Conference Paper “A revolting punishment: disembowelment during the French Wars of Religion”

In November 2014, scholars from several universities in Western and Eastern Europe will meet at the University of Konstanz, Germany, to discuss the visualisation of power, resistance and punishment in early modern times.

The overall aim of our conference is to find cross-cultural links as well as sources of conflict and misunderstanding in the respective visual traditions and their socio-political contexts.

Luc Racaut works at Newcastle University in England and has specialised in the depiction of martyrdom in early modern art.

In his conference paper, he will focus on images of Catholic and Protestant martyrdom published during the French Wars of Religion.

Dutch print_burning at the stake_detail

This paper will explore the representation of violence during the French Wars of Religion (with specific reference to disembowelment) and test the hypothesis that massacres imitated judicial punishments. The social stigma associated with this particular form of execution reserved for parricides and traitors in extremely rare cases may explain its occurrence in the narratives of the wars of religion. There are many instances of disembowelment reported in accounts of the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day, for instance, and it also features in representations of Protestant violence against Catholics. This paper will explore alternative explanations for the prominence of this extreme form of violence in martyrology and apologetic texts on both sides of the confessional divide. Comparison with mediaeval martyrdom and biblical passages suggests that cases of disembowelment should not be taken at face value and should be placed within a wider context that both pre-dates and extends beyond the Reformation debate.

Dutch print_priest praying with convict_detail

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