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Imagination all compact: tavolette and confraternity rituals for the condemned in renaissance Italy: Larry J. Feinberg traces the history of the ideas that lay behind tavolette, devotional images held up to the faces of condemned men as they were led to execution.

He cannot imagine how his life will end. Looking up from the cold floor he at first finds little comfort in the small painted image before him, held at the end of a black sleeve. But it is the responsibility of the brothers of the confraternity, who have brought the condemned man to this place of vigil, to attend to him with compassion and prepare him for the events of the next hours. The gentle brothers pray for him, sing penitential psalms, and assure him that Christ's own suffering will bring him salvation. Resolutely, the comforters keep his attention focused on the picture of the Crucifixion, now a breath's distance from his face. While they await the arrival of the man's confessor, a local Dominican friar, the brothers encourage him to acknowledge and repent for his sins. Together, the brothers and their charge say aloud the Miserere mei deus, the plea for God's mercy, from the Psalm. They remind him that Christ promised the Good Thief, also there in the painting, that he would ascend to Paradise. The picture is turned to show on its reverse the dark image of the apostle Peter in prison, and in soft, consoling words, the brothers relate how the repentant saint, also once in leg irons, ultimately received from Christ redemption.

At their suggestion, the man repeatedly recites the Apostles' Creed, declaring Credo in Dio--'I believe in God'--as legions of Christian martyrs have done before him. He hopes that, as the brothers have instructed, he will be able to maintain his composure after daybreak, when he is paraded through the crowded streets of the city, led to a chapel for last communion, and finally escorted to the field of execution. He knows that the brothers will accompany him the entire way, as will the small painting, with which he has been almost continuously engaged. He will gaze into the picture until his final moment, attaining at times a trancelike calm. Frequently he kisses it, in affirmation of his love for Christ. He believes that the state of his mind, of his soul, at that last instant will be fixed for eternity, and determine his place in the afterlife. For hours he prays that all this will come to pass just as the brothers have described, and that, like Christ, he will nobly endure this passage. For this last wish to be fulfilled, be realises that he must stop remembering, then flooding with white thought, panic, that his concentration must remain keen and unshaken, even after the toll of the distant bell, signalling the citizens to gather. (1)

Through such sacred and humane rituals, specialised confraternities in various Italian renaissance city-states, notably Bologna, Florence, and Rome, conferred a dignity on condenmed men (afflitti or pagienti) in their last hours. Not only did these volunteer comforters (confortatori) offer opportunity and hope to these men that they might avoid damnation, but also they prepared them to face execution bravely and calmly. Founded over the span of a century--the Bolognese Santa Maria della Morte in 1336, the Florentine Compagnia di Santa Maria della Croce al Tempio (or Compagnia dei Ned) in 1343, and the Roman Confraternita di San Giovanni Decollato (or della Misericordia) in 1488--the brotherhoods nevertheless shared common methods as well as purpose. (2) The singing of psalms, provision of a confessor, entreaties for repentance, and the Eucharistic offering followed age-old traditions for those close to death, natural and otherwise. Certain of these activities can be traced back through the late-medieval Ars Moriendi (Art of Dying) manuals and the long-established ceremonies and rites of the Catholic Church, such as the Office of the Dead, to the earliest practices of Christianity.

Yet the use of small paintings (Figs. 1-4), so-called tavolette, as contemplative aids for the condemned seems to have been an innovation of the fifteenth century, and likely a by-product of Dominican intellectual culture, if not a Dominican invention or handicraft. In the epistemology of the Dominican order, dominated by the writings of Thomas Aquinas and, through him, of Aristotle, may be found partial answers to questions concerning the tavolette: why did they come to play a critical role in the psychological 'processing' of the condemned? Why would blindfolding, fervent prayer, and confession not suffice? How did the use of tavolette, and the attendant rituals of the comforting brotherhoods, evolve?


Philosophical foundations

A persistent Aristotelian current in renaissance thought justified and provided impetus to the belief in the efficacy of images for prayer and penance. Aristotle's conception of the fundamental workings of the mind, which he did not distinguish from the soul, involved the transmission of external and internal images. According to him, all impressions of the world (and knowledge) pass through the bodily senses to a mechanism located in the heart, called the proton organon, which transforms them into phantasmata--phantasms or mental images--perceptible to the soul, in this theory of intelligence, thought is regarded as little more than the reception, distribution, and creation of images. (3) Aristotle's notion of cerebral (or cardiac) functions is reflected in the term that he used for the essential operation in the thought process--not 'ideation' or 'cognition', but 'imagination. (4) He summarised such beliefs in the influential statement Numquam sine phantasmate intelligit anima, 'the soul can understand nothing without phantasms'. (5) In this visually-privileged scheme, language and abstract concepts need to be converted into phantasms in order to reach the soul or, as loan Couliano has succinctly remarked, 'the phantasm has absolute primacy over the word'. (6) Implicit is the understanding that both sensory and mental images, of the various components of thought, pass through the intellect to the soul most directly and efficiently. (7)

The Stoic philosophers Chrysippus (c. 280-206 BC) and Epictetus (c. AD 55-135) maintained Aristotle's views on this matter, although they referred to the proton organon as the hegemonikon. Significantly, Epictetus also emphasised the need for the soul, and the fictive, cardiac processor, to be calm to receive phantasms clearly. (8) Epictetus' ideas about images and tranquil contemplation would not have held much interest for Christians and Jews of his day, who, in keeping with Old Testament notions, associated mental activity with action, not abstract thought. But the belief in imagination as the central faculty of mind would come to have wide currency in subsequent centuries, particularly in the writings of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) and in the Aristotelian climate of the Italian universities.

Although many medieval theologians and writers, among them Augustine (354-430), Gregory the Great (540-604), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), John of Garland (c. 1195-c. 1272) and Roger Bacon (1214-92), made comments and allusions that seem to reflect phantasmic theory, the Dominican Thomas Aquinas was responsible for the most thoughtful and systematised treatment of this aspect of Aristotle's philosophy since ancient times. (9) In his Summa theologiae (1265-74), he closely paraphrases Aristotle's proclamation on phantasms and the visual nature of the mind (soul) with the sentence: Intelligere sine conversione ad phantasmata est (animae) praeter naturam. (10) He complicates Aristotle's system only slightly, by positing a division of labour in the act of perception that involves both an 'agent mind' for sensory impressions and a 'receptive mind' for phantasms. (11) Nevertheless, he conceives this two-fold mental activity strictly in Aristotelian, visual terms: '[there is] external perception in which we are simply affected by what we sense, and interior imagination in which we create images of things that are not and perhaps never have been present'. (12) Thomas expands on these notions in his commentary on Aristotle's De memoria et reminiscentia, where he asserts that abstract concepts and language should be transformed into images to help in comprehension and memorisation. (13) Indeed, the late-medieval tendency to convert every philosophical concept into an image and, as Couliano suggested, the renaissance pursuit of the Art of Memory--a comprehensive, visually-based mnemonic system--probably depended on 'the Aristotelian principle of the absolute precedence of the phantasm over speech and of the phantasmic essence of the intellect'. (14)

As an interesting--and, for us, relevant--corollary to his discussion of the nature of knowledge, Thomas also speculates, with remarkable confidence, on the effect that death has on mental state and memory. He reasons that the soul's state will remain forever fixed at the moment of death, since 'it is natural to the soul to understand by turning to sense-images [and, therefore,] death won't change the soul's nature, and after death, when the soul has no sense-images to turn to, it presumably won't understand anything naturally'. (15) He adds, 'separated souls know ... only the particular things to which they are already bound by some previous knowledge or affection or natural relationship or divine ordering'. (16) These explanations also indicate that, following Aristotle, he believes sense-images, like phantasms, stream directly to the soul.

