Two Guillotine blades and plinth

Made:
1790-1794 in France
Two Guillotine blades and plinth (guillotine) Two Guillotine blades and plinth (guillotine) Guillotine blades and plinth Guillotine blades and plinth Guillotine blades and plinth

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Creative Commons LicenseThis image is released under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Licence

Buy this image as a print 

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License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

License

Creative Commons LicenseThis image is released under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Licence

Buy this image as a print 

Buy

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

License

Creative Commons LicenseThis image is released under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Licence

Buy this image as a print 

Buy

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

License

Creative Commons LicenseThis image is released under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Licence

Buy this image as a print 

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License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

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Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Guillotine blades and plinth
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Guillotine blades and plinth
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Guillotine blades and plinth
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Two Guillotine blades and plinth, unsigned, French, 1790-1794. Used at the execution of Jean-Baptiste Carrier in 1794.

Jean-Baptiste Carrier was a very unpleasant man. And on the 16th November 1794, this actual blade swiftly removed his head. In the wake of the French Revolution, Carrier had become a cruel and sadistic leader whose murderous actions were extreme even for those violent times. But eventually, he too stepped out of line and was himself sentenced to death. But, as he faced his end, why should he have had some small reason to thank a French doctor who had very different views on the nature of life and death?

If you were condemned to execution by decapitation prior to 1792, you were probably in for a messy business. A sword was normally used, but if the executioner was inexperienced or the blade blunt, your head was unlikely to come off cleanly. An agonising death was guaranteed. But just two years before Carrier’s demise, doctor Joseph Ignace Guillotin advocated a ‘humane alternative’ – a never failing execution machine. Designed by fellow doctor Antoine Louis it became known as the “Guillotine” and it carried blades like this one.

Guillotin had wanted to make the process short and painless, and the Guillotine was indeed incredibly efficient. But the device ensured that executions became even greater public spectacles. Ironically, Guillotin was against the death penalty and had hoped his machine would be a step along the road to abolition. So, do you think Guillotin would have been appalled at the reality of his ‘humane project’? Besides, can killing another human being ever be considered ‘humane’ or even ethical in the first place? And should doctors ever be involved in capital punishment? By the way, the guillotine was last used in France in 1977 and was not officially retired until the abolition of the death penalty there in 1981.

Details

Category:
Wellcome (general)
Collection:
Sir Henry Wellcome's Museum Collection
Object Number:
A79526
Materials:
blades (2), steel and plinth, wood
Measurements:
overall: 580 mm x 290 mm x 13 mm, 9.54 kg
overall each blade (weight): 8 kg
overall each blade (length across frame): 290 mm
overall each blade (diagonal length): 640 mm
type:
guillotine
credit:
Legrange, V.

Parts

Guillotine blade

Guillotine blade

Guillotine blade, one of two, unsigned, French, 1790-1794. Used at the execution of Jean-Baptiste Carrier in 1794.

Materials:
steel and incomplete
Object Number:
A79526/1
type:
guillotine