Tag Archives: Canon law

Digitizing legal manuscripts at the Vatican Library

In this century several major research libraries and national libraries have started to digitize their manuscript collections. On my blog I have reported for instance about digitized legal manuscripts in the British Library. Legal manuscripts were included also in the project Europeana Regia for the reconstruction of the medieval royal libraries. One of my earliest posts concerned the Swiss project e-codices. More recently I wrote here about digitized manuscripts from Chartres and the Mont Saint-Michel. The digitized medieval and Renaissance legal manuscripts at the Collegio di Spagna in Bologna did not escape my attention, too. In 2013 the project at UCLA for the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts came to a halt because the two courageous scholars responsible for this project could not cope anymore with the tasks of creating a consistent and yet detailed catalogue. The question how to find out about the presence of digitized manuscripts is not easily answered.

Logo Digivatlib

For one particular massive project there is a way to stay informed. The current digitization project for the manuscripts of the Vatican Library has made considerable progress. Already some three thousand manuscripts can now be viewed online. However, this library did until this week not publish lists of recent additions. How can you stay informed about manuscripts which might interest you? In this contribution I will look at the efforts of Jean-Baptiste Piggin, a journalist and historian in New-Zealand, who since 2015 has patiently reported at his blog Macro-Typography about recently added digitized items. His service to scholars and the general public deserves our thanks and admiration. For your convenience I have put together a list of the legal manuscripts Piggin signalled until now. Piggin himself is interested in the history and use of diagrams, including those created by medieval lawyers, and this offers me a chance to write here about legal iconography, too. At Twitter you can find Piggin, too (@JBPIggin).

Thousands of manuscripts

The collections of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) in Vatican City are truly extraordinary. Not only their sheer number is immense, but also the presence of many remarkable manuscripts make this library an institution beyond repositories elsewhere. During its long existence the BAV was able to acquire entire manuscript collections. The Palatini came from the ducal library at Heidelberg, the Ottoboniani from cardinal Ottoboni, the Urbinati from Urbino, the Chigiani from the Chigi family, and these are just a few examples. Luckily there are even special bibliographies for the modern scholarly literature about these manuscripts. The BAV has created a separate online manuscript catalogue. The main digitization project of the BAV has several sister projects, for example for Syriac and Chinese manuscripts.

Logo Bibliotheca Palatina Digital - UB Heidelberg

The most important accompanying project deals with the Palatini latini, some 2,000 Latin manuscripts originally kept at Heidelberg, and now digitized and only accessible online at the portal Bibliotheca Palatina digital of the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg. With the advanced search mode of the Palatina Search you can directly search for particular manuscripts. For the subject Recht you will find some 220 digitized manuscripts, but alas it turns out this search does not yield the result you would expect, because not only legal texts show up. Using filters such as Pal. lat. does help somewhat, but in my view it is not correct when the filters Justiz and Kanonistik give almost completely identical search results. The fact you can find individual texts within a manuscript is not only welcome, but simply necessary. The overview of Palatini latini is organized in some twenty lists with each one hundred manuscripts. Arranging by year, author or title does help a bit. However, a check with the lists’ view at Heidelberg makes clear you can confine your search for legal manuscripts among the Palatini latini mainly to the shelfmarks Pal. lat 621 to 800. The university library at Heidelberg has a separate website for searching images in the Palatini manuscripts.

Having the Palatina Search at your disposal is really useful and important when you look at Piggin’s series of posts with digitized Palatini latini. It would be a herculean task to add for each manuscript in his lists a short or long description. For the Palatini Piggin often gives the author’s name and the title of a work. So far Piggin has counted some 3,200 digitized manuscripts from the BAV. In his early posts he did not include complete lists. Until now he mentioned on his blog some sixty Palatini latini with legal texts. By the way, at the end of each post Piggin asks for comments and additions from people who know more about newly digitized manuscripts.

Apart from the Palatini latini Piggin mentions I have now a list in front of me with 33 legal manuscripts. This number puzzles me a lot. Stephan Kuttner and Reinhard Elze published two volumes of their Catalogue of canon and Roman law manuscripts in the Vatican Library, I: Codices Vaticani latini 541-2299, II: Codices Vaticani Latini 2300-2746 (Città del Vaticano 1986-1987). These two volumes should have been followed by three consecutive volumes, but for various reasons this has not yet happened. Gero Dolezalek and Martin Bertram have put PDF’s with the draft galley proofs of the third volume online. They bring us to Vat. lat. 11527. A similar project for other manuscript collections at the BAV is one of the projects that will bear fruits in particular for the field of medieval canon law. The overviews created by Brendan McManus for medieval canon law texts, the Manuscripta Iuridica database at Frankfurt am Main for texts concerning Roman and feudal law, and the Initia operum iuris canonici medii aevi of Giovanna Murano are at many points much more concise for manuscripts held at the Vatican Library. With this information at our disposal I should really look again at the nearly fifty (!) posts Piggin published and check them against these combined resources. For my consolation I can only remark that you will have to perform a similar task when you want to know about for example medieval medical or mathematical manuscripts at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

After all these preliminary remarks I had better give you simply these thirty-three manuscripts as presented by Jean-Baptiste Piggin, starting for your convenience with the Vaticani Latini:

  • Vat.lat. 630 pt.1 – Isidorus Mercator, Decretalium collectio
  • Vat.lat. 841, De Regimine Principum, a guide-book for princes, by Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus)
  • Vat.lat. 1130, anonymous (John of Paris?) on papal authority
  • Vat.lat. 3978, handbook for the Inquisition
  • Vat.lat. 3740, about 60 texts on apostolic poverty made to advise Pope John XXII at the time of a controversy with the Franciscans 1322-23 on the issue
  • Vat.lat. 3833, Collectio Canonum by Deusdedit, written between 1083 and 1087. This is the sole complete manuscript of this legal work. See Lotte Kéry. Notable for tabular material, but no diagrams. This is a palimpsest with four Vulgate gospels from the 7th or 8th century underneath (see Trismegistos)
  • Vat.lat. 12723, manuscript records of the Inquisition

The presentation of these manuscripts differs from a short notice to a much fuller description for some of them. “Lotte Kéry” refers to her repertory Canonical collections of the Early Middle Ages (ca. 400–1140) : a bibliographical guide to the manuscripts and literature (Washington, D.C., 1999), partially digitized by The Company with the Search Engine. Trismegistos is a database for ancient papyri and inscriptions. I will expand later on Piggin’s interest in diagrams.