Aquinas's learned, fourteenth-century Dominican follower Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) recalls his philosophy of knowledge in her frequent reference in the Dialogue to the occhio dell' intelletto, a term that carries deeper significance than the modern translation of 'mind's eye'. But it was the controversial, fifteenth-century Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) who most profoundly assimilated and conveyed the Aristotelian doctrine of image and thought in his work. Known for their vitriol, Savonarola's sermons were, in fact, grounded in careful theological and philosophical preparation. In the memorable sermon he preached on 2 November 1496, in which he advocates and specifies the use of certain macabre images to ensure a good death (ben morire), Savonarola invokes the words of Aristotle and Aquinas with the declarations: Oportet intelligentem phantasmata speculari and Phantasia est motus factus a sensu. (17) For his lay audience, he translates and explains in a lengthy exegesis in the Tuscan vernacular that e necessario allo intelligente speculare li fantasmati ('it is necessary for the intellect to receive phantasms') and all'uomo che vuole intendere una cosa bisogna formarsi fantasmati nella fantasia ('for one to understand, phantasms must form in the imagination'). (18)

Although, as discussed below, these Aristotelian ideas and Savonarola's ben-morire recommendations may have had a special resonance in Dominican circles, they had other important proponents in renaissance Italy, including the philosophers Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Pomponazzi and, especially, Giordano Bruno (c. 1548-1600). Bruno's essays on the Art of Memory as well as his theories on magical attraction rely on Aristotle's universe of phantasms, which, Bruno believed, could be artfully manipulated to achieve various ends. (19) There is some irony in the fact that Savonarola, the notorious iconoclast, and Bruno, who ardently believed in the supernatural power of images, should both receive the attention, in the final hours before their execution, of the comforting confraternities, presumably wielding their tavolette.

Ritual practices for those near death

Bearing in mind this historical-philosophical context, it becomes easier to understand how the tavolette came to be integrated into the rituals performed by the brotherhoods that ministered to the condemned. As conveyed in our opening narrative, the activities of the confraternities entailed extensive songs, prayers and consoling dialogue. Many parts of this ceremony evolved from much older, even ancient, rituals conducted for those facing imminent death, the gravely ill as well the criminal or the martyr.

In the centuries before Christ, the Jewish community placed much emphasis on the comportment of the condemned, celebrating the noble deaths of Jewish martyrs, as these are recorded in the apocryphal Book of Maccabees. (20) Similar tales abound in pre-Christian, Hellenistic Greek literature, in which death (often by crucifixion) is stoically embraced by heroes such as Herakles, who, in one striking account, is taunted, executed, and--after his remains mysteriously vanish--miraculously reappears to his mother. (21) Ancient Jewish (and early Christian) near-death and death rituals involved the singing of laments (often accompanied by musical instruments, usually a flute) and psalms, many of which are probably preserved in the Old Testament verses. In more recent centuries, Jewish mourners have recited Old Testament Psalms both before and after the dying person has spoken the Shema as his or her last words. (22) A selection of passages from Deuteronomy (6:4-9 and 11:13-21) and Numbers (15:37-41), the Shema is an affirmation of the first Commandment and a martyr's cry that begins 'Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One'.

Laments were also common in Graeco-Roman death rituals. But of particular relevance to later Christian customs was the ancient association of a kiss with the emergence of the soul at death. As part of Graeco-Roman tradition, the closest relative kissed the dying person in order to catch the soul, which was thought to escape with the last breath. (23) In a clear departure from Jewish ceremony, with its emphasis on sanitary practices, this rite was taken up by the early Christian church, which also administered the viaticum (the Eucharist) into the mouth of the dying or deceased, a moment after imparting the final kiss. (24)

Jesus's final activities, on which the conduct of condemned men in the renaissance was to be largely modelled, should be considered in light of the customs of his time. By gradually replacing laments with the singing of psalms, his fellow Jews apparently hoped to distinguish themselves from the Romans in funerary practice. Although this fact is not always recognised, the last utterances ascribed to Christ derive from the Psalms. The cry of 'My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?', reported in the Gospel of Mark (15:34), recalls Psalm 20:1, and the statement, 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit', recorded in Luke (23:46), paraphrases Psalm 31:5. Moreover, imbedded in Mark's Passion narrative are numerous other details and devices that seem to derive from the Psalms: 'a company of evildoers have encircled me; they have pierced my hands and feet' (22:16); 'they divide my garment among them and for my raiment they cast lots' (22:18); 'insults have broken my heart ... they gave me vinegar to drink' (69:20-21); 'a deadly wound in my body' and 'adversaries who taunt me' (42:11). (25)

In addition to the singing of psalms in first-century near- and post-death rituals, the solemn activities required, as the Gospel Passion narratives subtly indicate, the participation of persons other than family and friends. As scholars have noted, some of the women who 'mourned' Jesus's death on his way to crucifixion (Luke 23:27-31), and perhaps even those who visited his tomb, would have been paid professionals. (26) Complying with what were considered to be directives of the Psalms (38:11 and 88:8) and contemporary decree, family and close acquaintances were typically kept a distance from the condemned. The St Mark Passion narrative recounts that Jesus's friends and companions watched his execution from afar. (27) Later, after the Emperor Constantine's conversion, Christians were able to establish dedicated orders of attendants, namely the Copiatae and the Lectiarii, to care for the dead. (28) These were, in a sense, the ancestors of the comforting-confraternity members.

With time, the early Christian church began to develop a set of instructions for the dying and, specifically, for deathbed repentance. Augustine, an authority on deathbed contrition, advocated the crucified Good Thief as a model for repentance, even for non-criminals. (29) Following the dictates of Gregory, the terminally ill were encouraged to imitate Christ's actions on the cross. (30) Gradually, early church rituals expanded to include recitation of the seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51,102, 130 and 143), the litanies of the Virgin and saints, and, eventually (by the seventh or eighth century), the Office of the Dead. (31) At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Dominic (1170-1221) and his disciples provided an influential example of the use of images for prayer and penance. Dominic's De modo orandi (The Ways of Prayer) demonstrates a belief in the efficacy and importance of images, particularly of the Crucifixion, and displays a distinct deference toward them. He taught his brethren to bow whenever they passed a Crucifixion scene, and Dominic himself repeatedly kneeled and rose before the image for hours. (32) Illustrated editions of De modo orandi show the saint employing both a small religious painting and a sculpted crucifix when in prayer (Fig. 5). (33)


Although her use of sacred images is not documented, Catherine of Siena, a pious disciple of Dominic, is known to have served as a comforter to the condemned. She would have been aware of the activities of the confortatori of Bologna's confraternity of Santa Maria della Morte, largely inspired by the words and example of the Dominican preacher Venturino da Bergamo, who in the early 1330s initiated a sweeping penitential movement. Catherine, it was reported, succeeded in convincing hardened murderers to repent, consoling them through reference to the Good Thief, Mary Magdalene and the penitent Peter. (34) She also presumably instructed the men to say as their last words the line from the Psalm: 'Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit', as she ultimately would herself. (35) Her good works and caregiving notwithstanding, many of the ceremonies for the dead and near-dead were temporarily abandoned or modified in that period, in the wake of the Black Death (at its height in 1347-48), which took the lives even of members of Catherine's family. (36)

The disarray in life and religious customs that ensued after the plague--as well as a scarcity of clergy to perform sacred rites--was addressed by the aforementioned treatises on the Ars moriendi. The original text was probably the work of a fourteenth-century Dominican, but is known primarily through versions of a brief, later guide (De arte moriendi) that the French theologian Jean Gerson wrote in 1408. (37) Often beginning with a quotation from Aristotle, and including bons mots from such eminent Dominican theologians as Albertus Magnus and Henry Suso, the Ars moriendi texts were, in essence, 'how-to' guides for laymen to minister to the psychological and spiritual needs of the dying (moriens). The books provided a compendium of traditional rituals, such as the recitation of the seven penitential psalms and the litany of the saints as well as Gregory's injunction to imitate the actions of the crucified Christ. (38) They also contained rules of conduct with practical advice and ideas that seem to have exerted considerable influence on later practices, especially those of the comforting brotherhoods.

The Ars moriendi guided the gravely ill persons through a series of last-hour 'temptations' and distractions, countering them with inspirational thoughts. (39) These books strongly recommended that friends and relatives do not give hope for recovery to the presumed dying, lest the mental state of the moriens be not properly penitent at the moment of expiration. (40) And the texts advocated that a crucifix or an image of the Crucifixion should always be in the sight of the dying person. (41) Accordingly, he (or she) would carefully study the block-print illustrations in the Ars moriendi, which included images of the Crucifixion, while the comforter read aloud from the text. In these illustrations, one finds, in addition to apparitions of the Crucifixion at a dying man's bedside, the figures of Peter, Mary Magdalene and the Good Thief (Fig. 6). In one picture, an angel supports a bedsheet, in order to shield the moriens from his loved ones or visitors (Fig. 7). (42) This gesture, intended to afford the dying man the necessary isolation for contemplation and repentance, relates (as discussed below) to the confraternities' use of tavolette with wide frames to prevent the condemned from seeing his distraught family and the contemptuous crowds. The Ars moriendi refers to such isolation as 'inspiration to detachment' from worldly life and things. (43) Sensitivity to the vulnerable psychological state of those approaching death is also reflected in the tone of the Ars moriendi books, which, like the manuals employed by the comforting confraternities, is tender and encouraging, never doleful.


Tavolette and confraternity ceremony Thanks to surviving instructional books and eyewitness reports, much detail is known about confraternity rituals for the condemned, some of which informs my opening, composite account. The testimonies of Luca della Robbia, great-nephew of the famous artist, who observed the practices of the Compagnia dei Neri (Black Brotherhood) in the early sixteenth century, and Giuseppe Biondi and Michel de Montaigne, who witnessed the activities of the brotherhood of San Giovanni Decollato at the end of the century offer compelling descriptions of the events surrounding executions. (44) What they record is consistent with procedures outlined in two extant comforters' manuals, one issued to the brothers of Santa Maria della Morte in Bologna in the mid-fifteenth century (Fig. 8), and a text of istruzione universale (an eighteenth-century compilation of old manuscripts, some dating back to the fourteenth century) that codifies the practices of the Florentine Compagnia dei Neri. (45) These manuals also provide us with some sense of the psychological insight of the comforters, who were keenly aware of the prisoner's emotions at different moments of the execution process and prepared to handle his alternating reactions of anger, fear and humiliation.


While some confraternities, such as that of San Bartolomeo in San Sepolcro, believed they had the power to 'move the mind of the divine in favour of the dead soul', most comforting brotherhoods had the more modest ambition of preparing the mind of the mortal near death and supplying him with spiritual and physical doctors, the priest and the physician. (46) For the confraternity members, their good works, counted among the corporal and spiritual Acts of Mercy, supposedly guaranteed them reduced time in purgatory. Indeed, such charitable practices, together with an increased concern for prayer and penance, were to some degree manifestations of a growing belief in purgatory in late-medieval and early-renaissance Italy. (47) With the increasing emphasis on the doctrine of purgatory, authoritatively reaffirmed at the Church's Council of Florence in 1439, there was a multiplication of the masses performed by the brotherhoods, both at the time of death and at its memorials. (48) Of these, the mass of the Office of the Dead--a cavalcade of psalms--tended to be the most protracted and personalised.

The comforting confraternities added to such standard ceremonies a number of special procedures for the condemned. Della Robbia's account of the final hours of Agostino Capponi and Pietro Boscoli, sentenced to death in 1513 as conspirators against the Medici, reveals that the men read the Athanasian Creed (which details Christ's Passion, descent into hell, Resurrection and Last Judgment in a discourse on salvation), contemplated the Miserere mei Deus, one of the seven penitential psalms, and denial of Peter (Mark 14:66-72), and recited Psalm 69 ('Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul') and, repeatedly, the Credo, intermittently, the brothers of the Compagnia dei Neri sang penitential psalms and, at some point, arranged for a Savonarolan Dominican friar to serve as a spiritual counsellor to the two prisoners and take (or coax) their confessions. (49) The brothers also warned the men, in terms that recalled the 'temptations' of the Ars moriendi that, in their final hours, they would be involved in the fiercest battle of their lives with the devil.

