Dead men walking in Jerusalem: street furniture and topographical imagination in the late medieval city

Friday 20 March 2015, 6.00PM

Speaker(s): Achim Timmermann (University of Michigan)

Achim Timmerman‌In my presentation I explore the use of pictorial devices in the stage-management of late medieval rituals of capital punishment. In particular I focus on the roles such images might have played in bringing about a temporary oscillation between two distinct sacrificial topographies – those namely of the fifteenth- or sixteenth-century town, with its scaffold extra muros, and of the biblical Jerusalem, with Mount Calvary looming above it.

Focusing on a series of towns in the Middle Rhine, Franconia and Austria, I ask whether the deployment of certain pictures encouraged both the convicted offender and the audiences about to witness his or her gory death to experience the punishment ritual as a real-life Passion play. The images designed for these performances were sometimes mobile, portable, and miniaturized, but more often than not they were stationary and monumental and physically integrated into the urban matrix and surrounding landscape. As permanent fixtures, for example in the form of tabernacles (so-called poor sinner’s crosses) marking the execution site or the route leading toward it, they had much in common with the almost contemporary Stations of the Cross, which were likewise calibrated to transport their audiences into the narrative and geography of the biblical Passion, albeit in a more systematic, quasi-archaeological manner.

My investigation will thus also probe the relationship between poor sinner’s crosses and late medieval iterations of the via crucis, particularly in those cities where both types of “image trajectories” were present. It will be seen that this particular configuration often generated two rather different “Calvary sites”, sometimes on the opposite ends of the urban perimeter, but that in several cases the civic execution site and the mons calvariae of the Stations of the Cross were in fact (rather uncannily) one and the same.

Achim Timmermann is Associate Professor in History of Art at the University of Michigan. His scholarly interests include Gothic architecture, the visual culture of the eucharist, and the representation of Christian-Jewish relationships in medieval art. Current research focuses on late medieval didactic and moralizing imagery, and the role of public images and monuments in the performance of late medieval civic rituals (including the punishment of criminals). He is currently working on two book projects: Representation and Redemption:The Public Monument in the Later Middle Ages and Gothique Tropique:Architecture in Colonial Spain and Portugal, c. 1450-1550.

‌Achim Timmermann presents this public lecture as part of The Politics of Visual Translations of Jerusalem conference.   

Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

Location: The Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul