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mjhurst  mjhurst is offline
Join Date: 24 Jul 2003
Location: California, U.S.A.
Posts: 316

Hi, Kingfish,

Originally Posted by Kingfish
The thing I love the best about these type of threads is how almost no one seems to react to the sheer utter brutality and injustice of these hideous, twisted and repugnant depictions. I find that, to be as bone-chilling as the reality of the images.
Looking at the historical reception of such things, two thoughts come to mind. First, and most importantly, it is justice rather than injustice that was being depicted. Although torture was often a private matter, executions -- especially the most dramatic and horrendous ones -- were routinely made into public spectacles. This was a morality play in the public theater. There was usually an opportunity for a display of repentance. Jewish executions in particular usually included the possibility of conversion (which almost never took place) and the incentive of a quick death for the newly minted Christian instead of the lingering death that was planned for the denier of Christ. This was the promotion of public values, and a grand advertisement that justice was being administered in this jurisdiction.

A second point is that artistic portrayals of torture and execution during this period routinely prettied things up. It is the nature of art to simplify, to epitomize, and even to sanitize to one extent or another. The horror of these barbaric tortures and executions was very rarely depicted. They were portraying the administration of justice.

Of course, most of those depicted -- as has been mentioned before -- were either notable figures or retrospectively identified as martyrs. Common criminals and those without a great story to convey some moral lesson, (i.e., the vast majority of those tortured and executed), didn't find their miserable deaths recorded in words or images. There are later martyrologies which include great pictures of various tortures, punishments, and executions. An Italian one (not surprisingly) has several illustrations of assorted hangings, inverted and otherwise. Because these are shown as martyrs, some even include halos, foreshadowing Waite's Hanged Man. Naturally, both nobility and Christian virtue are depicted as stoic in extremis, but that kind of passivity was also commonly shown in anonymous souls being tormented in Hell, so nothing more than an artistic sensibility can be read into most of these images.

Tortures and Torments of the Christian Martyrs

The transcribed text is worth reading for several points, perhaps most notably for the comparison of all hanging ("suspension") with crucifixion. This is Galliano's justification for putting hangings first in his martyrology, because of the comparison with Jesus' death. This connects directly with Ross' quote from Alciato where the Hanged Man is referred to as the crux.

Among other things, Galliano mentions St. Peter and St. Calliopus, who were crucified upside-down, and St. Gregory ("the Illuminator"), first Bishop to Armenia, who was tortured upside down. These have also been mentioned in regard to Tarot's Hanged Man. In 2005 Nancy Brown presented a couple pictures of St. Gregory enduring the second of his twelve tortures. They were from the Church of Saint Gregory in Ani, built by Tigran Honents in the 13th century, and are apparently from the same time.

Interesting Insight to Traitor Theory

Iconology on the Hanged Man

However, outside of martyrologies, images of torture and executions were symbols of justice, as shown in works like Lorenzetti's figure of Securitas holding a scaffold in his Allegory of Good Government, or Pisanello's hanged men outside the gates of Verona in his St. George and the Princess. The fact that these punishments were considered good things done to damnable sinners and criminals probably contributed to the artistic gloss which made their depiction so placid.

Best regards,
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