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June 5, 2012

In Pictures and punishment: art and criminal prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance, Samuel Edgerton writes about the genre of pittura infamante, the practice of defamatory images picturing [fled] criminals suffering desired punishment for their committed crimes. Ordered by the court and displayed in public spaces, these images, of which no samples have survived, were a form of municipal justice, rooted in the belief that punishing one’s image will affect one’s person, and thus it was an official form of justice when no other means were possible. Edgerton also notes that this was also a form of public shaming of traitors, fraud and bankruptcy and it was not a private practice. Edgerton further notes “in pitture infamantes the figures hanging from one foot are the criminals who are still alive and not punished by law. Those brought to justice are painted hanging from the neck.”


While this particular practice fell out of favor by the end of Florentine Renaissance, a modern incarnation of it is the political cartoon. The latter is propelled by irony, whereas the former was a form of justice. Looking at Syrian cartoons of Bashar Assad, there are numerous examples of ironic political cartoons, and behind irony lies a horrifying sense of despair. It is rare to see the figure of the president being punished for the committed atrocities. While this reflects the modern belief in international laws and fair representation before the court, but it also shows how the notion of justice in current political climate is tied to that of irony. There is a photograph of Syrian activists marching in Turkey carrying a figurine of Assad hanging from the gallows pole, one of the very few images emptied from irony, but representing the violence deflected by it.

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