A new exhibition exploring the social, religious and medical meaning of the condition known as “melancholia” is opening at the Bethlem Museum of Mind this evening.

A term that came into use in the 17th century, melancholia covered a range of conditions we now understand in terms of mental health.

The Anatomy of Melancholia explores how the proposed causes and cures of the condition are represented with the art collection of the Bethlem Museum of Mind.

Colin Gale, Director, Bethlem Museum of the Mind, said: “This exhibition of rarely-seen works from the Museum’s reserve collections showcases a wealth of talent and lived experience, and opens up a range of powerful perspectives – serious, yet hopeful perspectives – on the human condition.”

The exhibition uses a seventeenth century bestseller of the same name, written by Robert Burton, as a starting point. The book assigned a range of causes to, and cautiously advanced possible remedies for, the condition.

A 1652 edition of the book, on loan from Museum Dr Guislain in Belgium, will take centre stage.

A range of six possible causes of, and remedies for, melancholia are depicted on the famous front of this volume, and these have lent the exhibition its thematic structure.

The six causes proposed are: Sickness, Solitude, Jealousy, Disappointment in Love, Insanity and Religious Melancholy.

There will be work by 15 artists on display, spanning 200 years from the nineteenth-century to the present, including Jonathan Martin and Richard Dadd from the nineteenth century; Charles Sims and Madge Gill from the twentieth, and contemporary artists George Harding and Tracie Hodge.

The term ‘melancholia’ originated in Ancient Greece, as one of the ‘four humours’ - ill health caused by an imbalance in the body’s elemental properties.

Robert Burton thought that those afflicted with melancholia were “of a deep reach, excellent apprehension, judicious, wise and witty”.

Over time, the profile of the melancholic artist persisted, but with more negative connotations.