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.
Yet not every spectator saw the same thing when viewing these terrifying
images. Whom did one see when looking at an image of violence? What
effect did such images have on spectators? How could one distinguish
illegitimate violence that threatened and reversed the social order
from the proper, “just,” and sanctioned use of force?
Addressing these issues, Groebner not only calls into question contemporary
habits of thinking about early-modern visual culture; he also pushes
his readers to rethink how they look at images of brutality in a
world of increasing violence.
“Groebner’s is a major new voice in German history writing today. Mixing visual, literary, and archival sources, he paints a mesmerizing portrait of physical disfiguration in early-modern Europe. . . . This book should be required reading for historians of art and literature of the period.”
—Joseph Leo Koerner, Harvard University
Not for sale in Germany.