Christmas has come early at Print Shop Window headquarters this year – A package containing a newly acquired set of caricature prints finally arrived in the post this morning. Most of the prints date to the second half of the 1790s and appear to have been taken from a larger contemporary collection of caricatures that was dominated by the works of Isaac Cruikshank and the publishers William Holland and S.W. Fores.
One of the most interesting and unusual items to emerge from the furiously shredded pile of brown paper and packing tape that lay on my kitchen floor this morning, was this caricature of William Pitt. It was produced by an anonymous artist for the publisher and printseller William Holland in May 1797 and shows the Prime Minister in the guise of an anatomical model. His torso and skull have been opened and their contents are marked with a series of humorous labels which indicate the various physiological and psychological attributes which mark Pitt out as a successful politician. Hence we can see that his knees are labelled “flexibility”, his heart “money”, the brain “calculations” and his stomach is awash with “claret and red port”.
It’s an image which in part reflects the broader fascination with the development of anatomical science in this period. Medical practice was still a highly deregulated trade in the late eighteenth-century and the market for healthcare in Georgian England was awash with a dubious collection of enthusiastic amateurs, backstreet doctors and out-and-out quacks, looking to capitalise on the sick and the infirm. Consequently, medical text books and charts appear to have had a surprisingly broad audience, with many of London’s print shops and booksellers carrying anatomical diagrammes and popular books, such as John Bell’s Engravings Expressing the Anatomy of the Bones, Muscles and Joints (1797) among their stock. The humour of this particular print no doubt being reinforced by the fact that it may well have been displayed alongside the serious studies of human anatomy that were sold by Holland and his wholesale customers.