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Featuringtop pieces from the collection of the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, combined with thanexquisite works from collections around the world, this book sheds new light on the depiction of justice from the th to the th century This book provides an historical approach that will appeal to both the expert and the art lover The inclusion of famous pieces, such as The Judgment of Cambyses by Gerard David and The Last Judgment by Pieter Pourbus and Jan Provoost, make this book an homage to art as well as to the practices of law in society


1 thoughts on “Art of Law: Three Centuries of Justice Depicted

  1. Dr Stephen Basdeo Dr Stephen Basdeo says:

    This lavishly illustrated book is related to a recent exhibition at the Groeningemuseum in Brugge, Belgium The aim of the exhibition was to give an overview of how justice and the workings of the law have been depicted in European high art between the medieval and early modern periods To this end, the Groeningemuseum displayed paintings from its own collection, such as the fifteenth century work by Gerard David, Het Oordeel van Cambyses The Judgement of Cambyses , as well as rare manuscripts, books, and artefacts The exhibition was then supplemented by an academic conference on the theme of law and justice in art which is currently a neglected area of scholarship.The introduction by Georges Martyn is highly informative, prefacing the ensuing case studies by raising several interesting points about the reason why art and architecture is highly important to the operation of the law Throughout history, law and justice have been surrounded by an aura of sacredness To judge is to exercise power in the 19th and 20th century courts of law, architecture played a vital role in legitimising authority With their richly decorated rooms and the impressive robes of the togati, these Temples of Themis inspired awe Art depicting law and justice helped to legitimise the power of the courts.It was recognised at the time that artistic depictions of the law helped to shore up the power of the ruling elites This is why, after all, many of the paintings displayed at the exhibition were often commissioned by Magistrates and other public officials, and it had become common practice to exhibit these paintings within official buildings.The book is divided into a series of case studies by various authors, each of which analyses a particular painting or object and discusses it in its historical context One interesting essay in the collection is Vanessa Pauman s discussion of the afore mentioned Het Oordeel van Cambyses This painting was commissioned by the Magistrates of Bruges but was not intended to awe offenders with a sense of the power and glory of the workings of the law Rather, as Paumen points out, it was a moral message for the judges who passed sentences The painting tells the story of a judge who served the King of Persia The judge, Cambyses, had been accepting bribes from offenders and thus had tainted his noble profession As punishment, the King ordered Cambyses to be flayed alive, and had his skin to decorate the judges chair as a permanent reminder of the sacredness of their profession.Additionally, in the medieval and early modern periods, the idea of earthly justice was intertwined with that of divine justice Societies in those ages were, of course, religious While the Last Judgement features heavily in a lot of art, Georges Martyn also picks examines other lesser known Biblical episodes which featured in a visual representations of justice For example, Francis Floris I s The Judgement of Solomon 1547 was exhibited in Antwerp City Hall in order to provide public officials with an example of the difficulties of trying to judge a case when it is a matter of one person s word against another Works such as Het Oordeel van Cambyses and The Judgement of Solomon remind us that the representation of justice is not always about aweing commoners into submission.Other highlights include Jos Monballyu s discussion of paintings depicting the Flemish jurist, Joos de Damhauder 1507 1581 The man was a celebrity public official the author of a highly influential law treatise entitled Practycke Criminele 1570 , and appeared in numerous contemporary prints Another highlight in the collection of essays is Stefan Huygebaert s discussion of the uses of the sword in images of justice The reason that recognisable figures in the iconography of the law carry a sword, we are told, is because such images draw upon images of Christ from the book of revelation The sword carried by images of Lady Justice symbolises not only a willingness to judge as Christ does at the Last Judgement , but also a willingness to protect the weak and vulnerable.The book focuses heavily on paintings and prints, but one thing that could have enhanced this work is if it had discussed artefacts Huygebaert and Kristel Van Audenaeren co author a chapter on a fifteenth century silver sculpture shaped like a fist and called, perhaps unsurprisingly, The Fist of Justice Such pieces were known as penalty pieces , imposed upon wealthy offenders who had committed violent acts and exhibited in the courtroom for future offenders to see This was a person s way of giving something back to society , so to speak In spite of the highly interesting history of this and similar objects given by Huygebaert and Audenaeren, however, the subsequent chapters revert to discussing paintings.Although this is an academic book, at twenty pounds it is relatively affordable when compared to the standard monograph price of approximately seventy pounds The subject matter will render it useful to both researchers and students interested in the visual representation of the law, a sub discipline of art, crime and legal history that is gaining ground Moreover, its highly visual content will, further, render the book popular with general readers interested in legal and crime history.