Felix Jaeger on “Law and the Visual”


This week’s classes on “Law and the Visual” will explore the power of images to both shape legal norms and act as a means of enforcing these norms. In the first class we will examine images of infamy supposed to punish a delinquent by visually compromising his likeness. The second class will be devoted to public executions and the use of effigies as substitutes of dead or absent convicts. The third class will consider connections between effigies, portraits and visual representations of the state. By analyzing the forms and contents of these images, we will try to understand how they work on the public and the persons they depict. Contrasting historical with contemporary examples, we will then think about the continuities and changes in the use of legal imagery until today.

Andrea del Sarto, Man hanging upside down, drawing, 1530, Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze. // Syre, Cornelia [et al.] (ed.): Göttlich Gemalt. Andrea del Sarto. Die Heilige Familie in Paris und München, München 2009, p. 81, fig. 41

Felix Jeager’s CV:

Magister Artium, Medieval History, Art History and Philosophy, Humboldt University of Berlin and University College London, 2014. Currently PhD candidate in History of Art at Humboldt University, supervised by Prof. Horst Bredekamp. Provisional thesis title: “Political Iconology of the Grotesque”. Since May 2014 pre-doctoral fellow of the Minerva Research Group “Nomos of Images. Manifestation and Iconology of Law” at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut.

Defamatory letter with image of shame, watercolor drawing, August 7, 1524. // Lentz, Matthias: Konflikt, Ehre, Ordnung. Untersuchungen zu den Schmähbriefen und Schandbildern des Späten Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit (ca. 1350 bis 1600), Hannover 2004, no. 85


David Freedberg, The Power of Images. Studies in the History and Theory of Response, Chicago and London, 1991 (1989), pp. 246-282.

Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies. A Study in Medieval Political Theology, Princeton, 1957 (extracts).

7 thoughts on “Felix Jaeger on “Law and the Visual”

  1. Sarah Penge says:

    About “images of infamy supposed to punish a delinquent by visually compromising his likeness” the first one I was thinking of is “Giuditta che decapita Oloferne” by Artemisia Gentileschi (but also the Caravaggio’s one), in which it is represented the “Book of Judith” by the Bible.

    Here it is:


  2. Beatrice Giordano says:

    Another example of infamy and its consequences could be found in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”. The protagonist Hester, who had an affair with the reverend and got pregnant, was victim of public humiliation and didn’t want to reveal the identity of the father. She was forced to wear an A, meaning adulteress, to remind herself of her shame. Eventually, she was taken to trial for adultery and then showed to the crowd wearing the A, since adultery was considered a sin by puritans The A of adulteress is the symbol of her infamy and there was no space for pity in that kind of society, so she had to face the consequences and accept the disapproval of everyone. In this case, we deal with infamy in literature, but infamy is still a present subject even if the tools used are different.


  3. Elena Francis says:

    I found a very interesting image about executions in effigies. This is a painting of Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, a French-born painter, engraver, drawing and caricaturist who lived during the end of the eighteenth century in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The picture was realized in 1794 and its title is “Hanging of traitors in effigie”. In this image we can observe a typical execution in effigie. We cannot find the convicts, but there are only portraits. Indeed, in the past when the convicts were absent it was common to make the execution on images, representations, puppets or portrait, like in this case. The story behind this painting deals with the politic situation of Poland and Lithuania at that time. In 1792 was created a confederation, the Targowica Confederation by Polish and Lithuanian magnates, with the support of Catherine II, Russian Empress. The activity of the Confederation was focused on a strong opposition to the Polish Constitution of May (1791). This painting represents the hanging of the leaders of Tagowica Confederation.


  4. Anthony J. Cacciotti says:

    Talking about infamy, this reminded me of the φαρμακός (pharmakós), a ritual used in ancient Greek. As a matter of fact, this institute can be even considered one of the numerous declinations of infamy. When a social crisis happened, or at times of disaster (such as plagues, deaseses, femines), some people with specific features were chosen to be sacrified or to be expelled from the πόλις (polis; society) in order to purificate the whole community.
    What are those features? The polis typically chose criminals, cripples, slaves because it was thought that they attracted the anger of gods with their behaviours or their conditions; expelling or sacrifing those people, putting all the blame on them, societies tried to reach the purification of the entire community.


  5. Martina Diglio says:

    About what we said today about images and how they are not anymore under State’s control, I was thinking for example about advertising in Cuba. As much as I read ,still today in Cuba is very difficult to find any ads. This is clearly to reconnect to Cuba’s economic system: after the end of revolution in 1959 and Fidel Castro’s government, economy has always been centrally planned, enterprises state-run, means of production owned by government. Afterwords an embargo was declared by USA blocking the economical relationship between the two States. So, on the one hand there is a society in which there is not competition between market operators, basically because there is only one operator: the State, consequently ads are really not necessary; and on the other hand, there is a based-market society in which the operators are like athletes who are running a race: they need means to win the competition. The typical mean are images. And want to win the competition so badly that they overuse images so that everywhere we go, everything we do, such as surfing on the internet, going for a walk, watching television, we are forced to look to these images and to decide which image is the best. We don’t have to choose the best product ever, we only have to choose the better represented one. Yesterday I was watching the last episode of “1992” where the main character, a smart publicist, wants to realize a video on the basis of a study carried on in an american university, in which they asked students at the beginning of the year who they thought was going to be the best professor, on the basis of a video without any sound (so basically their choice was based only on the image of the professor); well, at the end of the academic year they were asked to decide to confirm their initial choice, and the majority of them confirmed: that was because it doesn’t matter what a person says but in which manner things are said. The same is for all market products. It’s a psychological issue. Once market operators have understood how powerful images are, they have started using them to win their competition. So, going back to Cuba, I was thinking about how much it will change in a few years, after the Obama’s declaration about removing the embargo and how ads and new images will spread. It would surely be a big change going from a society in which only few ads are showed (because taxes for ads are very high) and ads are banned also in television, to a society in which citizens are bombed by images.


  6. Flavia Guglielmi says:

    Thinking about executions in effigies I remembered a painter that I have studied at school: Andrea Mantegna. The Paduan artist lived in a period of frequent plague so he made three paintings about San Sebastian who was considered the protector against the plague. The first San Sebastian was made after Mantegna had recovered from the plague in Padua (1456–1457) and it preserved at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Instead of the classical figure of Sebastian tied to a pole in the Rome’s Campo Marzio (“Martial Field”), the painter portrayed the saint against an arch, whether a triumphal arch or the gate of the city. The second one is the San Sebastian of the Louvre (1481) and it represent the half-naked saint pierced by the arrows of the martyrdom. The arrows instead of the Viennese painting, entered and leaved the body martyred to increase the sense of tragic pain of martyrdom that the Saint seems to bear with resignation due to religion. The third St. Sebastian by Mantegna was painted some years later (c. 1490), and quite different from the previous compositions, shows a marked pessimism. It is tormented and intensely expressive , where the solemnity classic has given way to the only drama of suffering .


  7. Fabia Palazzi says:

    The punishments used in the past to humiliate somebody for some kind of infamy were different according to the specific offense committed ; for example In these two images (the first is from Rothenborg museum) we can see the huge necklace worn as a pillory punishment for cheating gamblers which is called “Gambler’s necklace”

    in these other two images we can observe the ” Flute of shame” which was imposed upon displeasing musicians, but also on public performers in general who were offensive, or bothersome. The device would be fitted around the subject’s neck, with the fingers clamped tightly along the flute, where it could remain for days.


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