In early modern Europe, judges read the bodies of victims and suspects through a variety of lenses shaped by popular beliefs, Renaissance notions of physiognomy, and by the study of medicine, classical rhetoric, and natural law theory. This article explores the writings of Francesco Casoni (1500–1564) on these themes. Casoni emerges as critical of certain traditional assumptions and was deliberate in his rethinking about how judges might read the body, basing his ideas on the careful study of Cicero and Quintilian. Casoni became skeptical about the use of torture as part of the judicial process, eventually adopting the view that it was possible to convict an individual on the basis of indicia indubitata (compelling circumstantial evidence) alone. Attitudes about the body and torture in the sixteenth century must be examined in relation to a broad range of medical, theological, and judicial beliefs, which were far from consistent. But judges by necessity were forced to read the bodies of the accused for hints of guilt or innocence in the difficult process of carrying out their trials.

You do not currently have access to this content.