A judge in southern Russia halted proceedings in a case late last month to hold a special hearing to discuss a 1488 Dutch Renaissance painting.
The painting in question, The Judgment Of Cambyses by Gerard David, depicts in graphic detail an executioner flaying alive the corrupt Persian judge Sisamnes. The painting is also known by the title The Flaying Of The Corrupt Judge.
According to Greek historian Herodotus, Persian Emperor Cambyses II ordered Sisamnes skinned alive for delivering an unjust verdict after accepting a bribe. He further ordered that the unfortunate judge's skin be used to upholster the chair from which his successor -- Sisamnes's son -- would hear future cases. A small vignette in the upper right-hand corner of David's painting shows the son dispensing justice in the macabre chair.
Apparently, Krasnodar regional Appellate Court Judge Andrei Garbovsky was a bit taken aback when a creditor in a bankruptcy case, Stanislav Golubyov, sent the court some documents in an envelope decorated with an image of David's gruesome painting.
According to a document posted on the court's website, "the court believes that this circumstance demands an explanation from S.V. Golubyov, including determining whether it was a display of disrespect to the court and consideration of whether there are grounds for imposing a fine...."
A hearing on the matter was held on June 5, at which Garbovsky determined that there was no intent to disrespect the court on Golubyov's part. According to Interfax, Golubyov did not appear at the hearing but sent a written apology (presumably in a different envelope) and explained that the envelope with the painting on it had come from the office of his lawyer, Aleksei Avanesyan.
Avanesyan attended the hearing and told the court that the painting was not, in and of itself, offensive.
Lawyers for the firm undergoing bankruptcy, Sochi-Absolyut, argued that Golubyov should be fined for violating the intellectual-property rights of the artist (who died in 1523) or of the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, Belgium, where the painting hangs today.
The judge proclaimed the matter closed.
Nonetheless, David's painting has a history of being used to send political messages. It was originally commissioned by the authorities of Bruges to hang in the town hall in a bid to foster honesty among officials.
In 2012, supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko unfurled a large poster of the painting at a hearing where she was appealing a seven-year prison term for alleged corruption. The unamused judge ordered the poster removed and threatened to have the protesters expelled as well.
In December 2012, protesters brought a reproduction of the same painting to Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky district court just days after a judge sentenced Maksim Luzyanin to 4 1/2 years in prison for participating in the May 2012 Bolotnaya Square protest against Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third presidential term.
Activists Sergei Davidis and Maria Arkhipova were detained while trying to present the painting to Judge Andrei Fedin.