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Hartman, J.J. White, S.H. Ravin, J.G. Hodge, G.P. (1976). The Stones of Madness. Am. Imago, 33(3):266-295.

(1976). American Imago, 33(3):266-295

The Stones of Madness

John J. Hartman, Ph.D., Sarah H. White, Ph.D., James G. Ravin, M.D. and Gerald P. Hodge, MFA

For mania or melancholia incise the top of the head in the shape of a cross, and perforate the cranium so as to expel the [noxious] matter.

The patient is to be held in chains.

Rogerius Salernitanus (late 12th cent.)

In nature there are not only diseases which afflict our body and our health, but many which deprive us of sound reason, and these are the most serious…. We know from experience that they develop out of man's disposition.

Paracelsus (1493-1541)


Is it mad to imagine a cure for madness? The question is posed by a series of Netherlandish paintings and engravings from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. They all show a charlatanesque medical procedure: A practitioner operates on a patient who, while bound to a heavy chair, undergoes the removal of a foreign object from his head. Inscriptions on the works and evidence from other quarters identify the objects as stones whose presence in the head is said to cause madness and whose removal may cure it. Not one of the artists' portrayals vouches for the truth of this psycho-physical theory.

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