The Virgin of Nuremberg

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The Virgin of Nuremberg
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The Virgin of Nuremberg, commonly known as the Iron Maiden, is a torture device that stimulate our senses in a very particular way. We preferred to adopt the name “Virgin of Nuremberg” inspired by the most famous “Maiden” ever created, built in the city of Nuremberg – Germany – and described as one of the most terrifying examples.  

Her origins (as Iron Maiden) are wrongly associated to the middle-ages, maybe because of her vile aspect and the rawness of the materials “she” was made of. But the fact is: it was not conceived before the 18th century. 

The classic 2 meters “Virgin” was originally designed with a Virgin Mary on the top, placed by the inquisitors, symbolically describing the triumph of the christianity over the heresy and heterodoxy. The carnal pain and the agonising time passed in that “dark womb” was interpreted as purifier and absolver of the heretic’s sins.

Visually speaking, our attention is firstly drawn to her head, a visage of an innocent virgin, sometimes portrait screaming in pain, and some other times just emotionless, which looks a lot more disturbing – That face of hers is powerful enough to awake our most chilling nightmares – Her eyes are both full of darkness and emptiness with a reprobative look (Christian style). 

As we observe her body, it resembles a lady’s dress but it opens like a cabinet or a sarcophagus full of sharp and long spikes. It is not a coincidence to rank “her” as one of the most excruciating torture devices ever made. As an object, finds itself a terrifying balance between loathsome appearance and sadistic functionality. 

“The Iron Maiden of Nuremberg” at Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum, Germany.
Left, an "iron maiden" with its doors secured; right, an "iron maiden" with its doors open. Publisher unknown, undated.

However, and unlike many people think, the “Maiden” was not built to kill the tortured ones instantly. The spikes were positioned to carve deep on the flesh and not to hit the vital organs. The experience seem to be far from enjoyable … and beyond the indescribable pain, the victims also faced the “symptoms” of claustrophobia, suffering both physical and psychological violence. 

From a different perspective and beyond the dark veil over the “Maiden” (symbol of human cruelty), we actually find it attractive in a way that caress some BDSM. The sexual connotation is more obvious when we hear about some stories of toothed vaginas (Vagina Dentata). The folk tales suggest a moralistic idea of an injurious sexual intercourse but is also an accurate way to prevent sexual assaults. Some examples of chastity belts followed, rigorously, the concept.

Our design reveals the interior of the spiked sarcophagus with a dismembered corpse, like we see in alchemical imagery. It describes a process of self-purification but not like the one imposed by the Inquisition. By separating our parts, sublimate and to regroup them thought a different order, we find true knowledge. It can be a tortuous time that demands will and determination but in this design, the bones and parts look already organised and it inspires us some hope. 

“A Shaman is someone who takes you into spiritual world, cuts you up into little pieces, glues you back together and brings you back into this world better than you were. That’s what a shaman does. ” Dan O’Bannon on Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Now that we look at the skeletal figure in a less pessimistic mode, the whole design achieves a lighter tone. The head, once punitive, has gentler look and seem to release us from our personal prison of spikes

“the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg” engraved illustration from Journal des Voyage, 1880-81.
replica of an Iron Maiden at Meiji Torture Museum, Japan.
Venetian chastity belt (Claimed to be 16th–17th century.)
Venetian chastity belt (Claimed to be 16th–17th century.)
a blindfolded prisoner is forced to kneel down before the "iron maiden" in a dungeon. Publisher unknown, undated
Weight 200 g
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