Tag Archive | dead

Bring out your dead

Recent article:

Gagné, John. “Counting the Dead: Traditions of Enumeration and the Italian Wars.” Renaissance Quarterly 67, no. 3 (September 2014): 791–840.
Abstract: Methods for counting war deaths developed alongside structural changes in the ways that states enumerated mortality (for both fighters and citizens) between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. This paper argues that an alternative way to interpret observers’ comments on the magnitude and novelty of war damages during the Italian Wars (1494-1559) is to trace the history of enumerating mortality from the fourteenth century, using the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death as departure points. Military heralds counted dead soldiers in Northern Europe and civic record keepers registered public mortality in Italy. Numbers carried cultural value. In war, disputants and observers used numbers rhetorically to argue political cases and to emphasize the scale of victories and defeats. By 1500, the proliferation of specific mortality numbers in public discourse–amplified by printed war reporting–forced observers to reckon with their meaning. The article concludes by illustrating how numbers entered memorial culture: monuments from the Italian Wars featured numbers as an index of the perceived magnitude of war in the sixteenth century.
How, you may ask, did I know that an article would be published on mortality rates? Just psychic, I guess.

OMG! They’re nekkid!

Malplaquet battle

Malplaquet battle

I thought I had exhausted Google’s Image search on Malplaquet, but I apparently missed this image.

DuBosc engraving of Laguerre painting (click to enlarge)

DuBosc engraving of Laguerre painting (click to enlarge)

It’s a bit more interesting because it’s a  later 18C engraving of the original painting (c. 1713). Its higher-resolution and more stark lines provide a bit more detail. Noteworthy tidbits:

  • There’s definitely fighting in them thar’ woods.
  • The naked bodies are apparently being picked over by a woman (note the dress), who is fending off a pistol shot from a cavalier. Now I’m imagining women sneaking around the battlefield, dispatching the wounded to more easily acquire their plunder.
  • I’m assuming a large part of this particular nakedness relates to the composition of the work, as the woman and the bodies (along with the tree behind it) pretty neatly divide the image into two parts. The divider is more clear in Laguerre’s original, and is a bit muddled in DuBosc’s image because of the checker-red standard.
  • DuBosc changed the colors of some of the clothing, even reversing the blue and red on occasion, as with the cavalier shooting at the plunderer. Not sure how to interpret this. Laguerre, for example, has blue coats and red coats working together to lift the logs, whereas DuBosc turns them all red. I’m not sure if Laguerre’s buff coats around the cannon are supposed to be civilians (i.e. wagoneers), or just had different uniforms on…
  • The defender’s flag on the right appears to have changed from some kind of large white cross in Laguerre to small (presumably fleur-de-lis) in DuBosc’s engraving.
  • The officer on the far left (pointing) also apparently has a horse of gold now. Nice. Alternately, it looks like a lot of the white objects were turned yellow in the engraving (yet the clouds and perruques remain white).

So is all this artistic crap random? Thoughts?

Stripped bodies on the battlefield

I’m trying to finish up one of my main projects this semester (the West Point military art textbook), and have come across yet another example of the dead (and wounded) on early modern battlefields.

In a few near-contemporary paintings illustrating field battles during the War of the Spanish Succession (when else), there are several very prominent dead bodies, stripped naked. I want to use one (of the paintings, not the dead bodies) in my chapter, but will undoubtedly need to explain in the caption why those naked bodies are there.

Here’s one of Ramillies:

Ramillies pursuit (Laguerre)

Ramillies pursuit (Laguerre)

Note the dead bodies (at least partially stripped) in the foreground right and the proximate sword and pistol play around the tree. The (presumably dead) body with arms sprawled ‘up’ appears to be totally naked, his privates shielded from view by a conveniently-placed bush. Presumably the other victim’s blue pants link him to one of his still-living compatriots fleeing for his own life, sans shoes or any other accoutrements. I’ve heard of throwing down your weapons and equipment to flee, but that’s a bit much.

Here’s one from Malplaquet, perhaps giving a little more insight:

Malplaquet

Malplaquet

Notice on the left how a female camp follower is taking the shirt off of a wounded/dead soldier with some combat in the background.  I knew that the wounded/dead were often stripped after the battle; I guess I didn’t appreciate how quickly such wealth was redistributed. The early bird… I guess.

Finally, another from Malplaquet:

Malplaquet battle

Malplaquet battle

This last one is a bit more surprising to me, given how close the dead bodies (center left) are to the fighting. If accurate and not simply an artistic convention, it suggests the possibility that stripping the dead might have happened even in the midst of combat, presumably by soldiers.

Is that likely? Or is there some other explanation? There is clearly some significant fighting going on around it, which makes one think it isn’t the mop up phase of the battle, unless there was a lull and then a return to fighting. Perhaps it’s noteworthy that there appears to be a soldier over the bodies and not a female camp follower? Perhaps the wooded terrain of Malplaquet made it easier for people to avoid the heaviest fighting yet still claim their prizes?

Any thoughts, examples or parallels? If anyone has access to those expensive books on war in early modern art, they might give some guidance too.

Come with me
Into the trees
We’ll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass...