+, :+8
Hell Fire Club +:
Hell ::, o, :+:
Henley, J. (Orator) +:, +o
Henry of Hohenstaufen +y
Herakles o+, ., j, j, +8, :o
Hero and Leander +
Herries, John , +:, +j
Higonnet, Margaret +j
Hogarth, William +::, +j, +, +y,
+jy, +; Marriage A la Mode ++,
.:c, +:8, +:; Gin Lane +:8, .:,
Holbach, Paul Henri, Baron d +:y
Holbein, Hans ++
honeymoon suicides +
Hood, Thomas +joj+, +j, +j
Hughes, Robert :++
Hume, David +8, +:y, ++, +:
Hunt, William Holman +j
Illustrated Police News, The +jy, .,S,
+j, .6c, ++, .6:, .6, +8, .S,
Industrial Revolution +:
inquests +j, ++; see also coroners
insanity 88, :, +, ++:, +8, +8,
+88; see also lunacy and lunatics;
madness; mental illness; non compos
mentis; unsound mind
Internet +8, :+j, :+8
Ireland +y
Irnshaw, David .,,, :o8
Italy +, 8, +o
Iver, Hans :o
Jameson, Frederick +
Joffrin, Guilly :++, :+:
Jokaste :j
Joos van Cleve 8
Josephus j
Judas :j, jojj, ,,, ,,, j8, o, , 6,,
yy, ,, ,6, 8o, 8j, 88, o, ++o++,
+::, +:, .,:, +yy, +8o, :+:o
jumpers +jy
Kahlo, Frida .,, :oj
Kalm, Peter +o, ++
Kauffman, Angelica +
Kevorkian, Dr Jack :+j, :++y
Kierkegaard, Sran +j
Klinger, Max, Eine Mutter +j+:, .,:,
+j, +8
Knox, Vicesimus +8, 8y, ++, +:, +,
+j, +y, ++, ::+
Kollwitz, Kthe :o, :c,
Kristeva, Julia +o, +8+, +8
Lacan, Jacques +j, +j
Lancet, The +88
langue 8j
Laodameia :
Lateran Council j
Lawson, Sonia .,6, :::
le Goff, Jacques 8
le Sage, Georges Louis +o
Liberale da Verona ++, ..,
Lippard, Lucy :+o
Livy 8
Llewellyn, N. ++
Lombroso, Cesare +y8
London +:o, +:, +8, +j
Londonderry, Lord (Marquis of); see
Castlereagh, Viscount
Low Countries +; see also Netherlands,
Lucius Cosius ,
Lucretia :, 6,, ,c, ,., 8+, S., S, S,,
88, :, , , ,,, y, ,,, +o:8,
.c, .c,, ++, +, +y8, .6S, +y8,
+8:, +8, :+o++, :+, :::
Ludovisi Gaul , ,, jy, , y8, j,
Luiken, Jan ++, ..,
Luini, Bernardino y, ,,
lunacy and lunatics +, +o, +:, +o,
+:, +j, +, +; see also insanity;
madness; mental illness; non compos
mentis; unsound mind
MacDonald, M., and T. R. Murphy :,
8, 8, :, , +j, +o
Maciejowski Bible j8
madness y, ++, +, , +, +j+, +8:,
+8, +, :+:; see also insanity;
lunacy and lunatics; mental illness;
non compos mentis; unsound mind
maiolica , ,,, +oo
Man Ray +y, .,,
Mandeville, Bernard +j
Manet, Edouard +, +8
Mantalini, Mr +, .6,
Marcus Curtius
Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso +j
Marshall, Dorothy j+
martyrs and martyrdom joj+, o, 8j,
8, 88, o, ++, +8, +j; satanic yj
Masada j, +8, :+
Masereel, Frans +, :cc, :o+
Masson, Andr :oy
Master B P ..c
Master of the Holy Blood ,., +oj
masturbation +88
Mayhew, Henry +jo
medicine and medical science +, +, +j,
8y, 88, +, :, , +o:, +o, +o, +o,
+:+, +, +y, +j, +, +8o, +88,
melancholia (melancholy) 8y, +, :,
+o:, +++, +:j, +:8, ++, +j, +y,
++, +8:
memento mori , ++:, ::o
Menninger, Karl +o
Menoikeus :
mental illness +8, :oy; instability +8,
+8o; see also insanity; lunacy and
lunatics; madness; non compos
mentis; unsound mind
mentalits y8
