Bethlem Hospital for lunatics, built to the designs of Robert Hooke between 1674 and 1676 in London, is a singularly famous building that has been little studied. This article summarizes the available written evidence, including the minutes of the Court of Governors' deliberations during Bethlem construction and contemporary prose and poetic celebrations of the result, to show that one conventional rhetorical use of the building, as a monstrous emblem of vanity, may be suprisingly apposite given the governors' preoccupation with how it be viewed, both literally and figuratively. However, they seem to have expected that post-Fire and post-Restoration London would be willing to entertain a conception of a lunatic asylum more polysemous than has been possible since, possibly because Bethlem created the type. Hooke's application of the domestic gallery, in particular, not only introduced a wide range of associations with health, hospitality, instruction, and pleasure, it permitted a plan that was concurrently applauded as inherently curative. It is, however, Bethlem's façade which soon became notorious; the article concludes with an explanation for the significance of its grandeur, and for the failure of the signification.
- Copyright 1996 The Society of Architectural Historians