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Suffering in Representations of the Massacre of the Innocents in Italian Renaissance Painting, 1300–1500

Thu, March 22, 9:00 to 10:30am, Hilton Riverside, 3rd Level - Canal Room


The Massacre of the Innocents is a popular episode in Italian Renaissance painting, where violence and suffering have been, since the fourteenth century, more perceptible and staged. Suffering is multiform in this episode, physical for the boys slaughtered, physical and psychological for the mothers. It would be simplistic to explain their numerous representations and vivid figuration of suffering as only illustrating the high infant mortality rate of the time. Rather these images contributed to the creation of an aesthetics of suffering. This paper will analyze the purposes of such an aesthetics: it is hagiographical, since the Innocents became the first of the martyr-saints. Also, thanks to this aesthetics, the infants’ deaths move from meaningless to meaningful, pedagogically serving to deter children from violence as Dominican friar Giovanni Dominici advocated. Furthermore, this aesthetics has a social function associated with the development of foundling hospitals, like the well-named Hospital of the Innocents.


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