A Hanged From the Past: Medical Consideration on the Judas Iscariot Fresco—Chapelle Notre-Dame-des-Fontaines, La Brigue (15th Century)

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Abstract

The medieval chapel of Notre Dame-des-Fontaines (Our Lady of the Fountains), in the French Maritime Alps, is entirely covered by the fresco cycle of the Passion (15th century) that depicts the last days of Jesus from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. Under a small window, there is the brutal representation of the suicide of Judas Iscariot, hanging from a tree, with the abdomen quartered from which his soul, represented by a small man, is kidnapped by a devil. The author, Giovanni Canavesio, represented the traitor's death with very detailed anatomical structures, differently thus from other paintings of the same subject; it is therefore possible to assume that the artist had become familiar with the human anatomy. In particular, the realism of the hanged man's posture, neck bent in an unnatural way, allows us to hypothesize that it probably comes from direct observation of the executions of capital punishment, not infrequently imposed by the public authorities in low medieval Italy.

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