The descriptions for the other manuscripts I took from Piggin’s blog follow here in alphabetical order of their shelfmarks. Behind the arrows I expand or correct his notes:

  • Barb.lat. 1396, a consilium of Baldus de Ubaldis >> numerous consilia by Baldus and other authors
  • Borgh. 7, Pope Boniface, Decretales
  • Borgh. 12, Works of Godefridus Tranensis
  • Borgh. 26, 13th-century legal text, Apparatus Decretorum
  • Borgh. 95,14th century, legal, Arnoldus de Augusta
  • Borgh. 154, Tancredus, 1185-1236, Opera, 13th-14th century
  • Borgh. 214Opera quaedam de re iuridica, 14th century,
  • Borgh. 226, Novels of Justinian
  • Borgh. 230, Iohannes de Lignano, 1320-1383 Lectura super decretales
  • Borgh. 231, Abbas Antiquus
  • Borgh. 248, Rottfried: civil law, canon law >> Roffredus Beneventanus, Libellus de ordine iudiciorum
  • Borgh. 262Decretales of Pope Gregory IX, glossed by Bernardus Parmensis (also known as Bernard of Parma, Bernard Botone, Bernard Bottoni), seems similar to Ms. 1 at Syracuse University
  • Borgh. 290, Bottoni, Bernardo, Summa super titulis decretalium
  • Borgh. 348, collection of opinions written in 1320 for Pope John XXII before 14th-century decision to extend inquisition to practitioners of “black magic” in southern France. Notes >> a reference to Annelies Maier, Ausgehendes Mittelalter III (Rome 1977) 208.
  • Borgh. 372, Glossa on Justinian >> Codex Justinianus with the standard Accursian gloss
  • Borgh. 374: A 13th-century text of the Emperor Justinian’s legal codifications including the Institutions, annotated by medieval lawyers. Justinian was emperor at Constantinople 527-565. >> Institutiones, Novellae, Libri Feudorum and Tres Libri (Codex 10-12).
  • Ott.gr. 64, legal synopsis
  • Ott.lat.15, legal texts, compiled by Capuchins
  • Reg.lat. 189, papal register
  • Reg.lat. 1024, the Liber Judiciorum, an early-8th-century code of Visigothic law (probably) copied in Urgell, Spain
  • Ross. 555, a beautiful Hebrew codex with four fine Italian miniatures. From Evelyn Cohen I read that this is Jacob ben Asher’s legal treatise, the Arba’ah Turim, and that the images depict a synagogue scene, animals being slaughtered according to Jewish ritual, a wedding and a courtroom scene.
  • Urb.lat. 157, Innocent IV, decretals
  • Urb.lat. 158, Azo of Bologna, decretals >> Azo, Summa Codicis and other works
  • Urb.lat. 159, finely illuminated law text by Bernardo Bottoni on Gregory’s Decretals, with a 14th-century arbor consanguinitatis where the tree is held in a planter by the law-giver (discussed by Hermann Schadt, Arbores, at p 259 ff.)
  • Urb.lat. 160, Johannes Andreae, Boniface VIII, decretals dealing with marriage and other legal issues >> mainly the Liber Sextus of pope Boniface VIII
  • Urb.lat. 1057, bound book of papal records

Piggin very sensible enlivens his lists with small format images of often remarkable illuminations, but to keep it here within sensible length I have excised the images and his remarks, except for those concerning legal trees such as the arbor consanguinitatis. In a post about digitized manuscripts in Bologna I have looked at the Mosaico project and its section about the Arbor actionum, the “Tree of actions”, a tool designed for determining which legal action(s) you should choose. Among legal diagrams Piggin looks in particular at the arbores consanguinitatis et affinitatis, and he proposes some substantial revisions of the views expressed by Hermann Schadt in his classic study Die Darstellungen der Arbores Consanguinitatis und der Arbores Affinitatis : Bildschemata in juristischen Handschriften (Tübingen 1982). Piggin published a post about legal arbores, and he has even has written an accompanying guide, The Missing Manual: Schadt’s Arbores. The virtual exhibition Illuminating the Law of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge shows some examples of these arbores. Piggin questions the very use of the word tree and invites scholars to look more closely and use terms carefully.

In Piggin’s notes the sheer variety of manuscripts faithfully mirrors the wealth of the manuscript collections at the BAV. For the field of legal history I have included also some items concerning the papal inquisition (Borgh. lat. 348, Vat. lat. 3978 and 12732) and some papal records (Reg. lat. 189 and Urb. lat. 1057). The manuscript Vat. lat. 3740 with questions concerning apostolic poverty reminded me of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and this subject as a bone of contention figuring in his novel. DigiVatLib does in many cases include at least some bibliographical information with which you can start further exploration of a manuscript.

Apart from his interest in legal iconography Piggin explores the origin of the use of diagrams with stemmata. I can only admire his tenacious approach and the way he blogs about his research in ancient and medieval history. The main results of his research appear at his own website. One of his latest blog posts concerns the text of a medieval commentary on biblical arbores humani generis, a kind of genealogical schemes showing the genealogy of Christ. The text seems to have been overlooked because it only filled gaps in drawings. It seems the kind of discovery only made by those who look at things supposedly well-known with an ever open mind.

While finishing this post the staff of DigiVatLib is busy transferring digitized manuscripts and incunabula to a new platform with enhanced interoperability. There have been complaints presence of large watermarks on the digitized images. It is also remarkable to see an interface for English, Italian and Japanese. There is now an advanced search mode with even fuzzy filters (“partial match”). You can tick a field for non-digitized items and choose to search only manuscripts. The galleries with selected manuscripts and the twenty latest digitized items wet your appetite for more. Twice every month you can get at Piggin’s blog a preview of newly digitized manuscripts. Even if it is possible to correct and expand his notes on legal manuscripts, you must admit that creating commented lists does at least provide useful orientation. Perhaps some legal historian might take up the challenge of providing a regular list of updates for digitized legal manuscripts at the BAV with sufficient information to start benefiting truly from this massive digitization project.

Order in a new church: Behind the headlines of the Reformation

Within any organization there is a constant tension between the original inspiration and its structure, and this is the case, too, within the various Christian churches. Auguste Sabatier (1839-1901) minted the phrases religion de l’Esprit against religion de la Lettre. When sixteenth-century reformers started to create their own church, the support many people gave them fueled their own enthusiasm about their views, but fairly quickly the need for proper structures arose. Luther famously burned the books of canon law in Wittenberg on December 10, 1520, but laws and regulations nevertheless rapidly did find a place in the Protestant churches.

Logo DigiRefAt the new Reformationsportal Mitteldeutschland, nicely abbreviated as DigiRef, you will find digitized archival records from four German archives and libraries bringing you documents which tell the story of these young churches in their daily business of getting things organized, dealing with problems and meeting all kinds of people. The portal has three main sections, Visitationsakten, records of official visitations, Schaufenster, “showcases”, sets of records and images arranged around a number of themes, and last but not least Recherche, an interactive map of Europe where you can search and select information for particular regions and locations. The visitation records and church regulations at this portal prompted me to write here about this project, because these have clear connections with legal history. In Germany preparations for the Luther year 2017 have indeed already started, and it can do no harm to look in time at some of the accompanying projects.

