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The Nomos of Images. Manifestations of the Law in Picture Atlases and Photo Archives

Ad oculos: torture, pillory, testimony

The law relies not just on theatrical presence, and visibility but also on the principal of witnessing. Depictions of scenes in which a confession is extracted from a defendant, because the outcome of the court proceeding depended on it, can be found in numerous visual media. Variations of Christian martyrdom representing the presence of witnesses and torture resemble images of “real” torture and execution. Fiction and reality blend in these depictions.
The stations of legal rituals in public space were to lead past as many witnesses as possible. A person sentenced to death was walked not just along the walls of the former Florentine prison at the Bargello, but also past tabernacles where he could publicly do penance one last time. The forms and formats of humiliation rituals come in many variations, ranging from the coat of shame and the plain wooden horse that the defendant was displayed on to the scold’s bridle and the stones of shame that were put around the neck of blasphemers. Mockery is also part of Christian iconography, as when Fra Angelico incorporated the humiliating gestures and instruments of Christ’s tormentors as fragments into his fresco. The executioner’s swords in the museum have become functionless and chains from pillories and gallows nowadays hang inconspicuously on the walls of houses or stand by themselves in the landscape. Similarly, figurative representations have lost their significance, like the statue of Judith that was erected on Piazza della Signoria as a cautionary sign of justice. As witnesses of the legal world of the past, all these objects converge again in the image archive.


St. George is martyred with iron hooks, fresco, 14th century. Ubisi, Georgia: St. George’s Monastery. Photograph by Dror Maayan, 2006. KHI, Photothek, inv. 592701

The Via Ghibellina with the Bargello, Florence. Photograph by Hilde Lotz-Bauer. KHI, Photothek, inv. 378132

Madonna tabernacle, corner of Via dei Malcontenti and Via delle Casine, Florence. Photograph by Ivo Bazzechi, before 1976. KHI, Photothek, inv. 486808

Coat of shame with illustrations of the crime committed, print. Karl von Amira archive, Munich. Folder 5: coat of shame, necklace of shame, jougs, stones of shame, masks of shame and branks.

Mask of shame, pillory in Bernau near Berlin. Photograph by Karl Frölich, 1930-50. Karl Frölich Collection, Max Planck Institute of European Legal History, Frankfurt/M., inv. SF=G0010F452401a

Wooden donkey of shame, pillory from Rosdorf, Museum Göttingen. Photograph by Karl Frölich, 1930-50. Karl Frölich Collection, Max Planck Institute of European Legal History, Frankfurt/M., inv. SF=F0000D040401a

Stone of shame on the town hall of Mulhouse, drawing by Karl von Amira. Karl von Amira archive, Munich. Folder 5, image 51: shrew’s fiddles, stocks, coat of shame, necklace of shame, jougs, stake, stones of shame, masks of shame and branks, body rings.

The Mocking of Christ, Fra Angelico. Florence: San Marco, cell 7. Photograph by Brogi, before 1895. KHI, Photothek, FL no. 2435

Executioner’s swords from the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg, 15th to 18th centuries. Karl von Amira archive, Munich. Folder 3: executioner’s swords, image 27 B

Pillory on the wall of the municipal in Birkenau. Photograph by Karl Frölich, 1930-50. Karl Frölich Collection, Max Planck Institute of European Legal History, Frankfurt/M., inv. SF=F0000D050001a

Pillar of shame with the head of the in Mühlheim decapitated Nikolaus Gülich, copperplate engraving. Photograph by Karl Frölich, 1930-50. Karl Frölich Collection, Max Planck Institute of European Legal History, Frankfurt/M., inv. SF=F0000D028601a

Judith and Holofernes, bronze replica of the original statue by Donatello (1453/57), Florence, Piazza della Signoria. Photograph by Luigi Artini. KHI, Photothek, inv. 575822




© KHI in Florence | 09.08.2020 16:55:47