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UBC Theses and Dissertations

17th-century Neapolitan paintings of the Flagellation of Christ : temporality, pain & performance Vanan, Shalini Mikaela


The Biblical narrative of the Flagellation of Christ persisted in visual representations through the medieval and early modern eras when it was replicated in passion plays, illustrated manuals, sculpture and painting. In 17th-century Naples, several variations on the Flagellation scene were produced by artists such as Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernardo Cavallino, Andrea Vaccaro and Luca Giordano. Because it was the first of a series of images, scholars have often viewed Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ as the model for all succeeding artists. In this thesis I work against this notion choosing instead to focus on the prevalence of three major themes—temporality, pain and performance—through which to consider the series of paintings as a whole. Using an interdisciplinary approach I address the socio-cultural implications of the practice of flagellation and trace it from its roots as a medieval monastic practice to its widespread prominence in 17th-century Naples. In the examination of three different examples of Neapolitan paintings of the Flagellation of Christ, it becomes apparent that these images suggest violence without overtly displaying it. The implicit corporeal mutilation in the paintings relies primarily on the various accouterments of torture. These devices constitute a visual language that expresses pain through their presence—either implied through gestures, or as props—rather than through the depiction of mortification of the skin. This positions pain in the external world where it is prompts reflection on the performance of flagellation rather than an individual embodied experience. Considering the 17th-century Neapolitan context, I argue that these paintings participated in a dialogue with communal acts of flagellation that can be seen as performances. Using Gilles Deleuze’s notion of ‘becoming’ as a methodological framework, and considering the social practices of Naples and the revivified religious doctrine of the Imitatio Christi, I argue that these paintings, considered as a series, constitute repetitive performances of the same subject through the representation of distinctively different temporal moments.

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