Comparative Guts

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The Reward of Cruelty

(The Four Stages of Cruelty), etching and engraving by William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764),
February 1, 1751, plate: 15 1/4 x 12 5/8 in. (38.8 x 32 cm)
sheet: 15 3/4 x 13 1/16 in. (40 x 33.2 cm)

Metropolitan Museum, New York, Gift of Sarah Lazarus, 1891, no. 91.1.139.

This scene, incorporating traditional elements of the anatomical theatre made famous by the frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (1543), is the fourth and final stage of cruelty in Hogarth’s life of the fictional murderer Tom Nero, whose body lies on the table being dissected, the hangman’s noose still around his neck. Disemboweled by the anatomist’s knife, Nero’s intestines are being pulled out by a kneeling assistant while another assistant gouges out his eye. The message of Hogarth’s moralizing scene is that cruelty’s “reward” is dissection and public mutilation after death. The pained expression Hogarth has given Nero’s corpse serves to reinforce the message of punishment.

Gideon Manning