Images, words and the law

However seducing texts are as sources to gain new knowledge, images do rightfully claim our attention, too, nay stronger, they are even more seducing and intoxicating than texts. Legal iconography is the auxiliary science to history and law which studies the uses and abuses of imagery in law and justice. A few months ago I was attracted to a building with both images and texts in an intriguing combination. Very close to it is a statue of a man who has been responsible as few others before him for introducing images as an educational tool. Here I would like to share with you a few thoughts about this building and about the role of images in teaching and research.

The town hall at Naarden

Map of Naarden by Jacob van DeventerThis summer I visited the town of Naarden, some twenty kilometers to the south-east of Amsterdam. Jacob van Deventer’s map of Naarden, part of the cartographic project for the Spanish king Philip II, shows a town with medieval city walls, no match for the modern weapons of the sixteenth century. During the Dutch Revolt Spanish armed forces attacked Naarden in 1572 with brutal force. The soldiers murdered the inhabitants and destroyed the city almost completely. The Grote of St. Vituskerk with its famous painted wooden vaults survived. Afterwards Naarden became a fortified town, even an archetype of the Dutch fortification system, as you can see when visiting the Vestingmuseum.

The town hall at Naarden

Among the buildings rebuilt in Naarden after 1572 is the town hall in Dutch Renaissance style, completed in 1601, almost thirty years after the tragic events. Whatever form the medieval town hall might have had, its new incarnation still looks splendid. On the facade not just blazons and statues all convey their particular visual message, Three texts have been added to bring yet another message.

naarden-facade

On closer inspection two of these texts are really two versions of the same message. The Latin text to the left has been superbly condensed into Early Modern Dutch. The Latin reads: Quidquid erit superanda / omnis fortuna ferendo est, “whatever the event may be, every turn of fortune has to be subdued by bearing it”, a quote from Vergil’s Aeneid (V,710). Surprisingly the Dutch is much more condensed, but succeeds in adding also a significant twist: Ist lyden ist vreucht / Draeght soo’t God vuegt, “be it suffering or joy, bear it when God brings it”. Here classical Antiquity is invoked at the service of the civil authorities, but at the same time subtly christianised.

The pious overtones are much clearer in the inscription below the tympanum above the entrance, Godt regiert al anno 1601, “God governs everything, in the year 1601”. The tympanum is crowned by allegorical statues representing Faith, Hope and Justice, the latter in the middle portrayed in the familiar way of a blindfolded woman with a balance and a sword. On the top of the left part of the facade is an allegorical statue of Love, the right part is crowned by the Dutch lion. The blazons below the first floor windows are those of the county of Holland (a lion rampant), of prince Maurice of Oranje, and West-Friesland. In the tympanum you can see the blazon of the Habsburg emperors, the Austrian Doppeladler, the double eagle, which is also the blazon of the city of Naarden.

Emblems: combining images and text

Combining texts and images is of course not something new, but in a way it is here at least a bit unexpected. At first the brief Latin proverb and its wonderful crisp and concise Dutch rendering led me to speculate about a very particular influence. Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), the great Flemish political theoretician who taught some years at Leiden was also known as an editor of Tacitus. He influenced Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft (1581-1647), a prolific author and for forty years bailiff of Muiden Castle near Naarden. He wrote his Nederlandsche Historiën, a history of the Low Countries in difficult prose, clearly modelled on Tacitus’ works. Hooft published in 1611 Emblemata amatoria, a volume of emblems, symbolic images with a motto and didactic verses. However, we must rule out this argument as a possible source of influence for the decoration of the town hall in Naarden, simply because Hooft was much too young in 1601 to exercise any influence. I was genuinely surprised, too, to find Vergil as the author of the quote, not Tacitus. Instead one could perhaps better look at the early works of Hugo de Groot (1583-1645). A search for possible direct influences at Naarden can be quite long. A quick search for Dutch literature citing Vergil’s words in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL) brought me to Jacob Andriesz. Boelens (1554-1621), a burgomaster of Amsterdam often active on special missions in the early seventeenth century whose motto was Superanda omnis fortuna ferendo. It is a tantalizing hint which needs further corroboration.

The literary genre of emblematic literature was launched by one of the most famous humanist lawyers, Andrea Alciato (1592-1550) with his volume Emblemata (first edition Augsburg: Steyner, 1531). In 1529 he had already published Selecta epigrammata Graeca Latine versa (..) (Basel: Bebel, 1529; online in Göttingen). It is intriguing to look for an emblem which might have influenced the choice of a text at Naarden. Access to early editions of emblem books is much helped by four major online projects, at Glasgow for Italian and French books, at Utrecht for Dutch books, mainly from the seventeenth century, the project Emblematica Online of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, and the Biblioteca Digital de Emblemática Hispánica of the Universidade da Coruña.

