Chapters (Layout Features)

Tandem tandem iustitia obtinet Images, Law, and the Criminal Body during the Revolt of the Netherlands

Freedberg, David A.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s great painting of The Triumph of Death of around 1562-1563 and to a lesser extent that of The Road to Calvary of 1564 show an unparalleled multiplicity and variety of scenes of death and capital punishment. Arrayed along the horizon or off in the distance are the many scaffolds, crosses, and elevated wheels on which the bodies of the condemned have been left to be picked on by vultures. These are works of art that are usually taken to allude to the terrible punishments meted out against the pre- dominantly Protestant heretics and rebels for infringing one or the other of the stringent Placards of Charles V (who abdi- cated in 1555, thereby relinquishing his sovereignty over the Netherlands) and the severe edicts of Philip II of Spain and his regents Mary of Hungary and Margaret of Parma. It was to them that the task fell of trying to keep some semblance of good order—goede ordonnantie would have been the appro- priate term at the time—in the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Revolt of the Netherlands in 1566.

That great uprising was precipitated by the wave of icono- clastic disorder that swept over the country from deep southwestern Flanders all the way up to once-calm Friesland in the North—with its climacteric in Antwerp on the night of August 21-22 of that fateful year. Images were attacked with unprecedented fury, as if they were embodied and living be- ings, not just pieces of dead wood and stone, as Martin Luther and many other Reformers insisted.” In the following pages I want to set out one of the most critical stages in the complex interactions among embodiment, law, and the proliferation and multiplication of images at a crucial moment in early modern history. Although the examples I outline will at first seem most relevant to criminal law, their implications for the rule of law and the history of human rights will emerge. They help us grasp both the centrality and the nuances of embod- iment in the execution of law and punishment. At the same time they illuminate many issues regarding images, punish- ment, and the rule of law in the wake of the Iraq War and the campaigns of ISIL and suggest new ways of considering the role of digital media in the complex relationship between law and assaults on the body.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Published Here
September 28, 2022