Again, images of justice

Searching images of justice was the title of my latest post on legal iconography ten days ago. After I wrote it I kept questioning myself whether I have done at all justice to this subject? In one respect I certainly used a restriction to the collections and websites I mentioned here and on my website: they should reflect a large degree of order and accessibility. I seemed to restrict myself therefore to online databases with images. In principle this might be all right, but it invoked some comments. Mike Widener, curator of the Rare Books Room of the Yale University Law School Library and well-known for his blog accompanying the fine collections at Yale, pointed to the collection of images he presents at a Flickr website. “Highlighting images from the Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School” is the modest notice on this website with sixteen small thematic collections, including images from Dutch law books. Widener has added to each image either at least the title of the book from which the images stems or a somewhat longer notice. First of all one must acknowledge the effort and the very fact of showing images without for example ugly transparent logo’s against possible infringements of copyright, unfortunately something quite commonly encountered. It wets your appetite for more detailed descriptions and more search possibilities, and surely this will follow when these collections grow in the wake of the exhibitions organized at the Rare Books Department of the Yale University Law School Library and shown on the blog.

To all these images I add here my own pictures of buildings, of landscapes, even of road signs, and I would not dare calling it a collection, and nevertheless I continue taking pictures. Making photographs can be a way to make you look better at things, but even so often the results are just silly pictures. Israel Kiek was one of the earliest Dutch photographers. He gave his name to kiekjes, the diminutive of those peculiar pictures without any pretensions that speak only to your next of kin. Kiek’s name is very much akin to the Dutch verb for looking, kijken!

The frieze at the west entrance of the Buurkerk in Utrecht

The frieze at the west entrance of the Buurkerk in Utrecht

In the old city of Utrecht two churches were dedicated to Mary, the church of the collegiate chapter of St. Mary, and the main parish church, officially a Maria Minor, most times called Buurkerk, “Citizens’ Church”. The frieze on the west entrance dates not from the fifteenth century, but from the restauration of the church between 1950 and 1960. On the right you see a religious theme: it shows angels around another angel playing the organ. On the left, however, is a secular theme: proud citizens of Utrecht, some of them with a helmet and arms. It would be very easy to show in an iconographic collection each section of the frieze separately, but the interesting fact is their juxtaposition. At first it would seem perfectly sensible to show only the left part of the freeze in a collection for legal iconography, but this does injustice to the artefacts in situ. In fact, this combination of secular culture and religion is the very paradigm of late medieval Utrecht as described and characterized in the major monograph by Llewellyn BogaersAards, betrokken en zelfbewust. De verwevenheid van cultuur en religie in katholiek Utrecht, 1300-1600 (2 vol., Utrecht 2008); her title translates as “Earthly, involved and self-conscious. The interdependence of culture and religion in catholic Utrecht, 1300-1600”. A comment to a photograph of the doors in the collections of the Utrecht archives states that at funerals the body of the deceased used to enter through the left door and to leave through the right door.

The citizens' section of the frieze at the west entrance of the Buurkerk, Utrecht

The citizens’ section of the frieze at the west entrance of the Buurkerk, Utrecht

At the centre of the citizens’ section of the frieze is the city blazon which shows at the left the red mantle of Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint of Utrecht. At the right this saint is shown sitting on horseback and sharing one half of his mantle with a beggar. Thus a religious image is at the focus point of this part of the sculptural design. To be sure, to understand this frieze better a full description is needed and more information about it. I have shown it here as an example of the limitations of pictures and consequences of choices made by photographers and collectors alike.

Doing legal iconography calls for many things to be taken into consideration. For me a fascinating distinction is to be made between imagined justice and images of actual justice, not to mention those images that have become iconic images of justice. Images often fire your imagination more than the actual forms of justice and law. If legal historians should restrict discussing images to debates about the copyright on and the use of images, we would blind out the very real impact of images on legal life and legal history. Apart from law books The Yale Law Library Rare Books blog brings comics and even the Supreme Court Bobbleheads to your attention, and any law library can find here inspiration for exhibitions.

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