CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


GOBIN, Anuradha
The Criminal' s Taboo: Touch and the Conversion of Deviance in the Dutch Republic

Session 8 Art and Taboo

Department of Art at the University of Calgary


This paper will take as its point of departure a series of images that prominently feature executed criminals in the space of the anatomy theatre in the Dutch Republic. These images will be used to provoke consideration of the unique type of afterlife experienced by these bodies following execution. Images and objects associated with the death of criminals were regarded with fear and suspicion, almost amounting to a taboo, but concurrently treated as elements of curiosity. As this talk seeks to demonstrate, the criminal body in Dutch society served as a particularly potent ‘thing’ that drew together diverse groups. Once put to death, the criminal body did not come to rest: its movement through civic spaces like the anatomy theatre is worth tracing, as it indicates the potent afterlife of the deviant body, especially its ability to transform civic life. This paper will also explore the centrality of touch to the transformation of a tabooed object into a source of public good. Through an examination of what is depicted in the images in conjunction with their formal physical properties, this paper will underscore overlapping methods of knowledge acquisition across medical and artistic spheres, with an object of taboo serving as the fulcrum upon which deviance is converted into civic benefit.

GOBIN, Anuradha  

Anuradha Gobin is an Assistant Professor of Art History in the Department of Art at the University of Calgary. Prior to joining the University of Calgary, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Sainsbury Institute for Art at the University of East Anglia.  She received her doctorate in art history at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Her research focuses on the visual depiction of social and cultural spaces associated with criminal punishments during the early modern period. It seeks to explore the ways in which visual culture served to mediate shifting anxieties about notions of criminality, death and the various types of medical knowledge that emerged as a result of capital sentences.