The Body on Display: Visualizing and Constructing Criminal Identity in the Dutch Republic

    • Lucca November 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Anuradha Gobin, University of Calgary, Canada


    This paper considers a selection of images of punished bodies within the Dutch landscape as a point of departure for exploring the impact of space to framing historical conceptions of criminality and identity. Very often, civic authorities would move the executed bodies of criminals who had committed particularly egregious crimes to the gallows fields, located just beyond the city walls. This was meant to serve as a warning that criminal or perceived deviant behavior would not be tolerated by authorities. Given the presence of decomposing human remains, it is thus striking that the edges of city limits attracted large numbers of the public. People would gather not only to visit the gallows as a site of display of authority over criminal actions, but also to play games and enjoy leisure activities with family, friends and strangers. The site and the activities occurring there were frequently represented in a range of genres and media. The edges of the city, therefore, offered a place for diverse groups of people of varying social status and backgrounds to mix and interact with each other while still remaining literally in the shadow of civic authority. My paper thus examines examples of images that recorded the liminal spaces outside the city walls and considers the manner in which the criminal body came to be framed in relation to the land. In so doing, it shall interrogate the use of unsanctioned actions at the gallows as a means by which civic identity could be negotiated or transformed.