Emblem no. 34 from Alciato's Emblemata in the edition 1546

Et toleranda homini tristis fortuna ferendo est, Et nimium felix saepe timenda fuit. Sustine (Epictetus dicebat) et abstine. Oportet Multa pati, illicitis absque tenere manus. Sic ducis imperium vinctus fert poplite taurus In dextro: sic se continet a gravidis.

The online collections at Glasgow has a separate section for Alciato. In his emblem collection the first line Et toleranda homini tristis fortuna ferendo est of an emblem appearing in the section Fortitudo comes closest to the quote from Vergil. In the edition Venice 1546 you will find this as no. 34, the emblem Anechou kai apechou / Sustine et abstine, at fol. 29v. In later editions this emblem has either no number or it appears with a different number, and thus it is really necessary to indicate exactly which edition you happen to use. For our emblem you would find it for example in the Paris 1550 edition on page 41. The image shows a farmer who keeps bulls away from cows. The Glasgow project has a useful list of the mottos and their occurrences in the main editions of Alciato’s text, and the Alciato website by William Barker is also most helpful in tracking emblems, mottos and verses; you can even find an English version of this emblem. However, this is only a possible indirect source or inspiration behind the choice for a verse with an admittedly more pointed and direct meaning, The emblems in the section Fortuna might be the first spur for searching a text, in particular the emblem Semper praesto esse infortunia.

Teaching by images

Statue of Comenius in Naarden

Why do I refer here at length to Alciato’s work and the role of images in connection with the town hall in Naarden? Across the street with the town hall of Naarden is the Grote or St. Vituskerk, and between the church and the town hall is a statue commemorating the Czech theologian, philosopher and pedagogue Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670). From 1656 onwards he had found a refuge at Amsterdam. Comenius had contacts in Naarden, and he was buried in a church at Naarden. The Comeniusmuseum keeps his memory alive. Among his works are books such as the Ianua linguarum reserata [The open port of languages] (1631) which developed a new model for teaching Latin and other languages, and the Didactica magna (1633-1638), his opus magnum with a new comprehensive view of children’s education. The possible connection between Comenius and legal iconography is offered in particular by his Orbis sensualium pictus [The world of senses in images] (1658), the first book recommending and exemplifying the systematic educational use of images. In this work he uses for example pictures to help children learning the alphabet. In the space of this posting I can at least point you to the Bibliothek für Bildungsgeschichtliche Forschung in Berlin. Its digital library contains among other things early illustrations from pedagogical works.

More than a century before Comenius Alciato and others had introduced first a learned public and later also a wider public to a very successful combination of images and texts. The taste for this genre was at least sometimes mirrored by architecture. Alciato brought to the new emblematic literature his own legal background which made it a potential useful resource for anyone looking for outspoken combinations of images, concise proverbial sayings and often exquisite poetry. Somehow the presence of this literary genre makes it far more conceivable that lines from classical poetry can embellish buildings. As for which specific emblems collection provided Dutch people the clue for their choice I suppose you will need to look at many different collections, not just the Latin collections, but also those in Dutch and French, and even collections published in Spain.

Promises of more…

Sofar we have only looked at the facade of the town hall in Naarden. It would be really interesting to look also inside the town hall at the interior where you can find for example two seventeenth-century paintings in the city court room. I am sure you cannot separate them completely from the intriguing facade. The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands offers you a very quick entrance to images of both inside and outside the stadhuis at Naarden. Some photographs are already a bit older and reflect to some extent earlier scholarly approaches. For further research you will no doubt benefit from the resources at the municipal and regional archives in the Gooi- en Vechtstreek, located in Naarden and Hilversum.

This week I saw the 2013 online exhibition The Nomos of Images. Manifestations of the law in picture atlases and photo archives created by the Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. Some images in this virtual exhibition come from the Sammlung Karl Frölich at the Max-Plank-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, a collection with photographs taken between 1930 and 1950 which eventually will be digitized. In my view it can be most helpful to use both older resources and new materials to help research in the field of legal iconography. This post gives only some indications of directions you might choose for further investigations, but hopefully it helps you to get a taste of them.

A postscript

At the blog Interfaces/Livres anciens de l’Université de Lyon appeared on November 24, 2014 a very interesting contribution about Comenius, ‘Comenius, un pédagogue de l’avant-garde’. This year the digitization of the Sammlung Karl Frölich has been completed.

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