When a Portrait Was a Punishment

There’s a reason we have a prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The past was full of cruelty, and unusual was only limited by one’s imagination. Here’s a punishment that wasn’t all that cruel, as we would view it now, but it sure was unusual. In Florence, Italy, during the Rennaissance, the Bargello was the building that housed prisoners. If a detainee were to escape, or skip bail, they would add a new fresco to the wall of the Bargello in the image of that person. It wasn’t like a mugshot for identification, but a pittura infamante, a punishment in itself, because they would paint the perpetrator in a humiliating way, often hanging upside-down. The face must be recognizable, but often had a silly expression. And details could be added for extra embarrassment, like a defecating dog in the background.

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This kind of punishment really only affected elite perpetrators with status, because such humiliation could hurt their social standing or even their business connections. Artists didn’t want to do these punitive portraits, because they didn’t want to offend their wealthy patrons. But Botticelli painted one, and possibly Leonardo da Vinci, too. Hardly any of these images survive today, as the wall was painted over and over. Read what we know about these pittura infamante at Jstor. -via Strange Company

Source: neatorama

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