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Read, Watch and Listen

Romano-British leather shoe (top and bottom view) with iron hobnails

This is a Romano-British leather shoe (top and bottom view) with iron hobnails. The text written onto it– “ROMAN SOLDIER CALIGA, LONDON WALL, 22 FT IN PEAT DEC 11 1866” – refers to Pitt-Rivers’ pioneering salvage recording, undertaken during the construction of a warehouse at London Wall in the City of London. The deep excavations revealed organic materials preserved in waterlogged deposits. Pitt-Rivers wrongly thought the site was a ‘lake village’ that was the stronghold of Cassivellaunus – the chieftain who led defence against Julius Caesar in 54 BC. A soldier himself, General Pitt-Rivers’ recording of a Roman military boot (caliga) conveys a sense of his imaginative interest in archaeological evidence of the encounters between prehistoric and Roman populations (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.92.42).​

Bronze Age copper alloy palstave axe

This is a Bronze Age copper alloy palstave axe, from which a metallurgical sample has been taken during the mid 20th century. The meanings of the red dot and the text ‘No. 2’ are obscure. The text ‘FOUND IN FORTY ACRES FIELD NEAR WORTHING 1871’ is copied from earlier text, and the date seems to be a mistaken transposition for 1877 – when E.C. Patching discovered a hoard of 40 bronze axes buried in a ceramic urn at this West Sussex location. The text is a reminder of the dangers of introduced errors with each layer of copying and re-writing museum documentation (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.119.111).

Prehistoric discoidal flint knife

This prehistoric discoidal flint knife has been made by being bifacially flaked and ground on the edges. The 20th-century label has been made for display purposes in the Pitt Rivers Museum, but includes information from the museum’s documentation and almost certainly from other earlier labels that do not survive. As with other objects, the text provides information about its modern history. ‘Rev. J.C. Clutterbuck’ was a vicar in the village of Long Wittenham, which is on the River Thames in south Oxfordshire. Pitt-Rivers acquired various other Romano-British objects from him, from London and Oxfordshire, as well as this object. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 2007.74.1)​

Plaster cast of a 400,000-year-old Palaeolithic hand-axe

This object is a plaster cast of a 400,000-year-old Palaeolithic hand-axe. A label bears the text “FOUND AT HOXNE, SUFFOLK IN 1797”, which is re-written onto the object – a reference to a discovery by John Frere, who published his ‘Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk’ in the journal Archaeologia in 1800. The object is one of  ‘3 casts of implements in the British Mus’ that Pitt-Rivers recorded in his collection. It demonstrates the importance to Pitt-Rivers of acquiring casts of museum objects for comparative purposes. The original axe is still held by the British Museum today (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.122.2).​

A ceramic jug that dates from the Romano-British period

This ceramic jug dates from the Romano-British period, and is made from a fine grained black burnished ware known as Upchurch ware. The writing on the object, copied from earlier markings and labels, records the provenance of the object as Uriconium – the Roman name for Wroxeter. Together with a contemporary label, it also records a detailed sequence of acquisition – its discovery in 1866 by ‘Mr Stannier who farmed the land’, its sale to a dealer in Shrewsbury named Mr Last, and Pitt-Rivers’ purchase of the object from Last in 1870 (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.37.31).​

Prehistoric flint knife

This prehistoric flint knife, with a curved edge and straight back, is probably Neolithic in date. Its recorded provenance, “Yorkshire”, is unspecific, but the faded number in black ink, ‘1337’, matches with a manuscript source dating from 1874 in which Pitt-Rivers recorded a “triangular flint knife or arrowhead” in his collection. Pitt-Rivers was a Yorkshireman by birth, and returned there throughout his life, so the object could have been acquired by him any time before 1874, in the first 47 years of his life (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.123.333).​

Neolithic stone scraper

Three curatorial hands inscribe this Neolithic stone scraper. Modern writing reads “YORKSHIRE WOLDS”, giving two museum catalogue numbers. The number ‘10’ and an illegible word are written in pencil. Their meaning is obscure, but the single faded word “GREENWELL” connects the scraper with a seminal moment in Victorian archaeology. Canon William Greenwell pioneered the excavation of prehistoric burial mounds in Yorkshire, and Pitt-Rivers spent time excavating with him in April 1867 –later reminiscing that he gained crucial early experience in digging from Greenwell. Acquired at some point by Pitt-Rivers from Greenwell, this scraper represents evidence not just of prehistoric Yorkshire, but also of a personal exchange between Victorian antiquaries (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.133.56).

