Images of Justice and the public stage-management of capital punishment (1350-1600)
Throughout the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, mobile images (tavolette, crucifix) were used to accompany the condemned to their execution sites, where scaffolds were set, extra muros. In Bologna and other northern Italian towns, criminals carried right before their face tavolette, mobile representations of Christ’s Passion or saints’ martyrdoms, used as dying aids to guide the soul of the executed through redemption. The “narcotic-salvific icon of Christ on the cross” would appear either on little portable panels or in the shape of mobile crucifixes, held at the level of the eyes of the condemned. In Italy, novel types of tavolette were invented which further accentuated the visual constraint device: the idea was to present an image on which the condemned man's gaze had to be so focused that he could not see anything else. In creating this exclusive pictorial space just for the poor sinner, the intent of judicial officers was to secure a visual diversion to enable the afflitto to shun everything outside his line of vision.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours contains a rare example of these panels. My talk will be dedicated to the case study of these two artefacts.
LE STUDIUM / Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow