on the morning of 18 February 1848, two men and a woman walked into
the square in front of the Porte de Hal, in Brussels [below left], where
a public execution was due to take place shortly after dawn. They were
there to conduct a ground-breaking scientific study, and, by prior
arrangement with the Belgian penal authorities, were permitted to climb
onto the scaffold and wait next to the guillotine at the spot where the
severed heads of two condemned criminals were scheduled to drop into a
blood red sack.
One of the men was Antoine Joseph Wiertz, a well known Belgian
painter and also a fine hypnotic subject. With him were his friend,
Monsieur D_____, a noted hypnotist, and a witness. Wiertz’s purpose on
that winter’s day was to carry out a unique and extraordinary
experiment. Long haunted by the desire to know whether a severed head
remained conscious after a guillotining, the painter had agreed to be
hypnotised and instructed to identify himself with a man who was about
to be executed for murder.