Tag Archives: Legal iconography

Picturing the law

Poster "Law's Pictures Books"Legal iconography covers a wide choice of subjects. Illustrations in legal books form a class of its own. In the exhibition Law’s Picture Books at The Grolier Club in New York illustrated law books from the rich collection of Yale’s Lillian Goldman Law Library are put on display. In some previous posts here this collection has figured prominently, but this is the occasion to show more of its glories. The exhibition is accompanied by a number of online videos created by Mark Weiner and Mike Widener, curator of the Rare Book Room at Yale Law Library. You can consult online many images taken from legal books in this collection at Flickr. The blog of the Rare Book Room often present illustrated law books, too. Yale Law Library show a second related exhibition, Around the World with Law’s Picture Books, curated by Mike Widener and Emma Molina Widener, yet another reason to look here again at this great collection.

Mark Weiner, currently on leave from Rutgers University, is best known for his book The Rule of the Clan (2013) and his blog Worlds of Law. The Grolier Club of New York, was founded in 1884. It is one of America’s oldest and most active organizations for book collecting and bibliography, with an extensive library and collections concerning these fields.

Windows on the variety of law

Cover of the exhibition catalogue "Law's Picure Books"

For the exhibition in New York a full catalogue is available. On the blog of the Rare Book Room Mike Widener tells about the themes chosen for the exhibition. Weiner and Widener have grouped 140 books around ten themes. In the next paragraph you will see which choice I have made among them to give you an idea of both the book and the exhibition. By the way, the image of Lady Justice on the cover of the new catalogue is a reminder of the Justice as a Sign of the Law exhibit at Yale Law Library in 2011 around Judith Resnik’s and Dennis Curtis’ monograph Representing Justice. You can read online sections of their book and view an online version of this earlier exhibit. The new catalogue has been produced very handsomely. It is a joy to read the introductory essays, not only written by Weiner and Widener, but also by Jolande E. Goldberg (Library of Congress) and Erin C. Blake (Folger Shakespeare Library). They succeed in putting the exhibition under multiple perspectives.

An illustration about windows

Image from “Cases on appeals concerning the duties on houses and windows (…) (London 1782) – Yale University, Lillian Goldman Law Library

I will not give here a spoiler of all themes, and restrict myself to just one theme, “Arguing the Law” (chapter 7), with images of evidence used in court and illustrations used to influence public opinion. Here literally the force of the proverbial telling image is shown, for an image shows more than thousand words can say. You can look for example at the victims found in a ship wreck. There are two pictures with windows for cases concerning a tax on windows. Another image shows an early telephone in a case about the patent of Alexander Bell for his invention. Yet another drawing shows a neighbourhood around a block of houses where two of them had been destroyed to prevent a fire to bring even more damage. For an early twentieth-century trade mark case the image of the disputed packing of biscuits is the very core of the case. There is a beautiful drawing of a bridge which allegedly hindered steamboats on the Ohio, and a chilling image of the way torture was afflicted.

In one of the five videos you can see the preparations for both current exhibitions, with for example a discussion about the choice of the images for particular themes and the order of appearance in the showcases. It is particular interesting also to see Mike Widener in action both at Yale Law Library (“Two Ways to Work“) and during a visit to the New York antiquarian book fair. In a way the two exhibitions crown his collection policy which led him to create not just a good collection of illustrated law books, but a real great one from which scholars and student will benefit long afterwards.

Dutch and Flemish legal history come into view for example with an image taken from a seventeenth-century edition of Joost de Damhoudere’s Practycke in criminele saken where two men are busy moving illicitly poles marking roads. In fact numerous editions of his work are shown in New York and in the catalogue. I promised not to tell here everything, but I must point you to an image of Lady Justice seated on the Corpus Iuris Civilis, the Corpus Iuris Canonici and the Bible in an eighteenth-century Dutch translation of a work on criminal law by the German lawyer Benedict Carpzov. Among the things to note is the author of the engraving, the Dutch actor and artist Jan Punt (1711-1779).

It is difficult to stop here and not to continue showing you illustrations which offer you food for thought. For many illustrations Widener and Weiner have not stayed content with just a description, but they ask questions as well, sometimes a bit rhetorical, but more often real questions. The exhibitions in New York and New Haven help us to become more aware of the impact of images, and to see legal iconography as a substantial element of legal studies and legal history. Some newspapers and magazines use a system with stars in their reviews of books, exhibitions and recordings. This exhibition needs no further laurels!

Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection – New York, Grolier Club, September 13-November 18, 2017 – Around the World with Law’s Picture Books – Yale University, Lillian Goldman Law Library, New Haven, CT, September 5-December 15, 2017
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Preserving presidential lives and legacies

Logo Hoover Library, West Branch, IAHow can you put the inauguration of a new president of the United States in a sensible perspective on a blog dealing with legal history? Is it the historian’s duty to say something about the near future or should I refrain at all cost from making predictions? One element in determining the role of a president in a history are the presidential libraries and museums created in memory of deceased presidents or even by living former presidents. Starting with the library commemorating Herbert Hoover there are now fourteen institutions which aim at preserving important papers and objects and presenting the deeds and legacies of presidents. In this post I will search for information concerning facts and materials in connection with legal history. Last week I spotted the section on presidential libraries and museums at the website of the American National Archives, but it seemed wise not to hurry into action immediately.

Banner National Archives

The website of the National Archives hosts the Federal Register which preserves also Public Papers of Presidents. For five presidents you can start here looking at online sets with presidential papers, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. In 1957 the Office of the Federal Register started to publish series of publications of presidential papers in print. The National Archives guide you also to other institutions with presidential collections. Pride of place among them goes to the Library of Congress with 23 collections. A number of these collections has been digitized by its Manuscript Division. It is most useful to look at the guides to presidential papers provided by the National Archives. There is even a search interface to search with one action in all fourteen presidential libraries together. I urge you to look in particular to the history of the presidential libraries and the legislation enacted about them.

A short tour of presidential libraries

Interestingly there is even a second institution dealing with the papers of Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and it is only logical to start here with the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. The sheer variety of materials presented on the website gives a fair indication of the possible width of a presidential library and museum. For brevity’s sake I will focus here on Hoover’s period as a president (1928-1933), but it is instructive to see materials, too, even before the period his work as Secretary of Commerce in 1921. Hoover became known nationwide and internationally thanks to his efforts since 1914 for the Commission for Relief in Belgium. The library has eleven collections documenting aspects of his work as a president. Hoover’s campaign for the presidency is documented, too, at West Branch. By the way, its location in Iowa is a reminder of the geographical division of the presidential libraries. You can locate them on a clickable map at the website of the National Archives.

Logo Hoover Institution

The Hoover Institution was founded at Stanford in 1919 by Hoover himself. By the way, he was among the first students of Stanford university when it opened in 1891. It holds collections for his life and work before 1921 and after the end of his presidency, and thus it figures here only briefly, however interesting its activities and collections are. In a way it embodies a part of Hoover’s vision and promotes it for this century.

It is not entirely surprising that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision in 1938 to create space for a library documenting his presidency and to donate his presidential papers to the federal government forms the start of the modern presidential collections. The FDR Presidential Library and Museum is located in Hyde Park, NY. A fair part of the collections in this library has been digitized. Using the Franklin search engine you can look at your screen not only at documents created by Roosevelt himself, but also at materials concerning Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry Morgenthau Jr, and there are preset selections on a number of themes. The presence of many photographs in these digital collections reminds you of the impact of the representation of power, law and government. Think only of presidents signing a law… The museum of this institution, as any museum, creates a space set free to focus attention on a particular theme or on particular objects. In this case it fosters an image of an era. They often succeed more readily in evoking essential characteristics of a period than documents can do. However, viewing a particular record can bring you a sense of immediate contact with the past.

Banner Situation Room

Presidents of this century come into view with the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas, TX. It is combined with the Bush Center. At this moment the Barack Obama Presidential Library is only a website preluding to its opening in Chicago within a few years. Certainly one of the most salient features of Bush’s library is the Situation Room. Not just for school children and researchers this space fires the imagination. We all have seen sometimes movies with scenes set in a presidential room during national and international crises, but the real one is not the kind of medium size conference room. The Secure Video Transmission Site has been recreated at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, CA. The Bush Library offers you also a digital librarya guide to the events of 9/11 and a good overview of other relevant resources.

This list of the George W. Bush Library ends with other resources ends with a most vital piece of legislation for the theme of this post, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA; 5 U.S.C. 552). Presidential libraries and museums are subject to a number of laws and regulations. Four of them deal with presidential transitions. The Office of Presidential Libraries administers the network of these libraries and takes also action to create presidential projects for presidents leaving office.

It is tempting to linger longer at the websites of one or more presidential libraries instead of trying to give here a more balanced view. I suppose that when you look a bit longer at their websites you will find materials which are more closely connected with legal history. My choice should give you an idea of the holdings of such institutions and their context. As is my common practice I have put in web links at many turns to lead you to online resources to help you in your research. Once upon a time the virtual world was indeed another world, but after 25 years the Internet is just one of the online media in our current world. The links are for your use, and you should not feel troubled to leave my blog and visit them!

Logo Library of Congress

As for any presidency it will be most interesting to follow the new president’s actions. His actions should be set within in the framework of the Constitution of the United States, checked by the legislative powers of the Congress and the power of the Supreme Court. The Library of Congress has created a fine overview of presidential inaugurations. Its Law Library should be your port of call to find information about both current American and foreign legislation. In the world’s largest library you can find an incredible mass of information about law and justice in other countries, too. The law librarians’ blog, In Custodia Legis [In the Custody of the Law] is one of the services alerting you to many aspects of their collections and ongoing work to retrieve information for anyone’s use. There is no doubt that in due time we will distinguish the legacy of any president from his other actions. However, it is a true concern where the promises made during the campaign will lead the United States of America and the world at large. As for predicting the future as a historian the old wisdom that politics will touch you sooner or later still holds true, as will visions of law and justice.