Early Bronze Age copper alloy flat axe

This early Bronze Age copper alloy flat axe has a triangular panel of vertical 'rain pattern' decoration, over which the word ‘ENGLAND’ is written in white paint, along with the number ‘P.R. 1437’ above. The provenance is unspecific, but the numbers refer to an entry in the hand-written list made in 1874, just before the first public exhibition of Pitt-Rivers’ collection at Bethnal Green Museum: Bronze period 1437; 39 Bronze celts. The modern text offers a glimpse into one moment in the object’s life-history, when it was exhibited 140 years ago in East London (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.119.39).

Image Gallery

The Image Gallery is designed to showcase the range of digital images generated either as by-products or as outputs of research projects in the arts and humanities.

The British Hajj Delegation

Under New Labour a British Hajj Delegation was established in 2000. Unique among Western nations, it made Foreign and Commonwealth Office support available on the ground in Makkah. However, in 2010, funding for volunteer medics ceased. This photograph shows the now privately-funded British-Muslim doctors in 2012. With government stressing the need for self-help in the Hajj travel sector, it also highlights the key contribution since the mid-2000s of a ‘second generation’ welfare organisation, the Bolton-based, Council of British Hajjis.

© Rashid Mogradia, 2012. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Ihram and Ritual Separation

At one of several miqats (boundary points) surrounding Makkah, pilgrims make ablutions, don their ihram (ritual attire), and state the intention to perform Hajj. They enter a state of consecration which includes various prohibitions. Travelling from the West today, the miqat is often reached en route to Jeddah International Airport. Here, however, British-Muslim pilgrims gather at the miqat nearest Madinah, Dhu’l Hulayfa. The women's light, cotton ihrams are optional, whereas men must wear two unstitched pieces of white cloth.

© Qaisra Khan, 2010. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Guests in the House God

Feelings of sacred time and space are confirmed for many when they see the House of God for the first time. The Ka’ba was built first by Prophet Adam and then rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim. Pilgrims must circumambulate the cube-shaped building anticlockwise seven times (tawaf). This image captures the oceanic experience that British-Muslims report, a sense of oneness (tawhid) with God. However, given the sheer weight of pilgrim numbers, the ritual is physically punishing. Sacred and mundane are navigated step-by-step.

© Peter Sanders, mid-1990s. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY-NC-ND”

In the Footsteps of Hajar

Pilgrims also re-enact the inspiring story of Hajar, Ibrahim's wife and Isma’il's mother. Hurrying (sa‘i) seven times between two hillocks, they embody her search for water having settled in the desert with her son. Drinking from the well of Zamzam, pilgrims recall the miraculous spring God revealed to save the pair. Nevertheless, some British-Muslims highlight the discrepancies between the sa‘i of sacred history and its modern manifestation. The ritual is now performed on marble floors inside the ever-expanding Great Mosque.

© Qaisra Khan, 2010. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Community, Equality and Difference

Having performed the Makkan rites, pilgrims leave their hotels and travel several kilometres into the valley of Mina. Here they camp overnight in a vast tented city. British-Muslims describe increased opportunities for interactions, both within their own groups and with pilgrims from across the world. They relate sublime and everyday moments when social divisions are dissolved and the idea of a united Muslim ummah (community) emerges. Yet, at other times, differences of class, gender, ethnicity and denomination also remain apparent.

© Simon Martin, 2009. Creative Commons licence – “CC-BY”

Seeking Forgiveness: The Day of 'Arafat

The zenith of the Hajj occurs on the plain of ‘Arafat beyond Mina. Here Adam met again with Eve after the Fall, and many pilgrims turn inwards to repent on Jabal al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy) where Muhammad gave his farewell sermon. As shown here, pilgrims stand in congregation (wuquf), fervently supplicating from noon until sunset. In their shroud-like ihrams, British-Muslims say that this also rehearses the Day of Judgement. Hajj is indeed a journey from sinfulness to purification.

© Simon Martin, 2009. Creative Commons licence – “CC-BY”

Being Tested: The Stoning of the Pillars

Having collected pebbles at Muzdalifa overnight, pilgrims stone three jamarat (pillars) back at Mina. This cathartic ritual commemorates Ibrahim's physical actions in rejecting Satan's attempts to test him. In the 1970s a jamarat bridge was constructed to convey pilgrims to the pillars, a site notorious for stampedes. In 2004 the pillars were replaced by huge walls. However, as this photograph shows, following 300 deaths in 2006, an entirely new bridge and multi-storey system was introduced. British-Muslims report feeling much safer.

© Simon Martin Photography, 2009. Creative Commons licence – “CC-BY”

From Sacrifice to Charity: Eid al-Adha

Together with the shaving/cutting of pilgrims' hair, it is the qurbani or animal sacrifice that seals Hajj. Most restrictions associated with ihram now come to an end. ‘Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) is celebrated simultaneously in Makkah and across the Muslim world. It commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, Isma‘il, in obedience to God. Today charities encourage British-Muslims to donate their qurbani offering to the poor world-wide. Here, an Islamic Relief shop in Bradford, promotes its campaign.

© Seán McLoughlin, 2015. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Souvenirs and Shared Blessings

Travelling material objects share the baraka (blessings) of the Holy Places. Perhaps the most significant of these is water from the well of Zamzam, which stands near the Ka’ba. Airlines currently allow each pilgrim to return home with up to 10 litres often in large, mass-produced plastic bottles like the one here at a mosque in Bury. Visitors may be invited to stand facing Makkah and drink the Zamzam from special cups, while listening to stories about its curative properties.

© Seán McLoughlin, 2015. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Being a Hajji: Changing Public Significance

Returning pilgrims bear the new, honorific titles of ‘Hajji’ (men) and ‘Hajja’ (women). Traditionally expected to be more pious and enlightened, they have often been given a special respect in Muslim communities. This shop-front in East London illustrates how such values still find expression in the urban landscape. However, Hajj-going has become rather commonplace in Britain and the public significance of performing the pilgrimage is declining. Nevertheless, a pilgrim's lifestyle can still be a matter of scrutiny in close-knit communities.

© Seán McLoughlin, 2014. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Spiritual Efficacy and the Desire to Return

For Hajjis like Bilal, photographed here at home in Leeds wearing clothes and scent from the Holy Places, and standing in front of a picture of the Great Mosque, Hajj is profoundly spiritually uplifting and potentially life-changing. Some pilgrims do manage to take their experiences forward with them as they settle back into everyday routines. But this is not easy to sustain. Thus British-Muslims today tend to be unanimous in their desire to return to Makkah and Madinah one day.

© Seán McLoughlin, 2011. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Translating the 'Zibaldone'

One of the most famous works in Italian Literature has finally been translated into English thanks to AHRC funding.

The Parthian Empire at its Greatest Extent (c. 96 BC)

In the early 1st century BC, Parthia’s territory expanded to the River Euphrates. Parthian and Roman envoys met to establish this landmark as the boundary between the two superpowers. At this first meeting, the Roman magistrate reportedly seized the seat of honour, humiliating his Parthian counterpart as the inferior ambassador. In 53 BC, Parthia finally demonstrated its strength by crushing the Roman army at Carrhae. 30,000 soldiers were killed or captured, and several legionary standards were lost to the Parthians.

Alexandra Magub - School of Oriental and African Studies and The British Museum

The Parthian Shot: silver tetradrachm of an unknown king (c. 80-70 BC).

The archer on Parthian coins not only represented the military might of the Parthians, but also their Iranian character. Trousers were considered effeminate clothing in the Roman world; however the folds of material (shown on the coins as horizontal lines) prevented saddle chaffing. These mounted archers were a chilling reminder of Rome’s defeat at Carrhae: the Roman historian Justin recounts how the cavalrymen would gallop in retreat, only to turn in the saddle and fire fatal shots from their bows. 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver denarius of Augustus (63 BC–14 AD).

In 20 BC, Augustus, Emperor of Rome, and Phraates IV, King of Parthia, negotiated the return of Rome’s captured standards. While both sides benefited from this treaty, Augustus was quick to portray the event as a personal victory.  On this coin, a Parthian wearing the characteristic trouser suit returns a standard from his knees. Recounting these events, Augustus published the claim throughout his empire, “I forced the Parthians… as supplicants to accept the friendship of the Roman people“(Res Gestae, 29). 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver drachm of Phraates IV (c. 37-2 BC).