As the condemned, arms and legs in chains, were led down the stairs of the confraternity building, the brothers asked them to declare In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum, words that they would say again, as Christ did, just before the moment of death. When the pazienti left the quarters of the Black Brotherhood, they were conducted, after a long procession, to the confraternity's chapel at the Pratello della Giustizia (Field of Execution or Justice), where they stopped before an altarpiece representing the Lamentation (1436; now in the Museo di San Marco, Florence), painted by the Dominican master Fra Angelico (Fig. 9). (50) Profiting from close ties with the Dominican order of the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella, the Compagnia dei Neri had received the work as a gift from a benevolent Dominican friar. As Millard Meiss pointed out long ago, Fra Angelico's unusual composition, in which the Virgin Mary, Apostles, and saints almost all assume humbled, kneeling or seated positions around the dead Christ, derives from a picture created over sixty years earlier by Niccolo di Tommaso (c. 1370; Congregazione della Carita, Parma). (51) The inscription MEUS on the collar of St Catherine of Alexandria in Fra Angelico's work discreetly alludes to verses from Isaiah (53:4-5), also written in Latin on Niccolo's painting: 'Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed." (52) Fra Angelico's partial and somewhat obscure reference to these verses perhaps suggests that the entire Old Testament passage was recited for or with the condemned men in the picture's presence. Very near the work and on their knees at the altar, as if huddled alongside Christ's mourners in the painting, the pazienti received their last communion, before proceeding to the platform for beheading.


Certain of these rituals may have been reflected in--or reinforced by--parts of the aforementioned, ben morire sermon of the fiery Dominican Savonarola. There, he advises that someone should recite the Credo continuously for a dying person, which was the customary practice of his fellow friars. (53) As a precaution for unexpected and sudden death, Savonarola, who lived among Fra Angelico's private, devotional paintings in San Marco, recommended that households display three pictures, representing heaven and hell, Death at the door of a than in sickbed (Fig. 11), and a man on his deathbed surrounded by family, friends, a confessor, and demons. (54) Savonarola suggests that such images, with another picture of Death and a portable, small piece of bone (morticina d'osso), would serve as effective mementi mori, and ensure that their owners would always maintain the proper, morbidly-alert state of mind, ever prepared for the incalculable moment of demise. (55)


The emphasis that Savonarola placed on pictures and, specifically, their influence on mental state at the moment of death, was paralleled in the Compagnia dei Neri's use of tavolette. From contemporary accounts, the illumination in the Bolognese comforters' manual, some mid-fifteenth-century paintings of the last episodes in the unfortunate life of Antonio Rinaldeschi (who paid the ultimate penalty for desecrating a picture of the blessed Virgin with a handful of horse manure), and a drawing of a hanging rendered unflinchingly by Annibale Carracci (Fig. 10), we know that the confraternities almost continuously held up small paintings of the Crucifixion to the faces of the condemned in their last hours--along the entire route to the place of execution, during the ascent of the execution platform or gallows and until the fall of the blade or the hanged body. (56) It was considered crucial to maintain a reverential and penitent frame of mind up to the very second of death, as is made clear in the manual of the Bolognese confraternity, which, echoing the assertions of Aquinas, states that the disposition of the prisoner's soul at the moment of death will remain fixed for eternity and determine his salvation or damnation. (57)


When not in a fully contemplative mode, the condemned person was instructed by the brothers to kiss the painting. In fact, this was such a conspicuous part of the execution ceremonies and spectacle that the tavolette came to be known as Kusstafeln, or 'kissing pictures'. Undoubtedly, this behaviour was intended, above all, to express and demonstrate the prisoner's love for Christ. Samuel Y. Edgerton has noted that in some ways this was a continuation of the long, popular tradition of kissing crucifixes. (58) And, certainly, it must have served as another strategy for keeping the condemned person's attention fixed on the picture. But the gesture may have been connected as well to spousal images of Christ in literature and prayers--including those invoked in the Bolognese confraternity manual--and, perhaps, to the antique traditions, discussed above, that associated kisses with the release of the soul at death. (59)

The ancient notions that the soul exits from a dying person's mouth and that it could be seized with a kiss endured well into the renaissance. An illustration for the Office of the Dead in the Rohan Master's Book of Hours (1415-20; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris), shows the exhalation of the soul from a dying man's mouth as he speaks the words from the Psalm, written on a banderole, In manus tuas, Domme ...' (60) Beyond the visual arts, there existed extensive traditions in renaissance philosophy and literature, particularly secular poetry, that perpetuated the soul-in-a-kiss theme. The prominent fifteenth century philosopher Pico della Mirandola, drawing on neo-platonic theory and Kabbalah, expounded on this idea. (61) From the Jewish mystical teachings of Kabbalah, Pico learned and subsequently elaborated the closely-related concept of the tours osculi or binisca, death by a kiss, in which the soul is drawn out of the body orally through contact with the divine. (62) Later, the soul-kiss became a leitmotif for Baldassare Castiglione, whose lengthy, lyrical description of a kiss as a 'union of souls', in his Book of the Courtier (1528), seems to have influenced many other Italian writers, including Agnolo Firenzuola and Michelangelo Biondo. (63)

The Roman Confraternita di San Giovanni Decollato, actually founded by and comprised of well-to-do Florentines, conducted execution rituals in much the same manner as the Compagnia dei Neri. They attended to the condemned with tavolette, crucifixes (including a very large replica of the crucified Christ) and prayers, provided a confessor (usually a Jesuit rather than a Dominican) and final communion, helped the prisoner to write his last wishes, letter to family and will, and arranged his burial. (64) Sympathetically, they sang to him penitential psalms, particularly the Miserere, and the Litany of Loreto, while he gazed at a panel from their diverse collection of tavolette. (65) The pictures were often mounted in unusually broad frames, so that the condemned person, when on route to execution, would not be distracted by family and throngs of onlookers, and could focus completely on the image and, through it, on Christ's necessary sacrifice. Presumably for this same reason, the compositions of the pictures tend to be simple, almost schematic, with elements arranged to keep the eye engaged, trained on--or continuously circling back to--the centre of the work. Indeed, the directed path of eye movement together with the prisoner's continual repetition of the Credo or Ave Maria are akin to techniques employed in hypnosis and may have induced a similarly trancelike or, at least, acute mental state. (66)

As has been observed by Jean S. Weisz, Edgerton, and others, the members of the confraternity of San Giovanni Decollato provided their prisoners with a wealth of visual 'comforts' and stimuli; in addition to the array of tavolette, representing, on their reverses, a variety of saints' martyrdoms in order to suit the paziente's specific circumstances or mode of execution, the brotherhood had its oratory, church and chapels grandly decorated with appropriate paintings. (67) The earliest of these works, executed by the Florentine artists Francesco Salviati and Jacopino del Conte, are realized in an extravagantly complex, mannerist style. Yet, despite its artistic flourishes and excesses, Jacopino's Descent from the Cross (c. 1551), on the oratory's altar wall, was earnestly conceived to fulfil the organisation's mission (Fig. 12). Just as the tavolette depict or call particular attention to saved penitents, such as Peter, Mary Magdalene and the Good Thief, Jacopino's work features the remorseful Thief and the Roman centurion, who both experienced spiritual conversion at the Crucifixion--dramatis personae of the Gospel accounts who seldom appear in Italian art, let alone major works, of this period. (68) The centurion grasps Christ's lower legs to help remove him from the cross--a gesture meant to associate the soldier with the penitent Mary Magdalene, who is often depicted passionately embracing the cross at the feet of the crucified Christ. Moreover, Jacopino visually bonds and lends additional prominence to the penitents by placing the Magdalene at centre, vertically aligned with the centurion and Christ. The painter also acknowledges the important service of the confraternity members in representing the striding Magdalene's urgent attempt to comfort the Virgin and the dutiful attention of the centurion to Christ's body. Other artists, notably Giorgio Vasari and Jacopo Zucchi, relinquished their usual, fashionably intricate and opulent manners for the confraternity; as Weisz observed, Vasari's Beheading of St John the Baptist (1552), on the high altar of the Church of San Giovanni Decollato, and Zucchi's Crucifixion (c. 1580-85), possibly intended for the brotherhood's Cappella della Conforteria in the Campidoglio prison (now sacristy of the Oratory of San Giovanni Decollato), closely conform in style to the darkly austere tavolette. (69)


The belief in the power of such images to penetrate to the soul, more directly than prayer, more profoundly than song, seems to have intensified over the course of the sixteenth century. Accompanied by a growing Counter-Reform conviction in the edifying purpose and efficacy of pictures, this belief helped to stimulate a major reassessment and reform of artistic expression at the end of the renaissance. The tavolette may have played a subtle, yet significant role in this transformation, particularly at a time when recipients of capital punishment increasingly were accused 'heretics', rather than murderers, priests and scholars who required only the change of heart that these images were believed to induce.

I wish to thank Patricia Bruckmann, Dr. John E. Gedo, Tobia Milla Moss and Tiffany Johnston for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

(1) The title comes from Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream' (V, 1, 7): 'The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact:/ One sees more devils than vast hell can hold ... / The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,/ Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven.' The opening narrative is a compilation of details from various accounts and sources, cited in the text and footnotes below. 'Miserere mei deus' are the opening words of the fifty-first Psalm, which reads in part: 'Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly flora mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin'. The Apostles' Creed (probably 7th century), an assertion of belief in God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the divinity and Resurrection of Christ, depends on much earlier Christian oaths, particularly the ancient (3rd century?) Roman Creed.

(2) The Bolognese confraternity seems to have been the first institution of its kind. From Bologna the idea spread across the Italian peninsula and similar orsanisations formed in Ferrara, Florence, Milan, Naples, Padua, Perugia, Rome, Sicily, Siena, Verona, and Vicenza. Among the important sources on the brotherhoods are: Eugenio Cappelli, La Compagnia dei Neri, Florence, 1927; Gino Borghezio, 'L'Arciconfraternita di San Giovanni Decollato o della Misericordia in Roma e L'Assistenza ai Condannati a Morte', in C. Galassi Paluzzi (ed.), Atti del V Congresso nazionale di Studi Romani, vol. III, Rome, 1942, pp. 260-72; Mario Fanti, 'La Confraternita di S Maria della Morte e la Conforteria dei condannati in Bologna nei secoli XIV e XV', in Quaderni del Centro di Ricerca di Studio sul Movimento dei Disciplinatim no. 20, Perugia, 1978, pp. 3-102: Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr, 'A Little-Known "Purpose of Art" in the Italian Renaissance'. Art History, vol. II no. 1, March 1979, pp, 45-61: Vincenzo Paglia, La morte confortata riti della paura e mentalita religiosa a Roma nell'eta moderna. Rome, 1982; Adriano Prosperi, 'Il sangue e l'anima Ricerche sulle compagnie di giustizia in Italia', Quademi storici. vol. LI, December 1982, pp. 959-99; Jean S. Weisz, 'Salvation through Death: Jacopino del Conte's Altarpiece in the Oratory of S Giovanni Decollato in Rome Art History, vol. VI no. 4, December 1983 pp. 395-405; eadem. Pittura e Misencordia. The Oratory of S Giovanni Decollato in Rome. Ann Arbor, MI, 1984; Calara Cutini, 'l condannati a morte e l'attivita assistenziale della Confraternita della Giustizia di Perugia', in Bollettino della Deputazione di Storia Patria per L'Umbria vol LXXXII, Perugia, 1985, pp. 173-86; Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr, Pictures and Punishment: Art and Criminal Prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance, Ithaca and London 1985; Kathleen Falvey, 'Early Italian Dramatic Traditions and Comforting Rituals: Some Initial Considerations', in Konrad Eisenbicher (ed.), Crossing the Boundaries: Christian Piety and the Arts in Italian Medieval and Renaissance Confraternities, Kalamazoo, MI, 1991. pp. 33-55: Jean S. Weisz, Caritas/Controriforma: the Changing Role of a Confratenity's Ritual', in Eisenbicher, op. cit., p. 221-36; Irene Polverini Fosi, 'Pieta devozione e politica: due confraternite fiorentine nella Roma del Rinascimento', in Archivio Storico Italiano, Florence, 1991, pp. 119-61; Nicholas Terpstra 'Piety and Punishment: The Lay Conforteria and Civic Justice in Sixteenth-Century Bologna', in Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. XX. no. 4, 1991, pp. 679-94: Filippo Fineschi, 'La rappresentazione delia morte sul patibolo nella liturgia florentine della congregazione dei Neri', in Archivio Storico Italiano, op. cit., pp. 805-46; Andrea Zorzi, 'Rituale e cerimoniali penali nelle citta italiane (secc. xiii-xvi)' in Jacques Chiffoleau, Lauro Martines (eds.), Riti e rituale helle societa medievale, Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Spoleto, 1994, pp. 141-57; Mario Fanti, Confraternite e citta a Bologna nel medioevo e nell'eta moderna, Rome, 2001; and Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr. 'When Even Artists Encouraged the Death Penalty', Law and Literature, vol. xv. no. 2, Summer 2003. pp. 235-65.

(3) Aristotle, De anima (On the Soul), edited and translated by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, London and New York, 1986, III. 3-8, pp. 196-210. Aristotle says (III, 8, p. 209) '[t]he thinking faculty, then, thinks the forms in images, and, as what it should pursue or avoid is defined in the images, it is moved even in the absence of perception, whenever there are images before it.'

(4) The Greek word that Aristotle employs is 'phantasia', which is best translated as 'imagination' However, the philosopher is not tidy in his terminology or thinking in that, for him, the word seems to embrace several mental functions or states, including the passive reception of sensory images, the forming of mental images, the active use of imagination (willful conjuring of images) and, occasionally, other types of thinking. For instance, he indicates that theoretical reasoning cannot be done without images. See Malcolm Schofield, 'Aristotle on the Imagination' in Martha C. Nussbaum and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (eds.), Essays on Aristotle's De anima. Oxford and New York 2003, pp. 249-56 and 271-77; and Dorothea Frede, 'The Cognitive Role of Phantasia in Aristotle', in Nussbaum and Oksenberg Rorty, op. cit., pp. 279-90.