Three archives and a library

DigiRef has been created by three German archives, the Thüringisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar, the Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg and the Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, joined by a library, the Thüringische Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena. This library organized in 2014 a two-day conference Reformation vor Ort. Zum Quellenwert von Visitationsprotokollen about the value of visitation records; Dagmar Blaha and Christopher Spehr will edit the papers of this conference (Leipzig 2016). Let’s look first at the actual records of church visitations in this project. The visitations aimed at reviewing systematically the situation of a particular church and its vicar(s). Apart from him whenever possible deacons, schoolmasters, sacristans and other officials, too, were interviewed. The visitation committees also looked at the moral behaviour of the parish and at its revenues, possessions and special funds. In this project not only the official reports of these visitations, the Protokolle, come into view, but also the Beiakten, the less conspicuous documents around the official reports, ranging from travel expenses to notes from interviews, come into the limelight.

Visitation at Wittenberg, 1528

Visitation at Wittenberg, 1528 – Weimar, LASA, A 29b, II Nr. 63, fol. 1v

The 118 archival records digitized for this project stem also from archives outside the four main DigiRef institutions. It is interesting to note monasteries, too, were visited. The aim was to present here the first visitations in the Reformation period. At Weimar four instructions have been preserved. The committees often indited people to come to a city from nearby villages or from lesser cities to a major town. As an example I have chosen the first ordinance for Wittenberg [Weimar, LASA, A 29b, II Nr. 63]. Wittenberg is dealt with in connection with the Amt surrounding this town and other towns and their surrounding territories. The register covers the years 1528-1529 and 1533-1534, it has 352 folia, and fol. 1r-34v contain an ordinance for the city of Wittenberg. Fol. 37r to 127r contain visitations for other locations in the Amt Wittenberg and two other towns in the Amt Wittenberg, Kernberg and Schmiedeberg.

The records can be shown in different ways: just the document, document and transcription or an image, transcription and modern German translation, and you can even add a column for a commentary (Historische Einordnung). Alas this service is not available for every item, and some items have been provided only partially with it. I list these possibilities in particular to show the value of this presentation next to earlier editions of a number of these protocols. The DigiRef portal does point to these editions and to relevant scholarly literature. When I looked at the 1525 visitation of the Allerheiligenstift at Wittenberg (Dresden, HStA, 10024, Loc. 8980/19) I did not find a transcription, translation or commentary. At Weimar a short list with questions in Latin from 1533 written by Justus Jonas from Wittenberg for visitation in Sachsen has been preserved (Weimar, ThHStAW, EGA, Reg. Ii 574), with at the website only images of this pivotal document for conducting a visitation. The portal promises you for some records a translation into English.

Admittedly you will have to become versatile in deciphering Early Modern German handwriting, and sixteenth-century handwriting can be notoriously challenging to read. When searching for online guidance you might start looking at the materials of the Ad fontes team in Zürich. Their website contains comprehensive information, examples of different scripts and exercises, references to literature, and since two years there is even an app. The Staatliche Archive Bayerns offer a lot of online examples of German writing in archival records from the eighth to the twentieth century, with transcriptions and brief introductions.

Showcasing the Reformation

Screenprint DigiRef

The second approach to the digitized records is using the showcases. With 18 themes and 17 historic persons – including popes and princes – you are sure to find something that might interest you. You can choose to look first at the metadata concerning a record, view it immediately or to look at ist geographic origin. Taking again the Kirchenvisitationen you get now six documents in this showcase. I found in particular the printed ordinance about the visitations from 1528 by Kurfurst Johann von Sachsen interesting (Gotha, Thüringisches Staatsarchiv, Geheimes Archiv, KK2, vol. 1) . This document shows to a large extent the matters to be reviewed during the visitations, and it makes clear how important the backing of secular authorities was for the emerging new churches. Indeed the secular authorities proved to be decisive for their success or lack of success in particular towns, regions and countries.

It is tempting to single out here other archival records worthy of your attention, because I am sure you will find something in such sections as Reichstage (Imperial Diets), UniversitätenKirchenordnungenBündnisse (contacts and leagues), and Kirchliche Neuordnung, ecclesiastical reform. In this last section you will find for example a letter by Luther from 1526 urging earl Johann von Sachsen to support church visitations for all his lands, not just for one or more Ämter. Founding new universities became another important matter.

A geographical approach

At first I was rather surprised the tab Recherche of DigiRef leads to an interactive map showing a large part of Europe instead of only a simple search form with a button leading me to an advanced search mode. At the top of the screen you can use a time bar to narrow you search, open an index of persons or a filter for locations, and there is a simple search field as well. It turns out to be really important to use these filters, because searching directly on the map can appear to be cumbersome and confusing. Not by clicking on a location with search results, but by clicking on an icon at the right side of the screen you arrive finally at a list of results for this location. The map does show locations with documents in its initial position, thus inviting you to go to particular places., but you will notice quickly some towns which do have results do not come into view immediately when you zoom in. In comparison with the interactive historical-geographical maps discussed here lately this operation mode is not quite what you would currently expect. The interactive map does save your latest choice for filtering. Instead of clicking a button you have to remove your choices from the red filter bar at the top of the screen. The filter for locations is also helpful to find locations mentioned in a visitation.

I cannot hide here my mixed feelings about the navigation of the DigiRef map, but in the end one thing is more important than only noticing the pros and cons of the navigation. The map makes it very clear that archival records in the three archives and the library at Jena do focus on Sachsen and Thüringen. Other regions figure mainly when there are clear relations with them within some document. Among the persons covered in the records I missed Erasmus.

Casting your nets wider

In my view the Reformationsportal Mitteldeutschland can be welcomed as a most useful resource to create a much more detailed image of the early Reformation. The archival records bring you a lot of things not found in contemporary books and treatises, and thus they help you to connect the issues at stake with actual people and places instead of staying content with a more abstract vision of the discussions, confusion and turmoil. Nevertheless it is of course necessary to use these records as elements of a much wider history, a decisive period in European history. Although the navigation of the interactive map is not as comfortable as you encounter elsewhere, this feature does not hamper completely access to digitized sources. In the last section of this post I will look at some other online resources for studying the history and impact of the Reformation, starting with the institutions behind DigiRef.

The Landesarchiv Hessen has created a relatively large number of online resources, but the Reformation is only seldom touched upon. At the Digitales Archiv Marburg a new online exhibition on Luther and Europa is currently being prepared. The Digitales Archiv Hessen-Darmstadt has a small section on the Reformation. It is good to remember here also the HISGIS system for Hessen, the Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), without a section on religion, but you might like to consult the Hessische Bibliographie.

