jump to navigation
  • In Search of Medieval Pain February 26, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    christ ognisanti

    First, a small rider. Beach would prefer to spend ten minutes in the company of medieval artists, than two hours in the company of the Renaissance ‘masters’. However, he has recently been disappointed in a search for pain among his favourite twelfth-, thirteenth- and fourteenth-century painters. In his naivety he thought that crucifixion scenes and scenes of hell would fill his desktop folder with medieval agony in ten to fifteen minutes. Instead, the Middle Ages, a particularly painful period after all, just didn’t seem to approve of expressing pain or grief pictorially, or at least when medieval artists attempted to show pain they generally fluffed it. Take the poor Templars being burnt below (the one on the left has the kind of expression that says ‘Damn I can’t remember where I put the car keys’). Of course, they are supposed to be stoical in the certainty of salvation, but a little agony for the camera, guys… In fact, by far the most successful face here is the executioner endeavoring not to get smoke in his eyes and human fat on his tunic.

    Templars being burnt

    Ditto St Sebastian

    st sebastian

    There follows some of the very few painful faces Beach found from Medieval Art, 500-1500 (including medieval-style art from 1300-1500). Let’s start with perhaps the greatest work of medieval art ever made: Giotto’s Christ crucified, today guarded in Borgo Ognisanti (Florence) by some scary Domenican monks: it is at the head of this post. Christian or Muslim, believer or atheist, stand twenty feet from it, look up and your knees will go weak. Here below, meanwhile, going from the sublime to the sordid, is a late fifteenth century art work (perhaps too renaissance-y to be legally included here, sorry) of a man having his tongue cut out. The interplay of the eyes is powerful.

    tongue cut out late 15 cent

    A woman (mid fourteenth century) is about to undergo a surgical procedure here. On reflection Beach would rather have his tongue removed, as long as the knife was sterilized…

    mid 14 cent operation close up

    This one is a picture any parent will understand. A child has just fallen to the street from an upstairs window and a mother bends over her dead son disconsolate. Note again, though, no running mascara: imagine what a Victorian painter would have made of this horrible scene.

    mother and st zenobius

    Here, instead, is a man burying plague victims from fourteenth century France. There is something in the expression that suggests infinite misery and perhaps, too, a knowledge that the man in question will soon be below ground with his loved ones.

    burying plague victims at tournai closeup

    Finally, here is a slapper at a party in hell. She doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself. Many hell scenes show rather apathetic guests: perhaps there is the idea that they have got used to the pincers and teeth? This woman would definitely prefer to leave…

    hell fire closeup

    All the full pictures are below so the pain can be ‘enjoyed’ in context. Any other medieval pain: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    26 Feb 2015: Chris sends in some fabulous images. I’ve done the close ups and added them below. First Giotto slaughter of the innocents

    giotto massacre innocents

    Matthias Grünewald’s Mary

    mary horrified


    Egbert Codex: massacre of the innocents


    grieving mother closeup

    The great Beato Angelico and his massacre

    pain in fra angelico

    burying plague victims at tournai mid 14 cent operation medieval depictions of hell st zenobiusforced abstinence cutting out the tongue of evil tongue fra angelico murder of innocents giotto blow up massacre innocents 1view1c egbert codex

    Invisible, 30 mar 2017, send this in.  Looks like it may be a good read.

    Item Number: 144848
    Title: The hurt(ful) body : Performing and beholding pain, 1600-1800
    Author: Macsotay, Tomas (et al)
    Price: $110.00
    ISBN: 9781784995164
    Record created on 03/16/17
    Available September 2017

    Description: Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017. 24cm., hardcover, 368pp. illus.

    Contents: 1. Spectacle and martyrdom – bloody suffering, performed suffering and recited suffering in French tragedy (late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries), Christian Biet. 2. The Massacre of the Innocents – infanticide and solace in the seventeenth-century Low Countries, Stijn Bussels and Bram Van Oostveldt . 3. To travel to suffer – towards a reverse anthropology of the early modern colonial body, Karel Vanhaesebrouck. 4. ‘I feel your pain’ – some reflections on the (literary) perception of pain, Jonathan Sawday. 5. Masochism and the female gaze, John Yamamoto-Wilson. 6. Epicurean tastes – towards a French eighteenth-century criticism of the image of pain, Tomas Macsotay. 7. Wounding realities and ‘painful excitements’ – real sympathy, the imitation of suffering and the visual arts after Burke’s sublime, Aris Sarafianos. 8. Forced witnessing of pain and horror in the context of colonial and religious massacres – the case of the Irish Rebellion, 1641-53, Nicolás Kwiatkowski . 9. Theatrical torture versus dramatic cruelty – subjection through representation or praxis, Frans-Willem Korsten. 10. Palermo’s past public executions and their lingering memory, Maria Pia Di Bella. 11. The economics of pain – pain in Dutch stock trade discourses and practices 1600-1750, Inger Leemans.