(5) Aristotle, De anima, III, 3 (427b) and III, 8 (432a), pp. 198 and 210. Aristotle repeats the statement in De memoria et reminiscentia (449b31-450a5), translated by Richard Sorabji, London, 1972, pp. 5-7. Well known to medieval and renaissance theologians, this Latin translation of Aristotle's original Greek sentence was rendered by the eminent 13th-century scholar William of Moerbecke.

(6) Ioan P. Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, translated by Margaret Cook, Chicago and London, 1987, p. 5.

(7) As Frede (op. cit., p. 289), has pointed out, '[s]ense perceptions ... are always already phantasmata for Aristotle at least where he uses precise speech'.

(8) Epictetus, Dissertationes (III, 3, 20), edited by Henricus Schenkl, Leipzig, 1916, pp. 245-46; and see Gerard Verbeke, L'Evolution de la doctrine du pneuma du stoicism a S. Augustin: Etude philosophique, Paris and Louvain, 1945, pp. 160-61.

(9) In his De genes ad litteram (written 401-415), St Augustine outlined a recondite, three level system of vision and comprehension that seems to be phantasmic in principle--St Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated by J.H. Taylor, New York, 1982, vol II. book XII, pp. 178-231, especially pp. 185-86, 193-98, and 203-205. St Gregory (Moralia in Job, XXVII, 21.41) asserted that words are understood sequentially, while the visual is grasped in a single glance that illuminates the soul See San Gregorio Magno, Commento Morale a Giobbe, edited by Paolo Siniscalco, translated by Emilio Gandolfo, Rome, 1997, part 3, pp. 576-77; and G.R. Evans, The Thought of Gregory the Great, Cambridge, 1986, p. 59. Bernard of Clairvaux stated that '[t]he soul at prayer should have before it an image of the God-man, in his birth or infancy or as he was teaching, or dying, or rising, or ascending'; John of Garlard advocated as 'models of department' the 'graven images of the churches, which you should carry in your mind as living and indelible pictures'; and Roger Bacon spoke in his Opus maius of phantasia and the soul's reception of images. See, respectively, The Works of Bernard of Clairvaux. Song of Songs I, translated by Kilian Walsh, Kalamazoo, MI, 1979, Sermon 20, vol. II, p. 152; John of Garland, Morale Scolarium, translated by Louis John Paetow, Berkeley, CA, 1927, chapter XXX, lines 149-50, p. 174; and The Opus Maius of Roger Bacon, translated by Robert Belle Burke, Bristol, 2000, vol. II, pp. 421-22 and 426-27.

(10) The sentence translates as 'it is contrary to nature to understand without conversion to phantasms'. See St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. A Concise Translation, edited by Timothy McDermott, Westminster, MD, 1989, p. 141, and see pp. 132-34 and 137.

(11) Ibid., pp. 131-34.

(12) Ibid., p. 135.

(13) Thomas Aquinas, In Aristotelis libros De sensu et sensato: De memoria et reminiscentia cemmentarium, edited by Raymundi M. Spiazzi, Turin-Rome, 1949, p. 93 (under 321); and see Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory, Chicago, 1966, p. 71.

(14) Couliano, op. cit., p. 32.

(15) Aquinas, op. cit. in n. 10 above, p. 141.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Girolamo Savonarola. Prediche sopra Ruth e Michea, edited by Vincenzo Romano, Rome, 1962, vol. II, pp. 378, 382. The sermon, printed three times before the friar's death in 1498, bore the title, 'Predica dell'arte del ben morire'.

(18) Ibid., vol. II, pp. 379 and 382.

(19) Couliano, op. cit., pp. 65-67; and see Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Chicago and London, 1991, pp. 335-36; and Robert Klein, 'The Theory of the Figurative in Italian Treatises on the Impresa', in Henri Zerner (ed.), Form and Meaning, translated by Madeline Jay and Leon Wieseltier, New York, 1979, p. 11.

(20) For example, 4 Maccabees, chapter 16; and see George W.E. Nickelsburg, 'The Genre and Function of the Markan Passion Narrative', in Harvard Theological Review, vol. LXXIII, January-April 1980, pp. 155-63; and Kathleen E. Corley, Women and the Historical Jesus: Feminist Myths of Christian Origins, Santa Rosa, CA, 2002, p. 123.

(21) See Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the ancient world and the folly of the message of the cross, Philadelphia, 1977, pp. 81-83; Adela Yarbo Collins, 'From Noble Death to Crucified Messiah', New Testament Studies, vol. XL, 1994, pp 481-90; and Corley, op. cit., pp. 121-22.

(22) Psalms 23, 103, and 139 are sometimes recited for an extremely in person.

(23) Alfred C. Rush, Death and Burial in Christian Antiquity, Washington, DC, 1941, pp. 101-105.

(24) Ibid., pp. 92-101. Some sense of the strict, excessively hygienic Jewish burial customs of Christ's time can be gleaned from the rules set down in the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially in the Temple Scroll See Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, New York and London, 1998 pp. 207-208.

(25) Also see Psalm 35, 15-16: and Collins, op. cit., pp. 490-500; also Nickelsburg, op. cit., pp. 165, 176, and 184. Depending on ones religious beliefs, the coincidences could be considered either divine fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy or the derivative embellishments of the Gospel author, writing some thirty years after the events occurred.

(26) See Eileen F. De Ward, 'Mourning Customs in 1, 2 Samuel II', Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. XXIII, 1972, pp. 154-59; and Corley. op. cit., pp. 103-105, 114-18, and 135-36. For hired female mourners in the renaissance see Dane Owen Hughes. 'Mourning Rites Memory, and Civilization in Premodern Italy', in Chiffoleau and Martines, op. cit., pp. 23-38, especially p. 36.

(27) The verses from the two Psalms are, respectively: 'my lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore, and my kinsmen stand afar off'; and "thou has put away mine acquaintance far from me'. According to Mark (15:40) when Christ was crucified '[t]here were also women looking ors afar off; among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome'.

(28) Rush, op. cit., pp. 111-12.

(29) See Augustine's Sermons (154, 232, 236, 285, and 305) in John E. Rotelle (ed.), The Works of Saint Augustine: Sermons. translated by Edmund Hill, New York, 1994, vols. III/V. pp. 76-77; III/VII, pp. 26-27 and 49, and III/VII, pp. 95-96 and 322: and De vera et falsa penitentia, dubiously attributed to him.

(30) Gregorius Magnus, Homiliae in Evangelia (bk 1, hom. II, 122-58), edited by Raymond Etaix. Turnhout, 1999, pp. 17-18: and Gregorii Magni, Dialogi (Fonti per la Stona d'Italia, no. 57), edited by Umberto Moricca, Rome 1924, book 1, chapter IX, pp. 50-58; and see Sister Mary Catharine O'Connor, The Art of Dying Well: The Development of the Ars Moriendi. New York, 1966, pp. 36-37.

