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The Cover
August 2, 2000

After Death, Study of a Severed Head

Author Affiliations
 

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2000;284(5):533. doi:10.1001/jama.284.5.533

With its graceful swirls of white cradling the head and neck and the play of light across a striking face, the painting by the 19th-century Frenchman Charles Émile Callandre de Champmartin (1797-1883) appears at first glance to be a loving portrait of an elderly person dying at the end of a long and debilitating illness. It is distressing, but for the dedicated artist as normal a part of life as the early moments of a newborn. (Years later, in 1879, Claude Monet would do a similar portrait of his wife Camille as she lay on her deathbed.) Only after one has looked at the title does the full horror of the painting sink in. After Death, Study of a Severed Head, which was painted by Champmartin in 1818/1819, belongs to a category of literature and art that arose in Europe (and became very popular) in the early 19th century called genre noir. That same year, in England, the 21-year-old Mary Shelley published her genre noir novel Frankenstein, which also described body parts.

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