Sunday, February 22, 2009

The House of a Quack, circa 1745, William Hogarth, "Marriage-à-la-mode"

Above you see "Bonnet Found," Plate III of William Hogarth's six-print series "Marriage-à-la-mode" which were conceived as a succession of "cautionary tales aimed at fostering the self-improvement of individuals and society [wherin] Hogarth uses six engravings to track the establishment, breakdown and bloody end of an ill-fated marriage of convenience" as the National Library of New Zealand's website explains. The website goes on to describe plate III thus:
"Bonnet Found" Squanderfield and his young mistress visit a 'quack doctor' where he questions the effectiveness of the mercury pills proscribed for his condition. The doctor is not a good advertisement for this cure. Like Squanderfield, both he and his assistant are ravaged with syphilis sores. The deformed skull sitting on the table and the multiple other signs of mortality signal the fate of everybody in this room.

The devil is in the detail. The passive and downcast mistress dabs a sore on her mouth, the first sign of the disease. The pocket-watch hanging from her belt indicates that her time is up. She has become a victim of Squanderfield's carefree and excessive lifestyle.
There are some great details in this print--I highly encourage you to click on the image to see it in its larger, more perusable version. Be sure to note the amorous relations between the skeleton and anatomical model in the closet, the hanging crocodile suggesting the alchemist's laboratory, and the intriguing wall hangings. To read more about the Hogarth and the collection, visit the Library's website by clicking here.

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