(31) Ibid., pp. 40-41 (especially note 188). The litanies of the Virgin invoke the intercession of Mary with Christ; the most common of these is the Litany of Loreto. The Office of the Dead encompasses many of the Psalms--First Vespers: selections from Psalms 109-144 (with a few exceptions); Matins: Psalms 1-108: and Lauds: Psalms 62 and 148-150.

(32) 'Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic' in Simon Tugwell (ed.), Early Dominicans: Selected Writings, New York, Ramsey, London, 1982, pp. 95-96.

(33) For reproductions of and commentary on the illustrations in Do mode orandi, see William Hood, Fra Angelico at San Marco, New Haven and London, 1993, pp. 21-22, 155, and 200-207, figs. 148, 192-93, 200, 202-203, and 216.

(34) Raymond of Capua, The Life of Catherine of Siena, translated by Conleath Kearns, Wilmington, DE, 1980, (part 2, chapter VII), pp. 215-217. In this service, Catherine also may have been intentionally following in the path of her namesake, St Catherine of Alexandria, who, according to legend, comforted the Roman orators she outwitted in debate, before Emperor Maximinus had them executed for converting to Christianity.

(35) Ibid., (part 3, chapter IV), p. 340.

(36) For disruptions in death rituals caused by the plague, see Gloria K. Fiero, 'Death ritual in fifteenth-century manuscript illumination', Journal of Medieval History, vol X, no. 4, December 1984, pp. 274-76.

(37) O'Connor, op. cit., pp. 56-60, has convincingly argued that a Dominican was responsible for creating the text. For some sense of the robust production and widespread dissemination of the Ars moriendi books, see Roger Chartier, 'Les arts de mourir, 1450-1600', Annales. Economies Societes. Civilisations, 30th year, no. 1, January/February 1976, pp 61-65.

(38) O'Connor, op. cit, pp. 36-37.

(39) Donald F. Duclow, 'Everyman and the Ars moriendi: Fifteenth-Century Ceremonies of Dying', Fifteenth Century Studies, vol. VI, 1983, pp. 96-100; and O'Connor, op. cit., pp. 13, 27-31.

(40) O'Connor, op. cit., pp. 37-38 and Duclow. op. cit., p. 101.

(41) W. Harry Rylands (ed.), The Ars Moriendi editio princeps, circa 1450. A Reproduction of the Copy in the British Museum, London, 1881, pp. 18-19. In his 1490 edition of the Ars moriendi, William Caxton wrote: 'And euer the ymage of the crucyfyxe is to be hadde in his [the moriens'] sight'. For a discussion of theological debates concerning the nature of the deathbed crucifix, specifically, whether it should be regarded merely as a representation or as an icon possessing inherent spiritual power, see Klaus Schreiner, 'Fetisch oder Heilszeichen? Kreuzsymbalik und Passionfrommigkeit in Angesicht des Todes', Zeitschrift fur historische Forsehung, vol. XX, 1993, pp 417-461.

(42) Duclow, op. cit., p. 97 and plate III.

(43) Ibid, pp. 96-97. The Ars moriendi also puts the moriens through a series of interrogations, a procedure not conducted by the comforting confraternities See O'Connor op. cit., pp. 31-36.

(44) For Della Robbia's account, see Janet Ross, Florentine Palaces and their Stones, London, 1905, pp. 222-31; and Edgerton. op. cit. in n. 2 above (1985), pp. 183-84. Della Robbia's complete recordanza is given in F. Polidori. 'L. delia Robbia: Recitazione del case di Pietro Peele Boscoli e di Agostino Capponi, scritte da Luca della Rabbia, l'anno 1513', Archivio storico italiano, op. cit., vol. II pt. 1, 1842, pp 278-312. The Jesuit Biondi's testimony is published in Paglia, op. cit, appendix III, pp. 155-87. For Montaignes observations see Donald M. Frame (ed.). The Complete Works of Montaigne. translated by the editor. London 1958. pp. 941-42

(45) For the Bologna guide (copies in the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna. the Biblioteca Arcivescovile di Bologna, and the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York MS M. 188), see Fanti, op. cit. in n. 2 above (1978), pp. 55-101; idem, op. cit. in n. 2 above (2001), pp. 60-173; and Falvey, op. cit., pp. 34-44. Excerpts from the Compagnia dei Neri manual, preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, appear in G.B. Uccelli, Della Compagnia d Santa Maria della Croce al Tempio, Florence, 1861, pp. 33-58; and see Edgerton, op. cit. in n. 2 above (1985), pp. 179-83.

(46) James R. Banker, Death in the Community Memorialization and Confraternities in an Italian Commune in the Late Middle Ages, Athens, GA and London, 1988, p. 51. In order to treat both the spiritual and emotional needs of the condemned, two writers collaborated on the Bolognese comforters' manual: a clerical author addressed the practical anxieties of the paziente and matters of church doctrine, while a scholarly, lay author concentrated on intellectual questions, for the benefit of the more educated prisoners See Terpstra, op. cit., pp. 680-83.

(47) James R. Banker, 'Death and Christian Charity in the Confraternities of the Upper Tiber Valley' in Christianity and the Renaissance: Image and Religious Imagination in the Quattrocento, edited by Timothy Verdon and John Henderson, Syracuse, NY, 1990, p. 321. Also see Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Chicago, 1984, pp. 300-318, and especially pp. 327-28.

(48) John Henderson, Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence, Chicago and Florence, 1994, pp. 163-67.

(49) Ross, op. cit., pp. 222-31; and see Luigi Lazzerini, Nessuno e innocente. Le tre morti d Pietro Pagolo Boscoli, Florence, 2002, pp. 3-23. Boscoli refused to have the tavoletta (tavoluccia) held before him. Of the seven penitential psalms, the 102nd would have been especially appropriate, with its references in verse 20 to the 'groaning of the prisoner' and 'to loose those that are appointed to death'. Similar phrases can be found in Psalm 79, 11.

(50) See Edgerton, op. cit. in n. 2 above (1985), pp 192-201 Fra Angelico's involvement with the Compagnia del Neri begs the question as to whether he or his assistants produced tavolatte. Although none of these has come to light, such speculation is intriguing given the nature of the devotional, non narrative works Fro Angelico had developed at San Marco. Recollective of arma Christi images, many of the frescoes in the cells there employ an artistic language or, at least, an artistic syntax, that in its simplicity and abstractness relates to that of the tavolette used at San Giovanni Decollate. For Fra Angelico and the tradition of arma-Christi images, in which the instruments of (and some participants in) the Passion are presented in an abbreviated, iconic and symbolic fashion, see Hood, op. cit., p. 216; and Rudolf Berliner, 'Arma Christi', Munchner Jahrbuch der bildeneden Kunst, vol. VI, 1955, pp, 35-152.

(51) Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death: The Arts, Religion and Society in the Mid-Fourteenth Century, Princeton, 1951, p. 122.