Law and art at Bruges

logo-blindfoldjustice_onlineThe close relations between law and art are a phenomenon which increasingly receives scholarly attention. In fact legal historians and other legal scholars in other disciplines have created a special field for studying the symbiotic appearance of law, legal iconography. Until February 5, 2017 the Groeningemuseum in Bruges presents the exhibition The Art of Law. Three Centuries of Justice Depicted. On january 16 to 18, 2017 a conference will take place at Bruges around this exhibit, with a slightly longer title, The Art of Law: Artistic Representations and Iconography of Law & Justice in Context from the Middle Ages to the First World War. Legal iconography is a subject I discuss here regularly, Among other reasons to promote this discipline is the chance to combine texts and images. On my website for legal history I have devoted a section to digital collections for legal iconography.

The imagery of justice and injustice

Gerard David, The Judgement of Cambyses, 1498 - Bruges, Groeningemuseum

At the heart of the museum and the exhibit is one of the most iconic paintings showing justice at work. If you try to look at it calm you will in the end shiver in front of the gruesome image at the right side of this double painting. Gerard David was commissioned by the city of Bruges to make this painting with The Judgement of Cambyses in 1498. Once it hung in the city hall, but since the nineteenth century it is among the highlights of the Groeningemuseum. The painter shows on his diptych at the left the Persian king Cambyses ordering the arrest of judge Sisamnes who was suspected to have accepted bribes. The story comes from Herodotus’ HIstories. The graphic depiction of the punishment delivered to this corrupt judge was meant as a warning to judges not to accept money for their judgment or to steer away from justice.

The power of this painting for the people of Bruges was apart from the powerful composition the use of contemporary settings for both scenes, with familiar buildings in the background and people wearing the clothes of their own time. The choice for a subject from Persian history taken from a Greek historian should make you think about the accessibility of Greek texts in fifteenth-century Europe either in the original or in complete or partial translations and adaptations. The painting of David played a role in Johan Huizinga’s view of late medieval society in his famous The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919), even though early editions were published without illustrations. Its first chapter had the title ‘s Levens felheid, “The fierceness of life”. Huizinga had seen an exhibition of early Dutch and Flemish paintings. The term “Flemish Primitives” might sound curious but is still sometimes used for the painters at the beginning of the great era of painting in the Low Countries. As for Huizinga’s view of the drastic character of late medieval justice, a recent article by Maarten Müller, ‘Het felle leven en het kalme gerecht : misdaad en straf in vijftiende-eeuws Haarlem’, Pro Memorie. Bijdragen tot de rechtsgeschiedenis 15 (2013) 5-31 – also availabe online – corrects his views to a large degree. Huizinga had edited sources concerning the legal history of Haarlem [Rechtsbronnen der stad Haarlem (The Hague 1911)]. It is rather strange that he did not hesitate to create a more colourful view of late medieval realities. By the way, in 2015 Pro Memorie devoted an issue to legal iconography.

cover-lesmotsdelajusticeThe conference from January 16 to 18 does not look only at medieval legal iconography. Only one day will be devoted to the Middle Ages. The second day centers around legal iconography in the Early Modern period, and on the third day scholars will look at the long nineteenth century. Many scholars from Belgium will speak at this conference, but otherwise scholars come to Bruges from all over the world. The range of subjects is impressive, and I have to stop myself from picking out my personal favorites and surprising themes! At the end of the conference the project IAP Justice and Populations will launch the new volume of studies Les mots de la Justice/Het verhaal van Justitie. The front cover shows the entrance hall of the Palais de Justice in Brussels, probably the most labyrinthine building ever built, showing both the power of law and justice in its huge dimensions, and alas almost as powerful also its intimidating power because of its impersonal dimensions. The header of the website of this Belgian project shows a nineteenth-century photograph of this immense building, looking very much as a kind of spaceship that has just landed on earth. The organizers of the conference succeed in overcoming the linguistic frontiers that often divide modern Belgium. Their happy cooperation should set an example for the future.

Logo Erfgoed BruggeAs for the lovely city of Bruges, you can balance the present look of the old city, for some tastes perhaps too idealized, with a look at home at the wonderful new portal Erfgoed Brugge [Heritage Bruges], only accessible in Dutch, with sixteen digital collections and catalogues  bringing you to documents in the archives, archeological findings, paintings and objects such as sculptures, tapestries and jewellery in the museums, the poetry and letters of Guido Gezelle, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, engravings, drawings and much more. Legal historians should note the recent addition of nearly one thousand printed poster-sized proclamations and ordinances from the First World War. You will have to register online with the Archiefbank Brugge to gain access to these aanplakbrieven, definitely a Flemish word. For those visiting Brugge the Groeningemuseum organizes also guided tours to the main locations of law and justice in medieval and modern Bruges.

