From the fourteenth century on, the artifacts of Western visual culture became increasingly violent. Destroyed faces, dissolved human shapes, devilish doppelgängers of the sacred: violence made real people nameless exemplars of formless, hideous horror. In Defaced, the historian Valentin Groebner provides a highly sophisticated historical, cultural, and political model for understanding how late-medieval images and narratives of “indescribable” violence functioned.
Early modern images formed part of a complex, often contested, system of visualizing extreme violence, as Groebner reveals in a series of political, military, religious, sexual, and theatrical microhistories. Intended to convey the anguish of real pain and terror to spectators, violent visual representations made people see disfigured faces as mirrors of sexual deviance, invisible enemies as barbarian fiends, and soldiers as bloodthirsty conspirators wreaking havoc on nocturnal streets.
“Should be required reading for historians of art and literature of the period.” –Joseph Leo Koerner