Parthian kings placed greater emphasis on displaying their God-given splendour (Old Persian, khvarnah) rather than circulating propaganda against their enemies. The khvarnah was an important aspect of the Iranian Zoroastrian religion in ancient times, illuminating the king in celestial splendour and granting him invulnerability in battle. In the Zoroastrian hymns, the Veragna bird delivers the khvarnah and this idea can be seen on Phraates IV’s coinage. A star and crescent moon illuminate him as the holder of this divine splendour.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Golden necklace, said to be discovered at Deylaman in north-west Iran.

This necklace brings to life the magnificent jewellery depicted on Parthian coinage. Made of gold and inlaid with gems, it shows two birds clasping kingship rings in their beaks. They evoke the idea of the Zoroastrian Veragna bird, showing that the khvarnah is firmly held by the wearer. Compared to more austere Roman coin portraits, Parthian kings were depicted with lavish earrings, torques, and richly beaded headdresses. These items also symbolise the exotic wealth held within the King’s vast Empire. 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Gold aureus of Quintus Labienus Parthicus (died 39 BC).

In 40 BC, this Roman general joined forces with Parthia to fight against a shared enemy: Julius Caesar’s successors. Labienus’ portrait is accompanied by a saddled Parthian horse armed with a bow case- an evocative image for Romans and Parthians alike. Roman accounts claim the Parthians used gold exclusively to adorn their war horses and weapons. Similarly, the Zoroastrian victory deity, Verethragna, is said to have incarnated as a horse with golden adornments, and as a warrior with golden weapons.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver drachm of Phraataces ("Little Phraates") and Musa (c. 2 BC-4 AD).

At the peace negotiations of 20 BC, Phraates IV received the concubine Musa as a gift from Rome. He was eventually murdered by Musa and their son, Phraataces. The mother-son conspirators reportedly married and ruled Parthia jointly, as shown on this coin. Horrified Roman sources assert that the pair was killed because of this marriage; however, this was not unusual amongst Parthian Zoroastrians. More likely, Musa and Phraataces were perceived to have lost the khvarnah following territorial losses to Rome.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver coin of the Armenian king Tigranes (II) the Great (c. 140-55 BC)

Tigranes II was a Parthian hostage until he bought his freedom and took the Armenian throne. Although Armenia was nestled between Roman and Parthian territories, he resisted their encroachments. Tigranes abandoned the Parthian-style domed tiara of his predecessor for a pointed Armenian tiara illustrating the khvarnah with Veragna birds and a star. The Greek city goddess Tyche is shown on the reverse with a river god at her feet. Despite their Greek appearance, they represent the captured city of Antioch-on-the-Orontes.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver tetradrachm of Phraates III (c. 70-57 BC).

In a rare alliance, Rome and Parthia agreed to overthrow the Armenian Tigranes II. Phraates III, wearing an impressive Parthian tiara decorated with beads, stags and a horn, wanted to place an ally on the Armenian throne. The coin’s reverse shows the enthroned king holding a Veragna bird while Tyche (representing the Parthian city Seleucia-on-the-Tigris) crowns him. In the coin’s inscription Phraates III arrogantly claims to be ‘divine’. He was eventually murdered by his sons for the disastrous Roman alliance.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Postcard of the royal tombs at Nimrud Dagh in Commagene (modern south-central Turkey).

Like Armenia, the kingdom of Commagene bordered both Roman and Parthian territories. In 62 BC, Antiochus I Theos (‘the Divine’) commissioned his royal tomb at Nimrud Dagh. His colossal statue stood alongside figures of lions, Veragna birds, claimed ancestors from both ancient Persian kings and from Alexander the Great, as well as gods fused together from Armenian, Iranian and Greek pantheons. This unique theology placed the king amongst gods of all nations, and sent a strong message to neighbouring superpowers.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Basalt stela of Antiochus I Theos greeting Verethragna-Herakles-Ares from Nimrud Dagh (1st century BC)

Antiochus I is shown as an eastern king wearing an adapted Armenian tiara with a lion decoration. He shakes hands with the divine Verethragna-Herakles-Ares (shown nude in the Greek fashion) who represents Victory and Strength in Zoroastrian, Greek and Roman traditions. Like the balance of cultures in this religious relief, Commagene was cautious in choosing its political alliances. Although Commagene cooperated with Rome, the statesman Cicero was wary of Antiochus’ loyalty: “…the least trust should be given to that king.”

