Images in the Archive

Well-deserved death sentence of Caspar Rhain, who was executed with a sword for his gruesome robbery of a hermit in Olstatt on October 19th, 1771, and then his corpse was placed on the wheel. Well-deserved death sentence, including a moral speech, of Mathias N., also known as Windbeutl, who, because of his confessed street robberies and inhumane and multiple crimes, will on July 14th, 1781 be dragged in cowhide to the place of execution and broken on the wheel from top to bottom. He will then be quartered and the pieces of his body will be placed on a gallows at the places and streets of his major crimes. Well-deserved death sentence of Caspar Rhain, who was executed with a sword for his gruesome robbery of a hermit in Olstatt on October 19th, 1771, and then his corpse was placed on the wheel.

The purpose of this exhibit is to exoplore the politics of visuality - the use of images - in the "Poor Sinners' Pamphlets." While a majority of the documents are text only, some include engravings detailing the crimes described in the pamphlets, the execution, or both. Given the heightened cost associated with the creation and printing of images, these visuals are indications that the crimes described relate to notorious criminals and robbers or describe especially violent crimes. For a largely illiterate public, these images convey the moralistic and cautionary message of the pamphlets through visual means - presenting the consequences of crime and the momvents just before (and after) execution. And yet they also indicate the significance of spectacle and spectatorship in the consumption of these pahmplets as well as in crowds, including children and families, witnessing the executions. 

As you look through the exhibit, you may notice how certain images, especially the decorative engravings that appear at the pamphlet’s end, often reappear as they were reused time and again to save costs. Another common image is the skull and cross bones, symbolizing the death of the sinner. Another commonality among the pamphlets with images is the illustration of the actual execution, providing a warning and lesson to the reader at the time of publishing not to follow the same path. 

One example of images in the archive comes to us through the story of Caspar Rhain, who in 1771 was executed at the age of 17 for assaulting and robbing a hermit with three accomplices near Olstatt (today, Ohlstadt), southwest of Munich. The pamphlet describing Rhain's death was part of a four-part series, the others of which describe the fate of Rhain's accomplices - these documents, however, are not housed in the Criminology Collection at MSU. Because Rhain was so young, and thought to have come under the influence of his older counterparts, he was spared being broken on the wheel. The engravings on 

As Magelone Bollen explains, the engravings were most likely created by Franz Xaver Jungwirth, often worked in tandem with the author Matthias Ettenhueber, who worked in Munich between 1760 and 1781. Unlike many of the other images in the collection, which were often generic, reusable depictions of executions, the image illustrating Rhain’s story (as well as those of his accomplices) was individually made to depict the crime. In it, we see the men pillaging the hermit’s home, while he, visible in the lower left corner, is covered up by a coat the intruders had thrown on him to shield their identity. The images thus complement the text in this individual pamphlet as well as those depicting the executions of Rhain’s accomplices. In combination, we witness the function of the pamphlets as a whole, not only as a story of true crime, but also as a performance of an execution and, hence, revenge, which not only restores the rule of justice, but also serves as a warning to others.

For more information, see Magelone Bollen, “Urtheil und ein schönes Lied” (Diss. MSU, 2013), p. 175.


Images in the Archive