Mercurius Politicus +o
Middle Ages j:, , 8+, 88
middle classes ++j, ++, ++8, +:+, +,
Millais, John Everett +j, +8o8+, .S.,
:o+, :o
Minois, Georges ++, +8
Mir, Joan :o8
Mishima, Yukio :o
misogyny +o+
Mohocks +:
Monroe, Marilyn :o+:, :+8
Montesquieu ++
Moore, Charles +8, 8y, , +o+, +:,
+, +y, ++
Moyes, Margaret +jy
Munch, Edvard +j+, +
Murdoch, Iris +
Murray, Alexander 88, +y
Myrmillo y
myth +8:, :++
Nahl, Johann +
Nahon, Pierre :+:
Narcissus +:, ++:
nation , ++, +, :j, j, y8, +++, +,
+8, +:, +j, ++, +8
Nead, Lynda +
Nero :
Netherlands, the 8; see also Low Coun-
New Testament +, , jo, j, , y,
Nietzsche, Friedrich +, :o+
nomos (culture)
non compos mentis o, +o, ++, +, +jo;
see also insanity; lunacy and lunatics;
madness; mental illness; unsound
Norway +j+
Oddy, B. W. +:y
Oesterreich, Mathias +
Ohnerfurcht, Johann 6:
oikos (private domain) , y
Old Testament +, , j, jy, +, ,
y, +o, ++
Ophelia y, +oj, +j, .,,, .,,, +8o8:,
.S., .S:, +88, :o+, :o, :o8,
:+o+:, ::+, :::
Orozco, Jos :o8
Oswald, Alice Blanche .,S, +j, ++
otherness and the other :+, y, ,
++o, +, +jo, +, :++
Ovid, +:, y8, 8, ++:+
Ovide Moralis ++
Paetus j
Pantheia :j
parole 8
Pearce, Zachary +o+
Pearson, A. C. :
Peasants War +o
Pellegrini, Giovanni Antonio +
Peregrinus o, +
Perpetua 8
Perrier, Franois +o8, .cS
Phaedra (Fedra) +, :j, ,, ,,
philosophes +:, +:y
philosophy 8, , ++, +8, :+, ::o
Philostratos :, :j, +
photography ++, +8, +y, :o, :+o,
physis (nature)
Picasso, Pablo :o:, :c, :o, :o8, :+o
Pierce, Zachary 8y, +:
Pindar :
Pissarro, Camille +j, +8, .,.
Plankney and Havington +++
Plato 8, +8, ::, :, +oo
Platzer, Johan +
Pliny 8+
Pluis Jan, ++j
Poland 88
polis (public domain)
Pollock, Jackson :o8, :c,
Polyclitus :8
Pompeii o, ,., :
Pontius Pilate :
poor, the , ++
popular culture , +, +j, +, +8,
+jj, +8; visual 8
pornography of violence +, +j, :o
Portia , :, ++:, +8:
post-ego 8
postmodernity +, :+:, :+
press, the +:, ++, +, +j, :o; see
also yellow press, the
Prvost, Abb +++, ++
print culture +:, j, yy, ++
prints ++8, +:8, +, +
Procris and Cephalus y8, ,,
prostitution +j, +, +jo, +j, +8,
Protestantism :, 8, , +o+, +::,
++:, +y, +
Prudentius 8o
Pucelle, Jean +
purgatory +, ::, ++
Pyramus and Thisbe o:, ,., j, y,
:, , +oo, ++:+, .., +
Queen Mary Psalter j8
Raibolini, Francesco (Francia) , ,,,
Ramberg j
rape 8+, 8, 8, +o:, +oj, +oy8
Razis 8
Redon, Odilon :oy
Reformation, the +:, 8
Regents Canal +jo
Rembrandt +o:, .c, +o, .c6, +oy, +o,
Remiet, Pierre j:, ,, j, 8+, S., 8:
Reni, Guido 6,, , ,6
Renieri, Niccol ,,, ++:
Reynolds, Joshua +:8, +, +
Ricci, Sebastiano +o, +oy, .c,, +o,
Richeome, Louis +, +o+
Rilke, Rainer Maria +
Rivalz, Antoine +
Rops, Flicien +8
Rost, Hans ++
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques +:
Rowlandson, Thomas +:8, +, .,, +
Rowley, William 8y,
Rubens, Peter Paul 6S, :, ,, +o,
+o8, +++j, +
Ruskin, John +j
Russia ++
St Paul j:, , 8, :o
Samson , jy8, o, :, ++, +
Sandrart, Joachim von :