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver drachm of Hormizd II (303-309 AD).

This Sasanian king’s crown is adorned with a bird holding an incandescent pearl in its beak, echoing earlier images of the Veragna bird delivering the khvarnah. The coin’s reverse shows a central fire holder with the king emerging from the sacred flames. Fire was considered to be the son of Ahura Mazda and was a sacred symbol of the Zoroastrian religion. During the Parthian and Sasanian periods, a regnal fire was lit when a new king ascended the throne.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Marble statue of Mithras slaying the bull, found in Rome (2nd century AD)

In the 1st-4th centuries AD, the Mithraic Mysteries seeped into Roman culture from the East. This secretive religion was inspired by the Zoroastrian Mithra, divinity of Contract and Oath. This statue displays Roman Mithras in a Parthian-like costume powerfully pinning down a bull for ritual slaughter. It is thought that Mithras appealed to the martial identity of Roman soldiers serving in the East. A Zoroastrian hymn describes an armed Mithra victoriously smashing the skulls of the Daevas or evil spirits.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Painted manuscript showing the hero Rostam piercing an enemy, made in Shiraz in southern Iran (1435-1440 AD).

This illustration shows a scene from the Shahnameh, an epic work that recounts Iran’s historical and mythological past. Elements from Roman, Greek and Zoroastrian sources are echoed in the depicted central hero, Rostam. A feline skin covers Rostam’s helmet and jacket, mirroring the Greek hero Herakles’ famed lion pelt. As seen in Commagene, Herakles was associated with Verethragna, the Zoroastrian divinity of Victory who appeared as a gold-adorned horse and warrior. Golden details also decorate Rostam’s illustrated weapons and armour.

© Trustees of the British Museum

(c) Katarina Kelsey, no title, translation of Auriol's image, 18-25 March 2015:

“I was given some contextual background to Auriol’s translation of Sam’s piece that I initially thought I would base my translation on. However I felt unable to translate her narrative and realised I would only be interpreting it. Ultimately I turned to a material translation to translate some of the key themes of her work. Taking inspiration from translations such as Hölderlin's Antigone and Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, I hope my material translation can convey Auriol’s piece to you.” 

(c) Matt Rowe, no title, translation of Briony's image, 6-13 May 2015:

“My translation into a three-dimensional ceramic object continues the core narrative of the resampling of the environment and the suggested ownership of a natural object. I constructed a chalice-like ceramic vessel and fired it using combustive fuel harvested from the seashore, which leaves a carbon imprint on the body of the ceramic. Within the temple-like structure of the kiln I attempted a reprocessing of materials abundant within the seascape of my hometown Folkestone.” http://mattroweportfolio.co.uk 

Drawing of Ardashir I's investiture relief at Naqsh-e Rostam in southern Iran (224-242 AD), from R. Ker Porter (1821) Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia... 1817-1820 vol. I, pl.23; Longman & Co., London

The rise of the Sasanians in southern Iran brought the Parthian Empire to an end in 224 AD. On this rock relief, the royal crown is passed from the supreme Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda (right) to the new king Ardashir I (left). While the God’s horse treads on Ahriman (the embodiment of Evil), Ardashir’s tramples his defeated Parthian opponent. The horses touch poignantly. The relief establishes which king has been granted the khvarnah and is favoured by the divine world.

Richard Neave and the Manchester method

Mr Richard Neave developed the combination technique for facial depiction, called the Manchester method, which incorporated the anatomical and anthropometrical methods. This method includes attention to head and neck muscle structure along with the use of tissue depth markers as guides. Image used with permission from Richard Neave and the University of Manchester.

Technological advances – Digital facial depiction from skeletal remains (Richard III)

This series of images showcases the digital 3D method of facial depiction from human remains developed by Professor Caroline Wilkinson. This technique follows the Manchester method and employs digital sculpting software and a haptic interface. The image shows the face of King Richard III, built from computed tomography (CT) data of the skeletal remains. © Professor Caroline Wilkinson (University of Dundee) and the Richard III Society.

The Melancholy Cataleptic

Albert Londe, Clinique des Maladies du Système Nerveux, 1889. This photograph is of a cataleptic patient in the midst of a seizure. Her rigid limbs have most likely been posed in this position by the photographer or an attendant. She looks like a dancer without a partner. The capturing of these images was common in European hospitals in the later nineteenth century and they signify a relationship between doctor and patient of domination and passivity, where the patient is reduced to their medical condition. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.