The Art of Law. Three Centuries Depicted – Bruges, Groeningemuseum, October 28, 2016 – February 5, 2017

Mapping Australia, an encounter between art and maps

Start of the exhibition In my latest post the importance of maps for combining both classical and digital approaches for historical research got some attention. It is not a coincidence that I would like to follow this trail by looking at a number of examples, but I had not expected that an exhibition in Utrecht would become the focus point. The Dutch king opened on October 3, 2016 the exhibition Mapping Australia. Country to Cartography (AAMU, Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht). Old maps and modern visions of maps created by Australian artists with aboriginal ancestors are presented here together. The exhibition is a part of the commemoration of 400 years Dutch discovery of Australia in the so-called Dirk Hartog Year, named after the Dutch schipper who in 1616 involuntarily sailed to the west coast of Australia. It offers a good opportunity to look at the digital presence of relevant maps showing Australia at the portal Old Maps Online and the recently redesigned portal Memory of The Netherlands. In 2010 I looked here briefly at this remarkable museum and its collection of law poles.

On the map

Late 17th century Dutch map of

Hollandia Nova – “Kaart van den Indischen Archipel, tusschen Sumatra en Nova Guinea (…)” – late 17th century – The Hague, Nationaal Archief, Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe, no. 344

The exhibition at Utrecht shows mainly but not exclusively Dutch maps of Australia. There are also more general maps of the southern hemisphere. The maps have been chosen from the holdings of Utrecht University Library and the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. Some 2,000 old maps held at Utrecht have been digitized and can be found online at Old Maps Online. The maps held at The Hague come from a special map collection created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe). The map to the right is one of the items on display at the AAMU and happens to feature prominently in a thematic dossier about Australia at the website of the Nationaal Archief. Among the digitized items of the Nationaal Archief is Abel Tasman’s journal from 1642 (NA, Aanwinsten Eerste Afdeling, no. 121). Tasman, made also drawings of the coastal areas he saw.

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

Perhaps the most stunning historic object comes from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The very fact it is held in their holdings struck me forcefully. You could argue that the Dirck Hartogh tin dish is not just an object of Dutch maritime history, but also a telling object in Australian history. Dirck Hartogh ordered the carving of his arrival on October 25, 1616 with the Eendraght on the west coast of Australia at the island which still bears his name, Dirk Hartogh Island. Willem de Vlamingh found this dish eighty years after the landing, replaced it with a copy, and brought the original dish back to Amsterdam. Thus the oldest object from Europe that ever touched Australian soil returned to its point of depart in Europe.

Old Maps Online has gained its importance as a quick way to find historical maps precisely because it brings together maps from different angles, countries and perspectives. In the case of Australia it matters enormously to have rapid access to these old Dutch maps because they contain details not presented on other maps, and thus they have influenced cartographers elsewhere very much. Any reader of Simon Garfield’s On the Map. Why the World Looks the Way it Does (London 2012) will be aware how not only the actual shape and contents of a map are important, but also the visions mapmakers create. The combination of rich collections from several countries, each bringing both maps printed nearby and in foreign countries, makes Old Maps Online into the rich and invaluable resource it has become.

logo-memoryofthenetherlands

The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains now 132 collections from 84 institutions. You can search for these collections and institutions, or choose a preset theme. The theme Maps and atlases yields nearly 19,500 results. However, this filter has been programmed to include also topographical drawings. You can adjust the filters to include only maps which brings you to some 1,400 maps. If I choose for marine charts (365 items) you cannot search immediately for a specific location. In its current look it is more practical to look for a location in general and subsequently narrow your search to maps or charts. The portal gives access to an impressive total of nearly 800,000 items. Depending on your search question, either a general question which you want to explore or a more restricted one, you will encounter many interesting items. It is still possible to view the famous topographical collections such as the Atlas Schoemaker directly. This double use of the word atlas should serve as a reminder that even though digital materials might have been digitized with a view to historical research the sources themselves were not made with this intention. For the purpose of this blog post you should perhaps begin with the digitized atlases from the holdings of the Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

Mapping with a different mind-set

Artistic maps at the exhibition

Maps created by Judy Watson

The historical maps of Australia form a major part of the exhibition at Utrecht, yet the modern art works which either mirror old maps or reflect concepts of space and spatial representation attract rightfully your attention. In particular the work of Judy Watson invites you to rethink the role of maps, especially the names of locations. The Dutch and English deliberately gave their own names to Australian locations which of course had and have their own names given by the indigenous people of Australia.

Lawpoles at the AAMU, UtrechtApart from drawings and paintings there are also minor objects to be seen, such as beautifully carved shells, and some larger objects, a number of law poles. Interestingly, the law poles belong to the main collection of the AAMU. They are part of a series of contemporary art works which have helped setting the boundaries of land belonging to indigenous people. This theme was itself the focus point of an exhibition at the AAMU in 2010 about which I reported here briefly. I cannot help thinking now that these law poles are here very much museum objects instead of being elements of the present state of affairs in Australia regarding indigenous people. The past years a number of contemporary Australian art works has been shown around Australia in travelling exhibitions.

Place names of Australia - viedo installtion by Judy Watson

Any of my thoughts to be just looking at an art exhibition was dispelled when I spotted among the place names projected in a video installation by Judy Watson on a map of Australia Cape Grim and the Cape Grim Massacre. Watson’s point is not only recording such grim places as Cape Grim and Suicide Bay on Tasmania, but showing the sheer impact of a majority of English and Dutch names for Australian locations. The Dutch might not have occupied physically much Australian territory at any time, but giving locations a Dutch name was definitely done with to commerce and control. Van Diemen Land and Tasmania are not exceptional examples of lasting Dutch influence. I would like to mention here the online Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, Centre for Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, where you can pursue this approach and much more.

Reading the sources

Logo Wat Staat Daer

At the website of the Dirk Hartog Year you can find in the section Dirk’s Library information about his life and voyages for the Dutch East India Company, and not as you might expect books about him or even his personal library. I could not help inspecting the transcriptions of some of the historical records – including the tin dish from 1616 – and noticing gaps and misunderstandings. Instead of frowning upon this situation it is better to point to a brand new website about Early Modern Dutch palaeography, Wat Staat Daer? [What Is Stated There?]. Three archives in the province Noord-Brabant launched this website earlier this month. Even if it is not a tutorial it does give you not only a number of documents to decipher, but also a digitized version of a handy booklet by Willem Bogtman, Het Nederlandsche schrift in 1600 [Dutch Handwriting in 1600] (Amsterdam 1938; reprint 1973) showing you the variety of forms of letters in Dutch documents. Some users of Wat Staat Daer? point to an online tutorial for Early Modern Dutch palaeography of the University of Amsterdam. One user gives the link to a website for Dutch sixteenth-century palaeography using records of criminal justice at The Hague for a very short period, 1575 to 1579; in particular the reference section is very useful. Hopefully these websites help also all those investigating traces of Dutch history in locations from New York to Brazil and from South Africa to Sri Lanka and Indonesia or the global impact of the Dutch East India Company. The VOC Kenniscentrum and the Atlas of Mutual Heritage are among the virtual harbors where your research into the history of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie can start. The municipal archive in Amsterdam has a special page about Dirk Hartogh, with a discussion also of the various spellings of his name.

For those wondering why I do not mention here the Digital Panopticon, a project combining data from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, the Convict Transport Registers Database and the First Fleet to create a history of English and Australian people over the centuries, I did so here in an earlier post about the Digital Panopticon. This project is not only a showcase for digital humanities, it showcases also legal history in fascinating ways.

Among the many activities of the Dirk Hartog Year some of them are clearly connected to the events of 1616, its immediate impact and historical influence. The Western Australia Museum created a small but interesting online exhibition, 1616 – Dirk Hartogh. At the website of the Duyfken 1606 Replica you can find more information about important Dutch voyages to Australia in the seventeenth century. This autumn the replica of the Duyfken is sailing along Australia’s west coast in remembrance of Dirk Hartog’s journey. The Nationaal Archief gives an overview of other Dutch activities concerning “1616” in 2016 and 2017. The Dutch National Archives have produced a glossy magazine with the flawed title Boemerang. Nederland-Australië 400 jaar, which you can download as a PDF. I feared it was only available in Dutch, but luckily the website of the Dirk Hartog Year contains a link to the English version. The choice of subjects in this colourful magazine is really not narrow-minded. It would be one-sided to leave out here the websites of the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia, but enough is enough. For me writing this contribution has been in some way a voyage of discovery, although I have collected over the years a selection of links to websites touching Australia’s legal history on my legal history website. Hopefully I can seduce you to look out for uncharted territories, to rethink the importance of historical and linguistic borders, and to get inspiration from artists who raise difficult questions about our own time.

Mapping Australia: Country to CartographyAboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht – October 4, 2016 to January 15, 2017

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.

Around the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)

Among the commemorations to be included here in 2015 is the most important medieval ecumenical council, the Fourth Lateran Council that took place in November 1215. As it happens the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) closed fifty years ago, and already a brief look at the constitutions of both councils reveals many differences, beginning with the sheer number of decrees and constitutions. With just 70 constitutions and one additional decree, the convocation for a new crusade, the Fourth Lateran Council led by pope Innocent III is remarkably concise in its output which, however, does not diminish its importance.

Some constitutions have received more attention by historians than others, and scholars do try to create a more balanced view of this major historical event. On November 24, 2015 the international congress Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 will begin in Rome, and in Murcia the conference Innocent III and his time will start on December 9, 2015. In this contribution I would like to look at the pictorial representation of this council, and at a project covering a number of medieval church councils.

The image of the Fourth Lateran Council

Logo Parker Library on the web

When you recall for yourself the images most closely associated with the Fourth Lateran Council – often abbreviated as Lateran IV – you might imagine a fresco of pope Innocent III or the famous marginal drawing with debating cardinals in a manuscript of Matthew Paris’ Chronica maiora (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms. 16, fol. 43r). This college tries to protect image rights for this illustration as much as possible. At the website Parker Library on the Web full access is only possible at subscribing institutions. Without complete access you can only browse manuscripts but when you arrive at the very page of the manuscript with this illustration its lower half has been blotted out completely. Corpus Christi College and Stanford University Libraries have announced access to this website will be widened next year.

Detail BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v

The Fourth Lateran Council – from Johannes de Columna o.p., “Mare historiarum”- fifteenth century – detail, Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v

In fact it proves to be very hard to find online any other medieval image of Lateran IV, and this is one of the reasons why this section of my post is rather short. I did find two images in a fifteenth-century manuscript of a chronicle by a Dominican friar, Johannes de Columna, Mare historiarum, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris (ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v and 399r). You can search for archival collections and manuscripts at the BnF in a special website, and for illuminated manuscripts in the BnF you can use the Mandragore portal. Ms. Latin 4915 has been digitized at Gallica, the digital library of the BnF. The chapter heading indicated in red ink mentions two issues at the council, the condemnation of the views of Joachim de Fiore, and the convocation of a new crusade.

Detail BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 399r

The second image mentions in its heading two other questions dealt with at Lateran IV, the foundation of new religious orders, in particular the Dominicans, and matters between the king of France and barons from England. 1215 was the year of the Magna Charta. This chronicle by a Dominican friar has been lavishly illustrated with more than thousand historiated initials. You cannot fault the illuminator for showing Saint Dominic in this work. It would be great if we had images from the thirteenth century, but this image from the fifteenth century does give you at least the idea that a council is more than a prolonged series of debates between cardinals, bishops, mighty abbots and the pope. In and around the Lateran basilica and palace much more happened in 1215.

Logo Index of Christian Art

For more information about the iconography of the Fourth Lateran Council one should start with consulting an article by Raymonde Foreville, ‘L’iconographie du XIIe concile œcuménique: Latran IV (1215)’, in: Mélanges offerts à René Crozet (…), Pierre Gallais and Yves-François Riou (eds.) (2 vol., Poitiers 1966) II, 1121-1130, reprinted in her volume Gouvernement et vie de l’Église au Moyen-Âge: Recueil des études (London 1979). A second step will be searching the matchless information assembled for the Index of Christian Art (ICA) of Princeton University. You can gain access outside Princeton to all materials at the institutions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Utrecht where you can consult the copies of the card files.

Bishop Rodrigo preaches at the Fourth Lateran Council - Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r - image: Madrid, BNE

Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo, preaches at the Fourth Lateran Council – Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r – image: Madrid, BNE

Lately a senior medievalist at Utrecht told me in person with much aplomb the ICA is now available online in open access, but alas this is not correct. You cannot actually access the full online database without going to the university library at Utrecht, having off-campus access or using your membership of another library subscribing to the online version. Luckily I can use this latter opportunity, too, but my first online attempts did not lead me to any artefact showing one of the Lateran councils. The famous drawing by Matthew Paris is indeed present in the card files of the ICA, but the whole manuscript is curiously missing in the digital version. I could even check that the two other manuscripts used by Foreville, the Chanson de la croisade albigeoise by Guillaume de Tudèle (written in 1275; Paris, BnF, ms. Fr. 25425, fol. 81r; digitized at Gallica) and the Codex Toledanus (written around 1253-1255; Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r, digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica) are not present in both versions of ICA. The Festschrift for René Crozet somehow escaped the attention of ICA’s staff. Only thirty percent of the materials within the Index of Christian Art is already available online. The image in the manuscript at Paris described by Foreville is only a sketch for a large miniature, and thus it has not been included in the Mandragore database. For those wanting to use Iconclass I can provide you with the right code for finding images of church councils of the Roman-Catholic Church, 11P3142.

Religious minorities in 1215

Before starting with the second section of this post it might be wise to point to at least some online versions of the constitutions of Lateran IV. At IntraText you will find a full searchable English translation, just as in Paul Halsall’s Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University). There is a PDF of the text as published in the collection Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta, Giuseppe Alberigo et alii (eds.) (Basel and Freiburg 1962) 206-247, and at Documenta Catholica you will not only the Latin text, but also English and Italian translations. However, scholars dealing with medieval canon law are aware of a critical edition of these constitutions by the late Antonio García y Garcia, Constitutiones Concilii quarti Lateranensis una cum commentariis glossatorum (Città del Vaticano 1981; Monumenta Iuris Canonici, Serie A, Corpus Glossatorum, vol. 2). García y García edited also the contemporary apparatus, a scholarly commentary consisting of glosses, by Vincentius Hispanus and Johannes Teutonicus. Lateran IV is the only medieval council with a similar gloss. Almost all its constitutions were taken over in the Compilatio quarta – without c. 42 and c. 71 – and later in Gregory IX’s Liber Extra (1234), in this case without c. 42, c. 49 and most of c. 71.

Logo RELMIN

Here I would like to bring to your attention RELMIN, a recently finished project in France led by John Tolan (Université de Nantes) dealing with legal texts touching upon the status and treatment of religious minorities in Southern Europe from Late Antiquity until 1500. The bilingual project website brings you to a database housed on a server of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes. You will find here not just texts in Latin, but also in Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew and a number of medieval vernacular languages. Using the tab for authors you can find conciliar texts filed under their Latin name, all of them starting with Concilium. From the Fourth Lateran Council you will find four constitutions (nos. 67 to 70). No. 67 concerns usury and the Jews, no. 68 the distinction in cloths between Christians and Jews, no. 69 prohibits Jews – and heathen (paganos) – to fulfill public offices, and no. 70 forces converted Jews to refrain from Jewish rites.

Even if you can object that RELMIN does not do anything new by looking at these constitutions, you can benefit from the translation of the original text, a succinct commentary, the list of manuscripts used in the edition by García y García, the list of older editions of conciliar texts and the bibliography for each constitution. The recent history of the Lateran Council by R. Foreville and G. Dumeige, Les conciles de Latran I, II, III et de Latran IV: 1123, 1139, 1179, et 1215 (Paris, 2007) is duly noted. RELMIN helps you to view these and similar texts in a much larger context of time and space. For the field of medieval canon law you can see how earlier canons influenced later constitutions, decrees and decretals, and you can put them side to side with secular texts. Instead of overloading this post with much more I will add here only the titles of two online Ph.D theses which I encountered while searching for more information about the manuscript in Madrid. Both of them are well worth checking in connection with the Spanish side of Lateran IV: Lucy Kristina Pick, Christians and Jews in thirteenth-century Castile: The career and writings of Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo (1209-1247) (University of Toronto, 1995) and Fátima Pavón Cazar, La imagen de la realeza castellana bajomedieval en los documentos y manoscritos [The image of late medieval Castilian kingship in documents and manuscripts] (Madrid, Universidad Complutense, 2008).

Information, knowledge and understanding

I would like to end my musings around the Fourth Lateran Council and its impact in texts and images by pointing you to the wonderful introduction to this council at the website of Kenneth Pennington (Catholic University of America). Antonio García y García contributed a chapter about Lateran IV and the canonists to the History of Medieval Canon Law in the Classical Period, 1140-1234, Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 2008) 367-378, and in the same volume Anne Duggan discussed the legislation of all four Lateran councils.

London, BL, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r

A drawing of the Council of London, 12137 – Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum , ca. 1250-1259 – London, BL, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r

For those insisting to see here at least one of Matthew Paris’ great marginal drawings I can provide the second best thing, an image of the council of London in 1237 in the autograph manuscript of his Historia Anglorum (London, British Library, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r). I found this colourful image using the BL’s catalogue of illuminated manuscripts.

The riches of the major portals for illuminated manuscripts at London and Paris help to fill gaps in the Index of Christian Art. In this post I hope to have shown you not just some deficiencies of this project. It is probably wiser to remind yourself of the fact no single large-scale project will be able to contain and cover everything you are looking for. ICA does contain many things not easily found elsewhere, in particular not by the online search machine of the firm seducing us to believe it can find anything. Instead of anything and everything we neeed valuable information helping to add to our knowledge, to widen our perspectives, to sharpen our minds and opening roads to true understanding.

A postscript

Not only the constitutions of Lateran IV were commented upon by medieval lawyers. The second council of Lyons (1279), too, attracted commentaries, for example by Guillaume Durand, the author of the massive encyclopedic Speculum iudiciale.

Bruegel’s bewitching legacy

Detail of a print by Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Saint James visiting the magician Hermogenes (detail) – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Exhibitions sometimes make you hesitate to visit them at all. Will they only confirm what you already knew or suspected, or will they offer you food for thought and send you in new directions? Since September 19, 2015 you can see at the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, a museum for the history of Christian art in the Low Countries, an exhibition about images and the imagination of witches. Bruegel’s Witches focuses on drawings, prints and paintings by the great Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder (around 1525-1569). The exhibition credits Bruegel with creating in a few works the very stereotype of witches, looking as a woman with wild hairs and flying though the air on a broom. In is very best tradition the museum looks also at Bruegel’s contemporaries, shows earlier images of magicians and sorceresses, and it follows the impact of Bruegel’s imagination through the centuries. In 2016 the exhibition will be put on display at the Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges.

This month Museum Catharijneconvent also shows the Utrecht Psalter (Utrecht, University Library, ms. 32), the most famous medieval manuscript in the holdings of Dutch libraries. This manuscript with vibrantly illuminated pages from the early ninth century is only rarely shown in public, and even scholars seldom are allowed to look at it. If you have your doubts about the Bruegel exhibit, you should come at least for the Utrecht Psalter.

Witches in context

At the Catharijneconvent, a former hospital and convent of the Knights Hospitaller, Christian art is always presented within the context of other expressions of Christian life and practice. In this exhibition, too, you will find objects from daily life and criminal justice, and also books. A particular resource used here are the so-called Wickiana, some 430 illustrated newsletters from the sixteenth century collected by the Swiss protestant vicar Johann Jacob Wick (1522-1580) who also wrote a chronicle about events in Zürich. The Zentralbibliothek in Zürich has digitized the Wickiana. This source is not only a form of communicating news, but it offers also a window to popular culture and protestant views of culture and life. The Wickiana shows the use of images and relate also to the perception of all kind of events and elements of culture at large. From the perspective of book history they belong to the category of pamphlets, or even more precisely to the Einblattdrücke. On my website for legal history I have created an overview of digitized pamphlet collections. Wick’s collection contains also many of his own coloured drawings.

The exhibition shows materials bearing directly on the way courts dealt with witches. There is for example a copy of Joost de Damhouder’s Praxis rerum criminalium (Antverpiae 1556). You can look at archival records from the castle Huis Bergh in ‘s-Heerenberg from 1605 about a trial against Mechteld ten Ham who was accused of sorcery (available online [Archief Huis Bergh, inv. no. 7268]). Interesting is also the so-called schandhuik, the “cover of shame”, from ‘s-Hertogenbosch, an object designed to parade infamous women. Among the books on display is also a treatise by the Jesuit Martin Antonio Delrio (1551-1608), Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex (Lovanio 1599), a book dealing both with the theological interpretation of witchcraft and with the role of judicial courts. Delrio was a humanist scholar, a nephew of Michel de Montaigne and a friend of Justus Lipsius. It prompted me to look at the number of books dealing with witchcraft and demonology signalled by the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) in St. Andrews. The USTC gives you hundreds of titles, and you find of many works several editions. By the way, the book of De Damhouder appeared also in Dutch and French. The USTC is one of the portals indicating also access to digital versions of these works.

Firing the imagination

When you visit the exhibition at Utrecht, you can view the works of art, artefacts, books and pamphlets using a summary guide (Dutch or English), use an audio tour or dive into a fine classical exhibition catalogue. Walking through the rooms and corridors of this exhibition can thus be a rather normal contemporary museum experience, or you can choose a multimedia approach to submerge yourself into the dark world of Early Modern imagination. However strong images and imaginary worlds may be, they combined with the forces of churches and courts to create images of women. Even when they escaped from outright persecution women had to cope with very powerful unfavorable representations of their gender. Imagination, perspectives on gender and anxieties were part and parcel of the period which saw the growing impact of real and imagined magic and sorcery. The role of courts in dealing with witchcraft surely did not always do credit to law and justice.

This exhibition at Utrecht is visually attractive and seduces you to some extent to revel in the imagery of witchcraft, but there is a sober and more disconcerting reality behind which should not be lost out of view. Malcolm Gaskill’s volume Witchcraft. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, etc., 2010) has been translated into Dutch in 2011 by Nynke Goinga [Hekserij, Een kort overzicht (Rotterdam 2011)]. I seldom condemn books or translations, but this translator succeeds in utterly missing the crux of the matters under discussion. Many translated sentences sound strange as if she did not understand at all the subject of this book. Alas witchcraft as a historical subject will remain open to the fascination of those people searching for sensation and esoteric phenomena. There is too much at stake around this subject to leave it to thrill seekers and freaks. However, such statements do not make it easier to face the challenges to deal with this complex subject, starting with the oceans of publications about witches and sorcerers. We need the powers of deep thinking and applying all of the (legal) historian’s crafts to do justice to this aspects of Early Modern history. If this exhibition convinces you at least of the value of this conclusion, your visit will be fruitful.

De heksen van Breugel / Bruegel’s Witches – Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, September 19, 2015-January 31, 2016, and Bruges, Sint-Janshospitaal, February 25 to June 26, 2016

A postscript

Klaus Graf pointed in one of his latest 2015 posts at Archivalia at the online version [PDF, 200 MB] of the dissertation by Renilde Vervoort: “Vrouwen op den besem en derghelijck ghespoock.” Pieter Bruegel en de traditie van hekserijvoorstellingen in de Nederlanden tussen 1450 en 1700 [“Women on brooms and similar ghostly things”. Pieter Bruegel and the tradition of witchcraft iconography in the Low Countries between 1450 and 1700] (Nijmegen 2011).