The Thüringische Staatsarchive do offer a general website for searching and accessing digitized archival records at the various offices, with for religious history for example the Oberkonsistorium Gotha and the Konsistorium Sondershausen, and they also have important digital resources for legal historians. Its Themis portal has been created together with the ThULB at Jena, and brings you digitized legislation nicely ordered along the several old territorial units of Thüringen. Thüringen Legislativ & Exekutiv is another project of these two partners, now for digitized official gazettes publishing laws and regulations for roughly the same set of territories. There is a separate portal to inform you about all archives in Thüringen.

For the third archive, the Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, I can point to a general search engine for archival records, but apart from their content at DigiRef there is no other project specifically dealing with the Reformation. Among its other projects the digital archive for the Friedliche Revolution 1989/90 [Friendly Revolution 1989-1990] deserves a mention.

Banner Luther Flugschriften

With the Thüringische Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena we do reach a very important partner for the DigiRef project. Without its earlier projects touching upon the history of sixteen-century Germany, and the actual use of its servers for the digitized items, the three archives might still be struggling to work together. The ThULB can boast among its digital projects at the UrMEL server the Bibliotheca Electoralis with books stemming from the library of Kurfürst Friedrich der Weise, 800 of the so-called Lutherflugschriften, pamphlets kept at the Wartburg castle in Eisenach, and the Sammlung Georg Rörer. Rörer (1492-1557) worked closely with Martin Luther and was responsable for the Jenaer Lutherausgabe, one of the first complete editions of Luther’s prolific production. Rörer was probably responsable for creating Luther’s most famous but apocryphal words: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise”, and he made the long neglected contemporary note about Luther proposing his theses at Wittenberg in 1517. Earlier on the ThULB helped creating the portal Digitales Thüringen with a search interface in German and English.

Instead of offering here as a bonus a nutshell guide to research on the Reformation I will mention just a few more general online resources concerning German history, some specific websites, and a good online guide and introduction for delving deeper into the Reformation. For some years you could benefit from the BAM portal for quickly accessing materials in German libraries, archives and museums, but this portal has recently been closed, with a notice that a number of its services are now part of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. For finding German archives you can use the Archivportal, a related project of this digital library. At the portal Kulturerbe Digital you can use the search interface – switchable to German, English or French – to find digital projects for a particular subject. For search terms such as the Reformation or Luther you will find easily projects, including those at the ThULB described here above. Museums in Sachsen-Anhalt have their own portal. The website of the Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt can only be viewed in German. In this respect the multilingual portal Luther 2017 does its job properly. For those convinced of the very power Luther gave to the German language going to the fine introduction and guide Reformation Digital at Historicum.net brings you much you will need to know, and in fact even a model to be followed. Historicum.net offers an impressing range of introductions, web guides and bibliographies for several historical subjects. Portals such as the Post-Reformation Digital Library and the Universal Short Title-Catalogue will help you to trace digital versions of many sixteenth-century books. At the blog Zwingli Redivivus: Flagellum Dei by Jim West you can find much about current research on early Protestant theology. His blog roll ends with a nice list of online editions of the works of the major reformers.

Looking at all these resources can help to shake yourself free from the temptation to view the Reformation as just a clash of theological views, an unfortunate mixture of events and persons leading sometimes to an outright war between religions. Matters were actually much more complicated. Theological questions and problems touched a raw nerve for many people in sixteenth-century Europe. How to lead a good life? How to be a Christian, and to form or reform a church actively committing itself to people and the Christian message? The need for structures or reform of structures connects the internal affairs of churches to matters pertaining also to legal history. The Reformation is one of these movements that changed Europe’s history and culture forever, and it can do no harm to be aware of its history and impact which reached far beyond the imagination of even such a creative mind as Luther himself.

A postscript

Soon after finishing this post I started thinking about adding at least a note that Luther was not the only major theologian of the new churches. His colleagues and adversaries are also present at DigiRef. It seemed this contribution yet lacked a Dutch touch. In April 2014 the Digital Humanities Lab of Utrecht University announced the inclusion of Luther’s own annotated bible at Annotated Books Online, more precisely his copy of Erasmus’ edition of the Novum Testamentum and Erasmus’ Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, both in the edition Basel 1527, from the holdings of the University Library at Groningen (HS 494).

An early detective? Jan van Scorel and a supposed papal murder case

PopeAdrian VI - painting by Jan van Scorel, 1523 - Utrecht, Centraal Museum

Pope Adrian VI – painting by Jan van Scorel, 1523 – Utrecht, Centraal Museum

If you had told me in 2013 I would one day write about legal history and graphic novels I would have severely doubted the truth of such a statement, but suddenly this combination became a reality when I heard about an exposition at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, my home town. The focuses of the exhibition are a sixteenth-century Dutch painter, Jan van Scorel (1495-1562), and contemporary artist Paul Teng. Together with writer Jan Paul Schutten Teng has created a graphic novel on Van Scorel and his investigation of a mysterious death in Rome. Pope Adrian VI, the only Dutch pope, reigned the Catholic Church for only one year. His death on September 14, 1523, came rather suddenly. Jan Paul Schutten and Paul Teng created a story using historical facts to create a fictional account of a murder investigation started by Van Scorel who suspected that his compatriot might have been murdered. Jan van Scorel, Sede Vacante 1523 is the title of both the graphic novel and the exhibition. The 80 page book has also appeared in an English version.

The entrance to the exhibition at the Centraal Museum

In this post I would like to look at the creative process of two contemporary artists working with historical facts and their own imagination. Rumours that Adrian VI’s death was caused by poison have never been conclusively confirmed nor rejected as utter fantasy. The pope died after an illness of a month. An anecdote states that the Roman people thanked the physician who had taken care of the ailing pope. For the preparation of the graphic novel Teng and Schutten used historical sources. They looked carefully at the history of art in the early sixteenth century, helped by the collections of the Centraal Museum with several paintings by Van Scorel.

Setting the scene

Paul Teng took much care to make the historical surroundings of his novel as realistic and reliable as possible. He used early sixteenth-century paintings, drawings and engravings to ensure that locations in Rome and elsewhere are depicted faithfully. This means for instance that the basilica of St. Peter’s and the Vatican itself are shown as building sites. In the gallery with some photographs I took at the exhibition you can see other aspects of the creative process as well. From a story board with dialogues written by Schutten Teng took his lead to make sketches of the story. The exhibition shows the full sequence of the book in black and white. Some scenes are shown in their final coloured version. People are invited to draw themselves a page of a graphic novel on a chosen theme,

Accumulating functions and wealth

paushuize-utrecht

Pope Adrian VI (1459-1523) was born at Utrecht as Adriaen Floriszoon Boeyens. He studied theology at the university of Louvain, and he became a professor of theology at this university in 1489. In 1507 the Habsburg emperor Maximilian asked him to become one of the teachers of the future emperor Charles V. In 1516 he became the bishop of Tortosa in Spain. A year later he was created a cardinal. Charles V made him 1518 inquisitor-general of Castile and Aragón. Adrian became even the regent of Spain. During the minority of Charles V he had already been co-regent of Spain together with cardinal Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros.

