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The Reward of Cruelty, from The Four Stages of Cruelty

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The Reward of Cruelty, from The Four Stages of Cruelty

18th century
58.5 cm x 44.5 cm (23 1/16 in. x 17 1/2 in.)

William Hogarth (London, 1697 - 1764, London) Primary

Object Type: print
Artist Nationality: Europe, English
Medium and Support: Etching with engraving
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1991
Accession Number: 1991.158

In Early Georgian England, surgeons and their patients had a low social status relative to physicians and their aristocratic clientele. Surgery, which treated external maladies, such as cuts, bruises, and broken bones, retained its inferior status because it was a manual trade. Making matters worse, surgical practice and sedation were inadequate. Patients endured excruciating pain and the procedures often caused gangrene. Amputation had a frighteningly high mortality rate. Dissection by surgeons for anatomy lessons was particularly loathed, primarily because of the body stealing necessary. In an era when body and soul were not conceived separate, only the most evil of souls or the unidentified were subject to the anatomist’s knife.

The Reward of Cruelty is the last print in the series of four entitled The Four Stages of Cruelty, which depicts the life of Tom Nero, a murderer who met his death by the hangman’s noose. In this print, Nero suffers the fate of many criminals of the day who were turned over to a company of surgeons for dissection. Ironically, Nero has befallen the same forms of mutilation and dismemberment, including the gouging of one of his eyes, that he
inflicted upon others during his killing spree.

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