Currently reading : Medieval Torture
‘Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only who finds the torture and death of his fellow creatures amusing in itself’’
– James Anthony Froude
The Medieval torture devices that were created and frequently used are incredible in both their brutality and aesthetic, here are a few of the most inventive ones.
The Mask of Infamy
The mask of infamy brings about two different inflictions: a spiritual one and a physical one, the victims were both staked out to public ridicule and at the same time physically tortured. The masks sometimes had inner devices, such as a ball, which were forced into the victims nose or into the mouth, thus preventing him or her from wailing or shrieking. The masks with long ears represented a silly ass person, while the one with a snout or with a pig face symbolizes the animal, the human being considered dirty.
Its name came from its shape. This instrument that had a screw mechanism by which it progressively expanded to the maximum aperture of the two or three elements it was made of. The instrument was forced into the rectum of male victims and into the vagina of female victims. The oral, rectal or vaginal pear was inflicted on people guilty of sodomy, on women guilty of adultery, people guilty of incest or sexual union with Satan, and it was also inflicted on heretical preachers and blasphemers. The torture itself was meant to inflict the punishment of the crime one had been charged with.
The world was a much tougher and yet mystical place. Mystical in the sense that religion, magic, witches and curses were true fears and beliefs and governed law, crime and punishment. There are so many incredible woodcuts depicting torture as punishment for sins committed, one of the most interesting is the one below where ‘witches’ are being tortured by demons. The woodcut shows the accused ‘witches’ being brutalised and savagely tortured by these satanic like creatures, for similar to the pear torture device as a direct result of their ‘Satan worship’ so they should be tortured by creatures from Hell.
Violence, torture and death were common fare in everyday medieval life, earthly life was unimportant and the earthly body was just a vessel. There are hundreds of artworks featuring extreme torture and violence within medieval works, I can’t help but find the overtly muscular, exaggerated bodies and ethereal poses of the tortured and torturers quite beautiful, most times as if they are ballet dancing. There is something beautiful in the pain and aguish upon someone’s face, the expression of pure pleasure often similar to that of extreme pain that make the torture woodcuts so fascinating.