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Exhibition pulls together images of blood over 2000 years

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 24 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1206
  1. Annabel Ferriman
  1. BMJ

    An exhibition of 160 works devoted to the emotional, social, cultural, and scientific aspects of blood over the past 2000 years has opened in Frankfurt, Germany.

    Using paintings, manuscripts, photographs, and engravings from museums in Britain, Austria, Germany, the United States, and Russia, it looks at how artists in different times have expressed their understanding of one of humanity's most powerful symbols.

    Works by such artists as Marina Abramovic, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Joseph Beuys, Albrecht Dürer, and Ilya Repin are divided into four sections, covering sacrificial blood, redeeming blood, pathological blood, and dynastic blood. Several of the portraits in the last section relate to the Romanovs, Russia's royal family, who continued to remarry despite the evidence of haemophilia.

    One of the portraits—the black and white photograph shown above—shows Alexis, the son of Tsar Nicholas II, on his tricycle. Because of his haemophilia he was forced to ride a tricycle to ensure that he did not fall, cut himself, and bleed to death.

    Other portraits in the section on dynastic blood feature the Hapsburg family, who ensured the continuity of the dynasty by marrying first cousins, despite biblical proscriptions. Every time a Hapsburg married a first cousin, the family had to get a special papal dispensation at substantial financial and political cost. The physiological cost was a distinctive family appearance—a thrusting jaw and a drooping lower lip—and a predisposition to melancholy and madness.

    Entrance to the exhibition costs DM12 (£3.80; $5.40) to adults but is free to all those who give blood at mobile blood banks.

    Blood: Perspectives on Art, Power, Politics and Pathology is at the Schirn Kunsthalle and mak.frankfurt until 27 January 2002. More information is available on