|L'Inhumation Precipitate, (The Burial Precipitated) 1854, Antoine Wiertz, depicts a cholera victim awakening after being placed in a coffin.
|Guillotined Head, 1855, Antoine Joseph Wiertz
|Wiertz was a prolific painter of self-portraits, his first at the age of eighteen.
|Les Grecs et les Troyens se disputant le corps de Patrocle, 1836, Antoine Wiertz
|The painting is in pretty bad condition. The description from Wiertz (below) suggests what it's like to die such a horrible death. The triptych painting was painted some five years after the grotesque experiment.
A horrible buzzing noise, the sound of the blade descending. The victim believes that he has been struck by lightning, not the axe. Astonishingly, the head lies under the scaffold and yet still believes it is above, still believes itself to be part of the body, and still waits for the blow that will cut it off. Horrible choking! No way to breathe. The asphyxia is appalling. It comes from an inhuman, supernatural hand, weighing down like a mountain on the head and neck. A cloud of fire passes before his eyes. Everything is red and glitters.
Now comes the moment when the executed man thinks he is stretching his cramped, trembling hands towards the dying head. It is the same instinct that drives us to press a hand against a gaping wound. And it occurs with the dreadful intention of setting the head back on the trunk, to preserve a little blood, a little life. Delirium redoubles his strength and energy. In his imagination, it seems that his head is on fire and spins in a dizzying motion, that the universe collapses and turns with it, as a phosphorescent liquid swirls around and merges with his skull. A moment later his head is plunging into the depths of eternity. That’s when a swarm of images, each more terrible than the one before, crowd into a soul beaten by the fiery breath of nameless pain. The guillotined head sees his coffin, sees his trunk and limbs collapse, ready to be enclosed in the wooden box in which thousands of worms are about to devour his flesh. Physicians explore the tissue of his neck with the tip of a scalpel. Every nick is a bite of fire. The exhausted brain sees small children near him. He likes that. That’s him: his hair blond and curly, his cheeks round and pink. Meanwhile, he feels the brain continue to sink and feels sharp stabs of pain.
He is not yet dead. The head still thinks and suffers a fire that burns, suffers the dagger that dismembers, suffers the poison that cramps, suffers in the limbs, as they are sawn through, suffers in his viscera, as they are torn out, suffers in his flesh, as it is hacked and trampled down, suffers in his bones, which are slowly boiled in bubbling oil. All this suffering put together still cannot convey any idea of what the executed man is going through. And here a thought makes him stiff with terror: Is he already dead and must he suffer like this from now on? Perhaps for all eternity?*
|Christ in the Tomb triptych, 1839, Antoine Wiertz
*Mike Dash, A Blast from History, January, 2011