(52) The inscription on Niccolo's picture reads: 'SI EST DOLOR SICUT DOLOR MEUS VERE LANGORES IP[S]E TULIT E[T] DOLORES NOSTROS IP[S]E PORFAVIT CUIUS LIVOR[E] SANATI SUMUS'. See ibid., p. 122. This is a paraphrase of the verses in Isaiah, in which, among other changes, 'meus' or 'my' is used instead of the plural 'our'.

(53) Savonarola, op. cit., p. 393. He suggests as well (p. 388) that a person near death should gaze at a crucifix and recite Psalm 37 (Vulgate), which includes the line, 'those who seek my life, lay their snares', in order to avoid the distractions of the devil. Following the Ars moriendi tradition (see pp. 11-12, above), Savonarola (op. cit., pp 387-88) also warns that the devil, to confuse the dying man, will try to get his family and friends to tell him that he is not very ill.

(54) Savonarola, op. cit., pp. 372-91; and see Donald Weinstein, 'The Art of Dying Well and Popular Piety in the Preaching and Thought of Savonarela' in Marcel Tetel, Ronald G. Witt and Rona Goffen (eds.), Life and Death in Fifteenth-Century Florence, Durham, NC and London, 1989, pp. 92-97.

(55) Savonarola, op. cit., p. 383.

(56) The illustration in the Bologna manuscript presents, in continuous narration, three stages of the execution process. In each the tavoletta is held near the face of the paziente: see Fig. 8. Scenes from the life of the luckless Rinaldeschi, including one that shows a tavoletta in use. were painted in the sixteenth century on a panel that is now preserved in the Museo Stibbert, Florence. See William J. Connell and Giles Constable, 'Sacrilege and Redemption in Renaissance Florence: The Case of Antonio Rinaldeschi', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. LXI, 1998, pp. 53-92. especially p. 73, fig. 21. As Fineschi (op. cit., pp. 829-43) has described, the route of the execution procession around Florence, meant to recall the Stations of the Cross in an imitatio Christi, was very long and circuitous.

(57) The Bolognese text (fols. 24v-25v) imparts this information under the chapter heading, 'concerning the disposition of the soul when it departs from this miserable life': 'la sua invariabile justicia si ha determinato e ordinate a le anime humane quando le se parteno de questa vita una sententia la quale e questa: che l'anima eternalmente debia vivere e stare cum quella intentione e cum quella disposizione cum la quale la se parte de questa vita, si che se l'anima se parte cum odio cussi sempre se mantene e cussi se la se parte cum amore e cum carita de Dio e del proximo sempre a remara cum quello amore e cum quella sancta carita' (fol. 24v)--see Fanti, op. ct. in n. 2 above 2001), pp. 151-52; and Falvey, op. cit., p. 39. I wish to thank Sylvie Merian Tenant and Inge Dupont of The Pierpont Morgan Library for kindly making the manuscript and related files available to me.

(58) Edgerton, op. cit. in n. 2 above 1985), p. 173; and see N colas James Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969, p. 297, note 56. The practice relates as we to the Catholic tradition of kissing paxes and other decorated reliquaries, also sometimes called 'Kusstafeln'.

(59) In book one (fols. 12v, 17 r and v, and 33r), the manual repeatedly refers to Christ as the 'spouse of your soul' (xr[ist]o sposo de lamma tua) and then extends the metaphor in the poetic verses of a laud and prayer. See Fairer, op. ct., pp. 37-38 and 40; and Fanti, op. cit. in n. 2 above (2001), p. 147. Falvey (pp. 53-54) also notes the use of such spousal imagery in contemporary Passion plays, in which confraternity members often performed. Drawing on verses to the Old Testament Song of Solomon (3:11, 4:9-11, 5:1), numerous Christian theologians, including Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux, had previously employed the metaphor of Christ as spouse or bridegroom. See John E. Roetelle (ed.), The Works of Saint Augustine. III. The Sermons, translated by Edmund Hill, New York, 1990, Sermon 46: 35-36, pp. 286-48; and Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs.

(60) See Millard Meiss, The Rohan Master: A Book of Hours, New York, 1973, no. 63, plate 63.

(61) Pico della Mirandola, Commento sopra una canzona de amore composta da Giovanni Benivieni secondo la mente et opionione de' Platonici (written 1486, published 1519) in Eugenio Garin (ed.), De hominis, dignitate, Heptaplus, De ente et uno, e scritti vari, Florence, 1942, pp. 557-58; and see Perella, op. cit., pp. 169-75.

(62) Pico, op. cit., p. 558; and see Perella, op. cit., pp. 169-73 and 179-81.

(63) Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, edited by Daniel Javitch, translated by Charles S. Singleton, New York, 2002, book IV, 64, p. 253; and see Perella, op. cit., pp 175-79 and 181-88.

(64) Paglia, op. cit., pp. 116-19. In the late 16th century, the Jesuits were the order most involved in comforting work, and they became the official confessors in the Roman prisons. See Christopher F. Black, Italian Confraternities In the Sixteenth Century, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 219-22.

(65) Paglia, op. cit., pp. 119-22. Along with the tavolette, the confraternities also kept the ropes or cords used for hangings. See p. 118; and Prosperi, op. cit., p. 963.

(66) Contrary to common expectation, a person under extreme stress is actually more likely to be susceptible to hypnosis or autohypnosis than a relaxed one. Often, over the course of a lifetime, a tendency for disturbed consciousness will cause an individual to develop mental coping mechanisms that engender detached states similar to hypnosis. The trauma of imminent execution can cause a regression to such a defensive mode, during which normal functions of the 'executive' frontal cortex (or 'metacontrol') are disrupted and a hypnoid state may be mere easily triggered. See John E. Gedo, 'Epigenesis, Regression, and the Problem of Consciousness' in Jerome A. Winer (ed.), The Annual of Psychoanalysis, vol. XXIV, Hillsdale, NJ and London, 1996, pp 98-100; and Fred M. Levin, Psyche and Brain: The Biology of Talking Cures, Madison, CT, 2003, pp. 138-40.

(67) Edgerton, op. cit. in n. 2 above (1979), figs. 15-25 and 29, and idem, op. cit. in n. 2 above (1985), pp. 184-85, figs 43-46 and 50-51) reproduces many of these tavolette.

(68) For the inclusion of the Good Thief and Centurion, see Weisz, op. cit. in n. 2 above (1983), pp. 400-402; idem, op. cit. in n. 2 above (1984), pp. 60-63; and eadem, op. cit. in n. 2 above (Eisenbicher), pp. 224 and 229. For a survey of the theme of the Good Thief in art, see Mitchell B. Merbeck, The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, Chicago and London, 1999, especially the introduction and chapters 2, 7, and 8.

(69) Weisz, op. cit. in n. 2 above (Eisenbicher), pp. 228-31. In the last decades of the sixteenth century, the brotherhood maintained chapels in Roman prisons.

Larry J. Feinberg is Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Curator in the Department of

European Painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.
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