Statue of Christ Saviour in the facade of Paushuize, Utrecht

Until 1522 Adrian got a large part of his income from prebends at several collegiate churches in the Low Countries and Spain. The very number of prebends pope Julius II allowed him to have in 1512 was restricted to four. Adrian finally became a canon of four churches in Utrecht: he was a canon at St. Peter’s and at Utrecht Cathedral (St. Martin’s) , treasurer of St. Mary’s and provost of St. Salvator’s (Oudmunster). However, the actual number of prebends he held was larger, and two prebends were shrewdly changed into annuities. His canonry at St. Peter’s in Utrecht enabled him to designate premises within the immunity of St. Peter’s as the site of a large house, a palace really, where he would have liked to live in Utrecht in good time. Adrian never saw the palace still called Paushuize, “The Pope’s House”. Interestingly, a statue in the facade shows Christ Saviour as a reminder he was the provost of the Salvator collegiate church. R.R. Post unravelled the history of these prebends in a fine article published in 1961 [‘Studiën over Adriaan VI. De beneficies van Adriaan VI’, Archief voor de Geschiedenis van de Katholieke Kerk in Nederland 3 (1961) 341-351; online at the Trajecta portal for the ecclesiastical history of the Low Countries, with digital versions of five scientific journals in this field].

There is a clear paradox between Adrian VI’s reputation as a pope who wanted the Church to live humbly, without unnecessary adornments and wealth, and his personal history in which he combined a large number of offices and accompanying revenues. In one of the scenes in which Teng depicts a meeting between pope Adrian and Jan van Scorel they discuss the plan to select art treasures from the Vatican’s holdings in order to sell them off to get money for the empty papal treasury.

The graphic novel opens with a scene showing a ritual which was long said to exist, the formal test done by the camerlengo to ascertain a pope’s death, by calling out thrice his baptismal name, “Adriane, dormisne” (Adrian, are you sleeping?), and giving a slight blow on his head with a special hammer. It is hard to find any real evidence for this custom, which if it really existed at all already ceased to happen in the seventeenth century. Today the camerlengo still has the task to certify the death of a pope. However, it is certainly followed by the immediate destruction of the papal ring, an element Teng and Schutten correctly added immediately after the scene with the probing camerlengo.

Here I will not spoil the joy of anyone wanting to enjoy and read the book by Teng and Schutten by giving away the plot or pronouncing verdicts on the historical veracity or plausibility of the facts they describe. They admit to have added some minor figures to ensure the story can run as it does. Giving Van Scorel a servant is just a time-honoured homage to the practice of detective novels with an investigator and his faithful assistant. The story told by Teng and Schutten can serve as an invitation to look anew at the stories historians like to tell. They can learn from the skillful way Teng shows a sequence of scenes, using for example close-ups to focus on details or general scenes to set the background of events. The funeral of pope Adrian VI in the basilica of St. Peter’s which for a large part still lacked a roof, is shown in true detail.

Adrian’s burial at St. Peter’s was followed by a translatio of his body in 1533 to the church of Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome. By the way, this church started its life as a hospice for pilgrims founded in 1350 by Jan Peters, a rich baker from Dordrecht. The German project REQUIEM on the tombs and monuments of opes and cardinals in Rome between 1500 and 1800 has an extended entry on this monument. At his tomb in St. Peter’s the inscription said Adrian had considered his duty to reign as the most unhappy part of his life. The inscription on his large-scale monument within the Santa Maria dell’Anima reads in translation: “O how much does the time matter in which the virtue of even the best man happens”. These words seem to have inspired the title of the latest biography of pope Adrian VI by Michiel Verweij, Adrianus VI (1459-1523) : de tragische paus uit de Nederlanden (Utrecht 2011). At Deutsche Inschriften Online you will find the book by Eberhard J. Nikitsch on the inscriptions of this church, Die Inschriften der “Deutschen Nationalkirche” Santa Maria dell’Anima, I: Vom Mittelalter bis 1559 (Rome 2012). The essays in the exhibition catalogue De paus uit de Lage Landen Adrianus VI, 1459-1523 (Louvain 2009) help to put Adrian’s life into perspective.

Jan van Scorel came back to the Low Countries imbued with Renaissance ideas which he promptly used in his paintings. The great German art historian Max Friedländer once said Van Scorel had a role for Dutch painting in the sixteenth century similar to that of Peter Paul Rubens for Flemish painting in the next century. In particular his group portraits were an important innovation. In 1528 Van Scorel got a canonry at St. Mary’s in Utrecht, thus giving him a part of the financial background which had helped Adriaen Boeyens during his long ecclesiastical career. Last year I wrote a post about the project Medieval Memoria Online. Jan van Scorel is connected to several memorial objects. A part of the floor slab of his grave from the collegiate church of St. Mary’s  is now kept at the Museum Het Catharijneconvent in Utrecht (MeMo no. 3006). His group portraits of members of the Jerusalem confraternities in Haarlem and Utrecht are also described in the MeMo database (MeMo nos. 669, 671, 672, 716 and 746).

History, historians and images

Let’s close this post with a number of questions: can historians still create stories mainly using words? Is it not necessary nowadays to be at least very much aware of the imagery created by visual media? The creators of blogs are familiar with these questions and try to provide their own answers. Especially when a story does not unfold itself in the standard way movies and televisions series like to show them it is important to be aware of the (visual) expectations of your public. If people ask you for telling images, they are absolutely right to ask this from you! It will be your duty to come with reliable images or to tell what illusions, allusions and deviations images might contain. Professional pictorial research is most certainly one of the historian’s duties. You will need both your imagination and sound knowledge, helped by historical images, to create images in the mind of your readers which help both you and them to get to the core of historical events and persons. Misgivings about historical inaccuracies that occur in the choice or the use of images should not be the final aim of any criticism, but an outright challenge to produce yourself history which benefits substantially from the proper use of images and imagery.

Jan van Scorel, Sede Vacante 1523 – exhibition Utrecht, Centraal Museum, October 19, 2013 – January 19, 2014
Jan van Scorel, Sede Vacante 1523, drawings by Paul Teng, scenario by Jan Paul Schutten, colours Dina Kathelyn Tourneur (Eindhoven: Lecturis, 2013; 80 p.; ISBN 978-94-6226020-7)

The first papal abdication since six centuries

Yesterday’s news about the abdication of pope Benedict XVI made headlines all over the world. Surprisingly among all comments is the publication on January 3, 2013 of a post with the title ‘Can a pope ever resign?’ on the blog of Cathy Caridi, a contemporary canon lawyer from the United States living in Rome, who wrote weeks ahead of the news already a very well-informed article. She deals not only with the contemporary canon law of the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983, but also with one of the medieval precedents, the abdication of pope Celestin V in 1294. For canonical aspects of the current abdication Caridi’s article is a must.

Today Anders Winroth (Yale University) alerted on Facebook to the digital version of an article by Martin Bertram, ‘Die Abdankung Papst Cölestins V. (1294) und die Kanonisten’, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische Abteilung 56 (1970) 1-101. The online version of this article is only accessible at institutions subscribing to the services of DigiZeitschriften, a German portal for the digitization of scholarly journals. Bertram wrote his Ph.D. thesis at Berlin about pope Celestin V. In the same issue of this journal Horst Hermann wrote another article concerning question about papal abdication and canon law, ‘Fragen zum einem päpstlichen Amtsverzicht’ (pp. 102-141). Scholars in the field of medieval canon law have not dedicated many books or articles to the subject of papal abdication. Peter Herde contributed the paper ‘Election and abdication of the pope: Practice and doctrine in the thirteenth century’ to the Proceedings of the sixth international congress on medieval canon law, Berkeley, 28 July-2 August 1980, Kenneth Pennington and Stephan Kuttner (eds.) (Città del Vaticano 1985) pp. 411-435. In a volume with a collection of articles by Walter Ullmann, Law and jurisdiction in the Middle Ages (London 1988) is an article ‘Medieval views concerning papal abdication’, originally published in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record 71 (1949) 125-133. John R. Eastman wrote a book about the subject, Papal abdication in later medieval thought (Lewiston, NY, 1990). Abdications by monarchs, including the pope, are the subject of a German volume with learned essays, Thronverzicht. Die Abdankung in Monarchien vom Mittelalter bis in die Neuzeit, Susan Richter and Dirk Dirbach (eds.) (Cologne-Vienna 2010). In this volume stemming from a series of lectures at the university of Heidelberg Thomas Wetzstein writes about ‘Renuntiatio – resignatio. Zum Amtsverzicht in der Kirche des hohen und späten Mittelalters’ (pp. 30-61).

After pope Celestin V in 1294 only pope Gregory XII formally abdicated, on July 4, 1415. Caridi did not mention this case in the fine article on her blog Canon Law Made Easy. Gregory XII stepped down at the Council of Constance which aimed at ending the Great Schism, the period in the history of the Catholic Church from 1378 onwards, with two popes, one at Rome and the other at Avignon. Earlier in 1415 the Council of Constance had deposited the so-called antipope John XXIII. In view of the modern regulations for a papal abdication one thinks immediately about the voluntary character necessary according to the Code of Canon Law for a valid abdication.

When searching for studies concerning papal abdication I saw also several studies about the abdication of kings. This theme might well return here in another post. In fact readers of this blog may well be surprised why I have not yet written anything about the announcement of the abdication of Queen Beatrix on January 29, 2013. This year she will formally abdicate on April 30. I guess the very time span between the announcement and the celebrations on April 30 against the rapid coming of a conclave in March pleads in favour of writing about it now. Normally I would have delved deeper into such matters, but right now I face other tasks. A quick scan of the Liber Extra, the collection of papal decretals published in 1234 on behalf of pope Gregory IX, did not bring me any result about papal renunciations, but a section of the Liber Extra, De renuntiatione (X 1.9) was devoted to bishops resigning from their office. For quick reference I used the text-only version of the IntraText Digital Library. Here I simply wanted to present some information about the background of a truly historical step. I am sure others will soon publish more detailed accounts about the abdications of 1294 and 1415. As for Facebook and medieval canon law, Anders Winroth has created a Facebook group on this subject.

A postscript

Mike Widener published on February 18 a post on the Rare Books Blog of the Yale Law Library with a nice late medieval woodcut of pope Celestine V, accompanied by further references. The Early Books blog of Yale’s Beinecke Lbrary posted on February 27 a post on a medieval images of pope Celestine V in a manuscript of the Vaticinia Pontificum, a medieval text with prophecies concerning the papacy..

Centers of legal history: Milan

Followers of the series Centers of legal history will have some expectations about a post featuring an Italian city. Which city will I choose? In earlier posts outside this series several Italian towns have figured. In the post on digitized Italian city statutes I pointed to websites all over Italy. My post on the Codex Florentinus contained references to institutions in Florence. The recent post with a discussion of two digitization projects in Bologna ended with a nutshell’s guide to research institutions and other relevant projects at Bologna. Creating a guide for Rome and legal history within the scope of just one blog post is something beyond my powers, and probably just too long and too uneven to be worth the effort. Milan offers itself as the town to figure here, and where possible and sensible I have added institutions and initiatives in Lombardy.

Legal history in Milan

The presence of several universities is one of the reasons to include Milan in this series. I will start with the Università degli Studi di Milano and its department for legal history. Among the current staff of the Sezione di storias medievale e moderno Claudia Storti is now probably the best known scholar, but among former scholars at Milan it is surely Antonio Padoa Schioppa. The library of this section and its digitization projects command respect. In particular the bibliographical database and the database of offprints are worth noting as something only seldom found elsewhere, as is the online database of microfilms of medieval legal manuscripts. The presence of filters for specific themes shows the sheer width of this collection. I Gridari del ducato di Milano del XVIII secolo is a project with digitized legislation from the eighteenth century for the former duchy of Milan. The second digital library contains a wide variety of more than 700 old legal works. The Università degli Studi di Milano has also contributed to the creation of the Censimento dei manoscritti medievali della Lombardia, the online census of medieval manuscripts in Lombardy.

The section for Roman law is less well-known than its counterpart. One of the most salient features is the project on the rights of “others” in Roman and Greek law in which five Italian universities participate. The department has a substantial library. Pride of place should go to the department’s journal Dike for the history of Greek and Hellenistic law. The issues of this journal between 198 and 2007 have been digitized.

The second university to present here is the Università Bocconi – in full Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi – and its Dipartimento di Studi Giuridiche Angelo Sraffa. Unfortunately the pages of the section for Roman law lack information. Of the small section for medieval and modern legal history I would like to mention Annamaria Monti. She contributed to the interesting online exhibition I libri antichi di Angelo Sraffa which focuses on Benvenuto Straccha, a sixteenth-century lawyer, and his treatise De mercatura, an early treatise devoted exclusively to commercial law. Other treatises on this subject, a bibliography and a catalogue of the early printed books donated by Angelo Sraffa (1865-1937) to the Università Bocconi, accompany this exhibition. A second online exhibition shows Italian editions of the Consolato del Mare from 1576 onwards. The Llibre del Consolat del Mar, a legal text from Catalonia, is one of the major sources of medieval maritime law. By the way, together with the Università degli Studi di Pavia the Università Bocconi has created an Italian Law School.

The third university is the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, a university which is active in five Italian towns: Milan, Brescia, Piacenza, Rome and Campobasso. Despite careful searching at the websites of the law faculties in Milan and Piacenza I was unable to find any activity in the field of legal history. A fourth smaller university, the Università Milano-Bicocca has more to present. At this university you will find a department for medieval and modern legal history and a department for canon law. Loredana Garlati is one of the editors of the Italian legal history portal Storia del diritto medievale e moderno. At this portal you can find in particular detailed information about the legal historians active in Italian universities. I guess I have not found every legal historian in Milan at the website of her or his university, but this portal can bring you safely to them.

Legal history at large in Milan and Lombardy

If you are tempted to conclude that the first half of my post is distinctly meagre despite the presence of four universities the second half should contain sufficient arguments to convince you about the wealth and variety of institutions and their projects in Milan and Lombardy. Let’s start with the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, where I found only two digitized journals dealing with law from the early twentieth century in the Emeroteca of its Biblioteca digitale. Alessandro Lattes, a legal historian, and his brother Elia donated the books which now form the Raccolta Ebraica at the Braidense. The Braidense has got an extended collection of microfilms with historical works concerning the Waldensians.

The Biblioteca Ambrosiana was founded in 1609 by cardinal Federico Borromeo (1564-1631). Its name stems from Ambrose, the famous fourth-century bishop of Milan. After the Bodleian Library (1602) in Oxford and the Biblioteca Angelica in Rome (1604) the Ambrosiana is one of the oldest public libraries in Europe. The library has a truly marvellous collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Some of the more famous manuscripts have been digitized, with probably the Codex Atlanticus of Leonardo da Vinci as the most often sought item. For legal historians and church historians one of the most interesting digital sources are the Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis (1582), the first episcopal acts under the aegis of cardinal Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584) in which he tried to follow the decrees of the Council of Trent as closely as possible, with numerous important changes for church life. These acts became quickly the model for the Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation.

We saw already digitized materials on the legal history of the Duchy of Milan. The Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche has created an online bibliography on the gridi and editi between 1560 and 1796, and of course digitized sources, which you can use after registration. The Archivio lombardo della legislazione storica is an online repertory for legislation in the field of public law in Lombardy from 1749 to 1859. This site is maintained by the Ministero per i Beni Culturali of the Regione Lombarda, which has created a portal on the cultural history of Lombardy. The Codice diplomatico della Lombardia medievale (secoli VIII-XII) is one of the largest projects for the digital edition of medieval charters, and remarkable for including such early charters.

One of the quickest and most update ways to find information about online projects concerning the history of Milan, Lombardy and the whole of Italy is the blog Bibliostoria maintained at the Biblioteca delle Scienze della Storia of the Università degli Studi di Milano.This library has also created a special Bibliostoria Web Resources database and a separate catalogue for women’s history. From the blog and the database I can choose almost at random several announcements about relevant projects. Recently the twenty volumes of the Corpus Nummorum Italicorum have been digitized. The very word Corpus reminds me not to forget the digital version only recently launched of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum at Berlin, where you will find Roman inscriptions from Italy partially ordered by region.

The Archivio di Stato di Milano has created an online version of their exhibition commemorating 150 years of Italian unity in 2011, Itali siam tutti, un popol solo. The Atlante dei Catasti Storici e delle Carte Topgraphiche di Lombardia is a special website of the Archivio di Stato at Milan with historical tax registers and maps, where you will also find materials from the Veneto. You can combine your research here with information from Territori, a similar website covering all Italy. The state archive of Milan is present, too, at the portal site for culture in Lombardy, LombardiBeniCulturali. On this portal La memoria degli Sforza presents a digital version of the first sixteen registri of Francesco I Sforza (1450-1466) with a useful bibliography.

At the Castello Sforzesco in Milan you will find the Archivio Storico Civico and the Biblioteca Trivulziana. The link here brings you to many more links of cultural institutions in Milan, and I would single out the portal Storia di Milano. At the website for the Civiche Raccolte Storiche you can also find the Museo del RisorgimentoDigatimi is a digital library on Milan with literary works, including chronicles of Milan’s history. The portal LombardiBeniCulturali gives you short but good general overviews of the history of Lombardy, and provides you with information about institutions which preserve and present Lombardy’s history and cultural heritage. Bibliostoria mentions the bibliographical database of the library of the Senato della Repubblica in Rome where you can search for old works concerning Italian local and regional bibliography in the Fondo Antico di Storia Locale. At a server of the University of Naples you will find a database on the canons of the principal collegiate churches in Lombardy during the Sforza era; this project belongs to the Reti Medievali initiative.

The websites dedicated to the history of Milan and Lombardy should in no way diminish the role of general portals, websites and online projects for Italy. If you execute a search for Milan at InternetCulturale you will have to filter the many thousands results you get.

With this post I hope to have ended this year’s summer pause in a rewarding way. I look forward to resume writing about many subjects which all touch in one way or another the rich territories of legal history.

Earlier posts in the series Centers of legal history

Starting with the post on Paris I offer for each town also a general guide to research institutions in the fields of history and legal history. The post concerning medieval canon law and the recent congress in Toronto belongs in a way also to this ongoing series.

Selling the Mendham Collection, a poor move

This week alerts appeared about the proposed sale of parts of the Mendham Collection, since thirty years on deposit at Canterbury Cathedral. The owner, the Law Society of England and Wales, describes the collection at its own website as “a unique collection of Catholic and anti-Catholic literature including manuscripts and printed books ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries”. Despite protests of Canterbury Cathedral the Law Society has started removing books from Canterbury on July 18, 2012 in preparation for an auction at Sotheby’s, apparently to raise funds. Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent have jointly decided to involve the general public in their protest against the possible dispersal of a collection with more than 5,000 items including medieval manuscripts and early printed books. An online petition to support both institutions has been launched. To indicate the importance of this collection, let it suffice that CERL, the Consortium of European Research Libraries, has included the names of former owners of books in this collection into its provenance database.

One of the painful things in this situation is the failure of the Law Society of England and Wales to acknowledge that there is now an issue. The notice I quoted here from its website is almost the only piece of information this society provides online. The Law Society indicates they have published a catalogue of the collection in 1994 which can be obtained for £ 40,-. The Law Society has substantial historic holdings in its own library on a wide variety of subjects ranging from the fourteenth century to the present. The action of the Law Society breaks unilaterally the agreement with Canterbury Cathedral to act as a custodian of the Mendham Collection until December 31, 2013.

Gaps in the Mendham Collection

Gaps in the Mendham Collection – photo by Alixe Bovey, University of Kent

Joseph Mendham (1769-1856) was an English theologian who became active as a controversialist and historian. He was the son of a merchant, but his background did not hold him back of buying objects with a value for both cultural and church history. An article from 2008 by David J. Shaw describes the collection and the way Mendham brought it together in more detail. For legal historians Shaw points to editions of the acta and additional sources on the Council of Trent held from 1545 to 1564, and for examples twenty different editions of the Regulae of the Cancellaria Apostolica. The collection contains books from Doctors Commons, a court abolished in 1860, and the Court of Arches. Shaw gives also details on the continental provenance of many books. Mendham’s collection of 37 manuscripts mainly concerning the Council of Trent is at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The deposit of the Mendham Collection at Canterbury, the place where Christianity in the United Kingdom started, is at an extremely apt spot. A sale of separate items, even of minor items, but surely only the rarer and more valuable items would bring the expected profits, does harm the collection and its integrity, not only now but for future researchers.

Yesterday the BBC reported on the plans of the Law Society to auction books from the Mendham Collection; a video can be seen at YouTube. Until now only a few websites, including the Medievalists news blog, have covered the story about the threat of the sale. Erik Kwakkel, palaeographer at Leiden University, calls upon people to sign the petition. Supporting solicitors is the noble goal of the Law Society of England and Wales, but I can see no justification for a rash sale of valuable materials held since 1869 and the dismemberment of a collection as wideranging as the Mendham Collection. Surely other ways exist to get money, even if the Law Society says it has not taken this decision light-heartedly. Some of the items removed now may not be retrieved from Sotheby’s for a possible sale to either Canterbury Cathedral or the library of Kent University. Hopefully the petition will help reverting the plan of the Law Society of England and Wales, and help keeping the Mendham Collection intact and accessible.

A holiday round-up

After a rather long time, almost four weeks without any new posting, I am back at my desk to continue writing for this blog. I have been on a holiday with a rich variety of landscapes, weather types and people. It is still summer. A first quick check for new things learned me that even the ever busy Legal History Blog had slowed down its usual pace of new postings. One of the strong features is the weekly Round-Up in which you can find all kind of things which touch upon legal history but somehow had nearly escaped the alertness of the editorial team led by Mary L. Dudziak and Dan Ernst. My post today proposes to salute their weekly efforts in a more leisurely way fitting this summertime, which, however, has by now taken some very serious turns. Events worldwide will no doubt soon influence this blog. I would like to reassure you I will not turn away from these developments, but it will do no good to react here immediately. Anyway, my list with plans for new postings has a nice length and a variety of subjects from many corners.

Looking closely at pictures

In this post I want to present just a few websites and blogs which came to my attention lately. You will notice quickly that they are not solely, in fact often only rather loosely connected with legal history. I cannot help pointing again to Klaus Graf and his Archivalia blog – does he ever take a holiday?! Anyway a week ago he posted a message on the section on photo tampering in history at Four and Six. At this website you will find an impressive collection of both historical photographs and modern advertisements with images which have been tampered with. I suppose contemporary lawyers will be more interested in the latter. On this website some photographs have been explicitly tagged with the label “Law”, but it is worth looking around for more. On close inspection photographs can tell a sometimes very different story than one suspects at first. We all are aware of the telling power of images. They can conjure up a story more quickly and more dramatically than many well-phrased paragraphs. It is easy to forget about the possibility of tampering with photos when craving for images to convey your message.

Comics and the law

As a faithful reader of the Rare Book Room blog of the Lilian Goldman Law School Library at Yale University I was initially surprised by the efforts to collect child books touching upon law and even comics. In 2010 a series of blog postings accompanying the exhibition Superheroes in Court was even devoted to the alleged Yale Law School degree of Batman shown in a particular story! The point of collecting books on seemingly fringe subjects is to do it in a most sensible way, and here Yale surely succeeds.

I was reminded of the collections at the Yale Law School Rare Book Room because the Freshly Pressed section of my provider’s blog featured a post from Bear Lawyer LLC. Thomas E. Körp is the creator of this blog about a bear who makes a living from law. This blog goes with a nice sprinkling of real American law websites and links to other comics blog and websites.

Lately Et Seq., the blog of the Harvard Law School Library, published the image of a drawing in an old legal book. The image in question is a drawing in a copy of a 1615 edition of the Corpus Iuris Canonici, the multivolume collection of canon law sources printed from the early sixteenth century up to the nineteenth century. The “Weekly Special” of Et Seq. is often devoted to rare law books with an intriguing history or story. In the story entitled A Canon and its Cannon its author Lesley Schoenfield very much wonders about the drawing showing a castle with a firing cannon. I myself have my view of the riddle behind it, but in order not to spoil your own investigation of it I will not give away my solution here…

Searching images

From Harvard back to Yale. Apart from the superb digital collections of the Harvard Law School Library Harvard University has a most impressive and very diverse range of digitized collections, fortified by the digital collections at Harvard College Library. It seems very difficult to outdo these efforts but Yale, too, can proudly present its digital collections. Not only the university library at Yale but also several other Yale libraries offer access to digital visual resource collections. Recently the website Yale Digital Commons has been launched where one can search in the image resources of five Yale institutions. Legal historians cannot neglect the Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal when researching this subject, and when you need documents in English translation you will often turn to Yale Law School’s Avalon Project: Documents for Law, History and Diplomacy. The Lewis Walpole Library has started the Yale Indian Papers Project with digitized materials from several Yale institutions. It is hard to say which university is winning this battle of giants in the field of digital collections.

In the field of legal iconography Yale Law School can point to the Documents sections of its website which has been created for the image collection Representing Justice. Harvard Law School Library has digitized over 4,000 images of lawyers in the digital collection Legal Portraits Online.

Earlier this year I wrote a post about online exhibitions concerning legal history. On my website I have a created a new page about virtual exhibitions in which I have put things from this post in a more orderly fashion. By the way, of course not only Harvard and Yale, and not only the other Ivy League universities are most actively involved in the field of digital collections. In my latest post almost four weeks ago the University of California, Santa Barbara came into the spotlights with an impressive number of interesting digital collections, pace Berkeley and Stanford. It can depend on a lot of factors which universities happen to make the largest presence in your perception.

The debt crisis in the United States and Europe, the riots in London and other English cities, the aftermath of the terrifying violence against innocent people in Norway, the spreading fierceness of the political climate in my own country, the fear in many European countries for drastic cuts in the budgets for education, research, culture and social welfare, the ongoing fight for democracy in many countries surrounding the Mediterranean and the violent suppression of legitimate protests in Libya and Syria, the troubles in the Middle East, the droughts and famine in East Africa, the anarchy in countries like Somalia, and much more are these days the background of any serious legal and historical research. This might well determine to some extent its shape and direction, too.