Sarasin, Jean-Franois +o+
Sartre, Jean-Paul +8, +, :o:
Satan 8, +o+, +o:, +o, +o; see also
Devil, the
Saul , jy8, o, , ++j+, ..6,
..,, ..S, ++
Schufelein, Hans y
Schober, Arnold ,
Scotland ++j, +y
Seneca 8, ,c, , :, ,, , ,
+o8, .cS, ++8+, +:8, +8
sensibility +, , +j, ++, +j, +j,
servants +:, +y8
sexuality ++, +o+, +8, +88, :o
Shakespeare, William +o, +8o; Hamlet
y, +88; A Midsummer Nights Dream
:; The Rape of Lucrece +oj; Romeo
and Juliet :
Sharpe, Ella Freeman ::o
Shawshank Redemption, The :o
Sherman, Sahri :++
Shneidman, E. S., and N. L. Farberow
Simmel, Georg +j:, +j
sin +, :, j, y, +y, +j, +jj
Sirani, Elisabetha +o, +oy
Smith, Henry +:
Society for Promoting Christian Knowl-
edge (SPCK) +y, +8, +
Socrates 8, :+, ::, o, :, ++8+,
.:c, +8
Solar Temple +8
Solomon, Abraham +j
Sophocles :,
Sophonisba , :, , ,,, , ++:, +
soul :, , yy, 8+
Spain +, y
Stanhope, Spencer +j
state, the :, :, +, +j+, :::; suicidal
statistics +::, +:, +
Stikeley, William 8
Stodhard, Charles Alfred j8, ,,
Stoics :, +, +o+, +:
Strange, Sir Robert , ,6
Sturm und Drang +:y
Suicide, The: A Tale found on Facts
+y8, .,,
Suicide Act +
suicide prevention +o
suicide rates +:j, +o, +8
suicidology +8, +y
Suleiman, S. R. +j
Sweden ++
Swinburne, Algernon Charles +8
Switzerland +, ++
Sym, John 8, +o+
Taylor, Barbara 8:
Testa, Giovanni Cesare +oo
Testa, Pietro +oo, .cc
Tietze-Conrat, Erika ++
Times, The +jo
Tinguely, Jean :o:
Tissot, James .,:, +o
Titian 6,, 8
Tnnies, Ferdinand +
Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de +8
Tourniere, Robert +, +
Trajans Column , y, S
Tree of Life 8o
True-Hearted British Reader :
Tukes, Reverend Mr 8j, o+, :
Turner J. M. W., +
Two Brothers, The: Anpu and Bata :
unsound mind +y, +; see also insan-
ity; lunacy and lunatics; madness;
mental illness; non compos mentis
utilitarianism +:
Valerius Maximus 8+, S.
Vallaton, Flix +8, .,c
vampires +y
Van Gogh, Vincent :o8
Van Hooff, A. J. L. :, y, j, +oj
Veyne, Paul +o
Vincent of Beauvais ,, 8:
Virgil y, ++, ++; Aeneid y, +oo
Visconti, E. Q. , , 8
Vollard, Ambroise .,
Wahl, C. S. 8
Wales +y
Wallis, Henry +8, .,
Warhol, Andy +, .,, +, :o+:, :.,
:+, :+, :+8
Warton, Thomas +:
Waterloo Bridge +j
Watson, Mary +jj, +8
Watts, George Frederick +jo, .6,
Watts, Isaac :, +o+, +o
Weber, Max +j
Wellington, Duke of +
Werther , +:, +:, +o+, +
Whistler, James Abbott McNeill +8,
Wilde, Oscar +8, :o+
Williams, Raymond +:
Winckelmann, Johann Joachim , 8
witchcraft +o+
Withers, William +:j
woman y, +j, :8, :, yy, +oj, +:j, +j,
+j, +, +8o8+, +8, :oj, ::+
women :j, , :, j8, j8, ,
yy8o, 8:, :, , 8, +o+,
+oj, +o8, +++j, +:+, +:, +:,
+j, +8, +, +j+y, +j, ++,
+, +yy, +8o, +8:, +, :++,
::+:; falling +jy, +j
Women of Cimbria j, ,,
work +, +j+
working class +
World War I +, +j, +j+, +8, +8, +8,
:o+, :o
World War II :o8, :+o
world wide web :+, :+
Yates, James 8
yellow press, the +j, +jj, +, +8
Young, Edward +:, +:, +:y
Zapalac, Kristin +o
Zimmerman, Franz 8
Zimri jy, o, 6., 6: