Philosophy Run Mad or a Stupendous Monument of Human Wisdom

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Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827), Philosophy Run Mad or a Stupendous Monument of Human Wisdom, 1792. Etching on tinted sheet. Graphic Arts GA Rowlandson Collection.

In December of 1792, Thomas Rowlandson drew a frenetic caricature focused on the French Revolution and the declaration by the new government that “no institutions alien to the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity were to be recognized.” That France should take these words, Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, fraternity or brotherhood) struck Rowlandson as ironic after the bloody battles fought just weeks before this.

At the center of his print, instead of a beautiful young woman representing the Republic, Rowlandson places a shrieking hag, still in her nightgown. Her rocky seat of power is balanced on the ruined pillars of Humanity, Social Happiness, Tranquiliy [sic], Security, Domestic Peace, Laws, Urbanity, Order, and Religion.

On her left is Liberty, presented as a Jacobean, with his foot firmly planted on the law and a bloody head speared with his dagger. This is contrasted on the right with the aristocratic Equality, on his knees begging for his life. At the far right side, the word Humanity is placed by a mutilated man, whose bleeding heart is being raised by his killer.