Artibus et Historiae no. 69 (XXXV)

2014, ISSN 0391-9064

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ACHIM TIMMERMANN - Locus calvariae: Walking and Hanging with Christ and the Good Thief, c. 1350 – c. 1700 (pp. 137–162)

This essay examines the role of images in the public stage-management of capital punishment between c. 1350 and c. 1700. The argument revolves around two broad categories of images, that is, firstly, portable images such as the tavolette of the Italian Renaissance and the northern European crucifixes, and secondly, stationary images in the form of the German fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Armsünderkreuze (literally ‘poor sinner’s crosses’) and the Dysmas statues of the Austrian Baroque. While the former were carried before the condemned criminal on his or her way to the scaffold, the latter were permanent fixtures erected either en route or on the locus infamis outside the city walls. Often featuring Passion imagery, or, as in the statues of the Good Thief Dysmas, the idealized figure of a penitent mediator, the images here under consideration were essentially conceived as dying aids, providing a form of visual anaesthesia for the condemned, while at the same time coaxing him or her into accepting their terrible fate and dying a good death. More importantly, if used in an urban context, both the Italian tavolette and the Armsünderkreuze of the German-speaking lands had the capacity to produce a kind of double image, a flickering between the streets, walls, and execution sites of a contemporary city such as Bologna or Nuremberg, and the sacred topography of Christ’s Jerusalem. In this scenario, the procession to the scaffold was transformed into a real-life Passion play in which the condemned was encouraged to play the lead role and in which the images under investigation became all-important stage props.

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