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File:Last judgement.jpg

Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" - St Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin; Michelangelo does a self portrait depicting himself as St Bartholomew after he had been flayed (skinned alive). This is reflective of the feelings of contempt Michelangelo had for being commissioned to paint "The Last Judgment."[1]

Flaying is the removal of skin from the body. Generally, an attempt is made to keep the removed portion of skin intact.


An animal may be flayed in preparation for human consumption, or for its hide or fur; this is more commonly called skinning.

Flaying of humans is used as a method of torture or execution, depending on how much of the skin is removed. This article deals with flaying in the sense of torture and execution. This is often referred to as "flaying alive". There are also records of people flayed after death, generally as a means of debasing the corpse of a prominent enemy or criminal, sometimes related to religious beliefs (e.g. to deny an afterlife); sometimes the skin is used, again for deterrence, magical uses, etc. (i.e. scalping).


Flaying is an ancient practice. There are accounts of Assyrians flaying a captured enemy or rebellious ruler and nailing the flayed skin to the wall of his city, as a warning to all who would defy their power. An especially savage Assyrian practice consisted of indirectly torturing a person by flaying his young child before his eyes. The Aztecs of Mexico flayed victims of ritual human sacrifice, generally after death. Searing or cutting the flesh from the body was sometimes used as part of the public execution of traitors in medieval Europe. A similar mode of execution was used as late as the early 18th century in France; one such episode is graphically recounted in the opening chapter of Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1979). The Subprior and the Sacrist of Westminster Abbey broke into the Chapel of the Pyx in 1303, the abbey muniment and treasury chamber, and stole from the contents. The Pyx chapel door has been found to have fragments of human skin attached to it as have the three doors to the revestry. The Copford church in Essex, England has been found to have human skin attached to a door.[2] In Chinese history, Sun Hao, Fu Sheng and Gao Heng were known for removing skin from people's faces.[3] The Hongwu Emperor flayed many servants, officials and rebels.[4][5] In 1396 he ordered the flaying of 5000 women.[6] Hai Rui suggested that his emperor flay corrupt officials. The Zhengde Emperor flayed six rebels,[7] and Zhang Xianzhong also flayed many people.[8] Lu Xun said the Ming Dynasty was begun and ended by flaying.[9]

Examples of flayings

See also


  1. Dixon, John W. Jr. "The Terror of Salvation: The Last Judgment". Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  2. Wall, J. Charles (1912), Porches and Fonts. Pub. Wells Gardner and Darton, London. P. 41 - 42.
  3. 中国死刑观察--中国的酷刑
  4. 也谈“剥皮实草”的真实性
  5. 覃垕曬皮
  6. 陈学霖(2001). 史林漫识. China Friendship Publishing Company.
  7. History of Ming, vol.94
  8. 写入青史总断肠(2)
  9. 鲁迅. 且介亭雜文·病後雜談
  10. Boston Globe - Lost Marine

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links

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