In an earlier post on legal iconography I expressed the view that past images of justice do influence our imagination of justice. Reflecting again on this subject made it clear to me that there is no harm presenting modern images of justice on my legal history blog. When preparing this post I became more and more aware that I want to restrict myself here to sculptures, but buildings and even open space matter as well. Although I focus on modern sculptures in Utrecht you will also see pictures of buildings.
Buildings and objects in Utrecht have been the objects of earlier posts here. It seemed feasible to expand the series of photos I already presented with new ones. What triggered me to fulfill this wish was a very simple fact. The modern Court of Justice in Utrecht has its main entrance at the Vrouwe Justitiaplein, “Lady Justice’s Square”.
At the entrance of the modern Court of Justice is a bronze sculpture of Justice created by Elselien van der Graaf in 2000. Before you want to judge this representation of justice as rather traditional I would like to look at a second sculpture at the same square.
Between Good and Evil, the Justice Column is the title of this sculpture in reinforced concrete by Nicholas Pope placed in 2000. This column looks rather like a leg with a large foot. At the top the words Vrowue Justitia is inscribed in yellow letters. The full text becomes only visible when you look at all sides of this sculpture. At Rechtspraak, the Dutch central website for jurisdiction, you can find more information about these objects and other art objects in and around the building. I should note that in Dutch court rooms you will find copies of a very modern styled painting of the Dutch queen, and this, too, adds to the image of justice.
This post is to some extent a kind of round-up. The legal world and legal systems are not only made visible in images of justice, but also in buildings and the actual forms of justice, law and legal imagination and representation. At the corner of the Lange Nieuwstraat and the Hamburgerstraat in Utrecht is the old court of justice with the entrance shown in the banner of my blog. It came to my attention that the angel like figure is not an allegory of justice. The sculptor Joannes Rijnboutt completed in 1838 a design by city architect and draughtsman Christiaan Kramm aiming to represent The Genius of Legislation.
In a corner of this square is also an early 20th century building which has housed the kantongerecht, the lower court in the Dutch judicial system. With the faces of the lions turned threateningly to possible visitors the sculpture with the Dutch blazon and the motto Je maintiendrai (I will maintain) is more pregnant than usual versions.
At the back of the old court of justice on the premises of the Benedictine Saint Paul’s Abbey you can still see a seventeenth century entrance along the Nieuwegracht in typical Dutch Renaissance fashion. Apart from the blazon of the province of Utrecht this gate could have been present in any Dutch city.
The column at Lady Justice’s square was rather large. The sculpture below street level at the Kromme Nieuwegracht at a lantern console is really small, perhaps some forty by thirty centimeters. More than 300 lanterns along the medieval canals of Utrecht have been enriched since 1953 with such sculptures as Rechtvaardigheid (Righteousness) by Jeanot Bürgi. Two children fight over an object, and the woman raises her left hand to stop their fight. When discussing justice, you cannot leave out righteousness and equity. I had to search for this particular sculpture created around 1980, because my copy of the first edition of Reliëfs in blauw (Relief in blue) by A. Graafhuis and C.A. Baart de la Faille (Utrecht-Antwerpen 1974) obviously does not mention it.
During my round-up I spotted even more interesting consoles. Graafhuis and Baart de la Faille show at the Nieuwegracht 3 a console by Bürgi representing the law faculty with an image of a Roman lictor, but this example will have to do. For your consolation, and because I think it fits into this post, I will end here with a sculpture showing one of Utrecht’s law professors. This bas-relief designed by Jeroen Hermkens and made by Amiran Djanashvili was placed in 2004 outside the Institute for Private Law. Since 1958 this institute is named the Molengraaff Instituut in honor of Willem Molengraaff (1858-1931). The text placed below this sculpture mentions for instance his work for the Dutch bankruptcy law of 1893. Molengraaff worked not only in the field of commercial law, in particular maritime law, but he advocated also international law and pleaded very early for extensive interpretation of the concept of unlawful action.
Some of Molengraaff’s famous early articles have been digitized for the Igitur Archief, the digital repository of Utrecht University Library, and four of his books are present in the digitized special collections of the same library. Studies on and works by Molengraaff can be easily found using library catalogues. The online Bibliography for Dutch History does not mention the essay on Molengraaff by Ter Horst and Korthals Altes in the volume Rechtsgeleerd Utrecht, edited by three legal historians, the late Govaert van den Bergh, Job Spruit and Marijke van de Vrugt (Zuphen-Linschoten 1986).