Foucault writes in Surveiller et punir,
“In this way the hospital building was gradually organised as an instrument of medical action: it was to allow a better observation of patients, and therefore a better calibration of their treatment; the form of the buildings, by the careful separation of the patients, was to prevent contagion; lastly, the ventilation and air that circulated around each bed was to prevent the deleterious vapours from stagnating around the patient, breaking down his humours and spreading the disease by their immediate effects”.
In this instance, paintings should be regarded as patients, and visitors as the life-threatening diseases that must be marked off by a cordon sanitaire in the gallery. Though the “miasma theory” has been discredited, its residue remains in some security measures. And it did feature in the history of the National Gallery in the 19th century, when concerns were raised about miasma harming paintings, or diseases brought in by visitors from Trafalgar Square.
In the Barocci exhibition guards followed me from painting to painting, like a doctor in attendance?