Here are a few details from a 12th-century church mural displayed in Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya that prove that the public’s appetite for seeing fellow human beings tortured and mutilated in gruesomely imaginative ways did not begin with Hollywood ‘torture-porn’ movies like James Wan’s Saw (2004) or Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). That appetite was present a very long time earlier and it was catered for by the gory depictions of martyrdom found in countless works of religious art.
The difference, of course, is that while critics and social commentators have reacted to today’s torture-porn movies as if they heralded the end of civilisation as we know it, it was perfectly okay to be turned on by images of saints being dismembered, flayed, impaled, etc, in the Middle Ages so long as you hid your morbid fascination behind a veneer of beatitude. And anyway, such images had the church’s approval.
As if to reinforce the claim I’ve just made, the fourth and final detail shows someone falling painfully foul of a saw.