Between the French Revolution and the First World War Europe and America witnessed a golden age of medical image-making. The first generation of mass-market anatomical and pathological textbooks and atlases offered crisp, detailed colour illustrations of the human body in health and sickness, but they also embodied – literally – a revolution in ideas about life, disease and death. The Sick Rose is a new collaboration between Wellcome Collection and Thames & Hudson, drawing on the Wellcome Library’s peerless collection of historical books and pictures. It reveals a corpus of art that is beautiful and morbid, singular and sublime.
The Sick Rose is published in the US by DAP, in France by Larousse, in Japan by Kawade Shobo Shinsha, and in Taiwan by Rye Field Publications. It was was named Book of the Year at the 2014 British Book Design Awards. (The Book Depository also picked it as one of their Covers of the Year.)
Here’s a piece I wrote for the Wellcome Library blog, on the ethics of re-making clinical images as art. Here’s a talk I gave on ‘The Theatre of Anatomy’ at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Here’s an interview about the book with Georgia Cherry & Frankie Kubicki of Unmaking Things. Here’s an interview with Mark Dery for Thought Catalog. Here’s an audio interview with Desiree Schell, for the Canadian radio show ‘Science For The People’.
‘Barnett’s superbly erudite and lucid accompanying text would really suffice in itself as an introduction to the history of Western medical science … Here we can see unpacked the mortal elements of many anonymous individuals – and by extension our own’ – Will Self, Guardian
‘If you’re worried that you’re squeamish or all this medical stuff is not for you, do not be put off. The Sick Rose transcends that: it’s a transfixing, sublime collection of portraits of the highest art. They show the dying in a way that teaches us about life and all the good things in it’ – The Times
‘The excellent choices of image, high production standards, and formidable scholarship of The Sick Rose suggest that it is a book that will endure. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in art, medicine, history, or, simply, the difficult and exhausting business of having and maintaining a body’ – Lancet
‘Barnett is a careful, erudite historian of science, not to mention a fine stylist who turns a nice phrase, but what makes The Sick Rose so affecting is his refusal to deny the perverse pleasures of this stuff … while at the same time forcing us to confront the politics of looking; the psychological and philosophical costs of savoring the pain of others, pain that reverberates down through the centuries in images that once seen, can’t be unseen’ – Mark Dery, thoughtcatalog.com
‘Lucid and knowledgeable … a book whose writing is as vivid as the illustrations’ – Fortean Times
‘Appalling, if brilliantly rendered, illustrations … a fascinating book’ – Nature