Peculiarities of Safety

Alexander Morison, The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases, 1838. The epileptic patient above, staring out at the artist, suffered from mania with epilepsy and is pictured in a straightjacket and an oddly thick headband. This item of medical clothing was designed to mitigate head injuries in patients suffering from seizures. The image captures the ambiguities inherent in the relationship between medical technology and humanity. A poignant illustration like this one highlights the very slender but significant differences between intention and experience. © Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).

Ethics of Research

A. Cartaz, “Du somnambulisme et du magnétisme à propos du cours du Dr Charcot à la Salpêtrière”, 1879. Research with patients was shot through with problems of power, care and responsibility. Here, the leading French neurologist Charcot examines the relation between seizures and sound (perhaps with the same patient photographed in Image 1). The illustration speaks to the particular gender politics of male physician and female patient and to emerging cultures of bodily display, the latest incarnations of which can be found in the ‘body spectacle’ genre of medical television. © Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).

My Name is Angeline

M. Lannois, “Dermographisme chez des épileptiques atteints d’helminthiase intestinale”, 1901. Look carefully: the woman pictured has her name scratched into her chest and back. The writing was probably done by her physician. Angeline Donadieu was an epileptic patient at the turn of the twentieth century. She is exemplifying a particular condition known as dermographism – skin that retains the imprint of marks traced onto it. Yet the image speaks most powerfully of the relation between medical and personal identity. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.

Seizures in Performance

D. Younger, The Magnetic and Botanic Family Physician, 1887. Employing cataleptics or epileptics to perform particular medical roles shaded into wider performance in the later nineteenth century. Although this image shows a purportedly “scientific” experiment using mesmerism on a cataleptic subject it appears far more like the stage show of a magician. Regarding seizures as material for popular performance shifted them from the realm of medicine into the public sphere and made them subject to industries of entertainment. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.

Picturing Seizures 1

Paul Richer, Études cliniques sur l'hystéro-épilepsie ou grande hystérie, 1881. This, and the illustration following, depict attempts by medical artists to provide an illustrative account of an epileptic seizure. The physical, high-speed movements of the body are difficult to capture in a static image. Nevertheless, the artist has managed to give a visually striking picture of the stresses under which the human body contorts. The stark line drawing makes clear how such images are an intertwining of medical and artistic representation. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.

Picturing Seizures 2

Paul Richer, Études cliniques sur l'hystéro-épilepsie ou grande hystérie, 1881. Richer’s illustrations (in the previous image and here) also defamiliarize our assumptions. The figures are both athletic and balletic but also monstrously deformed and racked with pain. These images depict the wonder as well as the abjection of the material human condition. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.

Digital Variations

Gus Cummins, “04”, 2009. Gus Cummins is one among a group of artists with first-hand experience of seizures who use their personal experience to inform their creative practice. Cummins’s artwork is a representation of his body’s movements during a seizure, as tracked by video telemetry. It is strikingly reminiscent of the drawings of Richer; capturing the similar experience of epilepsy across the centuries. © Gus Cummins. Courtesy of the artist. www.ictal.net. Cummins.angus@gmail.com

Body and Mind

Susan Aldworth, “Elisabeth”, 2012, monotype. Drawing inspiration from new medical imaging technologies, some contemporary artists have deepened our understanding of the relation between neurology, the body, and the experience of illness by imagining how seizures function in all three arenas. The artist Susan Aldworth merges images of nerve action in the brain with the shapes of the human skeletal form and the female reproductive system to suggest the extensive anxieties that often accompany neurological disease. © Susan Aldworth. Image courtesy of the artist and GV Art gallery, London.

The Influence of Technology

Richard Davis, “Tears, Pain and a Troubled Mind…The Definition of Epilepsy”, 2014. Richard Davis is another artist with epilepsy who uses his art both as a form of therapy and as an activity to promote a greater public understanding of seizures and their effects. In paintings like this one, which re-imagines the images produced by brain activity mapping technologies, Davis pictures the seizing brain as a science-fictional labyrinth that disorients and threatens the creativity of the epileptic adventurer. © Richard Davis. Theartistlife@tampabay.rr.com. Courtesy of the artist and Epilepsy Foundation.