This article examines a miracle, credited to the Dominican saint Vincent Ferrer, in which a “demented” wife and mother butchers and partially cooks her infant son. In the decades following Vincent’s 1455 canonization, artists like Colantonio and the Erri workshop approached the macabre narrative in very different ways. Beyond this iconographic instability, this essay argues that the unsettled status of the narrative—in both text and picture—enabled its use as a malleable vessel for articulating and projecting certain social anxieties. The Erri version, the primary focus of the article, emerges as a case study in pictorial indeterminancy: saintly power is both pivotal and marginalized; social class is both highlighted and obfuscated; cannibalism is both seen and unseen. These contradictions demonstrate the contested status of the social problems represented: female madness, child-killing, cannibalism, and, in a broader sense, the inability of men to assert control over the spaces of their domestic world.
Domesticating Cannibalism: Visual Rhetorics of Madness and Maternal Infanticide in Fifteenth-Century Italy
Diana Bullen Presciutti; Domesticating Cannibalism: Visual Rhetorics of Madness and Maternal Infanticide in Fifteenth-Century Italy. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 January 2015; 45 (1): 159–195. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-2830064
Download citation file: