Morbid Curiosity? Painting the Tribunale della Vicaria in Seicento Naples

Speaker: Edward Payne (Assistant Professor, Art History, Aarhus University, Denmark)

A painting by an anonymous Neapolitan artist depicts the square in front of the law court known as the Tribunale della Vicaria in Naples. This image offers a window onto the nature of violent acts performed in the name of civic and religious justice in the seventeenth century. Yet it tricks the viewer by providing the illusion of an ‘objective’, eyewitness testimony of early modern Naples, and a context of ‘everyday’ violence in the city. We are often told that the Baroque was a violent age, and that Naples was a violent city, ‘a paradise inhabited by devils’. To what extent was this society alien to our own? How was their ‘everyday’ different from our ‘everyday’? What were the various attitudes towards violence at the time? How did violent acts and violent arts manifest themselves in the early modern Spanish port city? Taking this enigmatic painting as its focus, this paper will seek to explore these questions and sharpen our perspective on daily life in seicento Naples.

Edward Payne is Assistant Professor in Art History at Aarhus University in Denmark. An art historian and curator of the Mediterranean Baroque, he has organised a number of exhibitions, including Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings (Morgan Library & Museum, 2014); Between Heaven and Hell: The Drawings of Jusepe de Ribera (Meadows Museum, 2017); and, with Xavier Bray, Ribera: Art of Violence (Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2018–19). Additionally, he contributed to the Courtauld Gallery’s publication Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album (2015), and he co-authored the catalogue raisonné of Ribera’s drawings (2016), edited by Gabriele Finaldi. Edward has held curatorial positions in several museums in the US, UK, and Spain. He served as Assistant Professor at Durham University, and he is the recipient of a Center for Spain in America Fellowship at the Clark Art Institute in 2021. His research engages with such topics as violence, skin, sensory perceptions, caricature, and ugliness.

Organised by Dr Scott Nethersole (The Courtauld) and Dr Guido Rebecchini (The Courtauld) 

This event has passed.

5:00pm, 3 Feb 2021


Anonymous Neapolitan, Tribunale della Vicaria (detail) Mid-17th century Oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm Polo Museale della Campania – Museo di San Martino, Naples inv. no. SM23904