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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Let's get started with our collection of images of law and justice

Dear students,

as promised, we will post the images you will send us related to the topic "Law and Iconography". We can modify this post in the future, so just send the images with a comment to We will start with a picture that can't be excluded from a photogallery on "Law and Iconography": Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Buon Governo frescoes (Siena). Don't forget that you can use our facebook page to post whatever you like (well, if related to this course!) 

Fabiana di Fazio:
As far as I'm concerned, in the context of law and Iconography, is impossible not to refer to the painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti; He was the last great representative in the great sesaon of the 14th century Sienese painting. Among his frescoes the cycle of good government and bad government, which are detactable in the Sala dei Nove, on the first floor of Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, are the most important. The allegory of Good government is a proud eblem of the civil virtues of Senesi. In this vision good governance is represented by a wise old man with sceptre, shield  and crown. He is seated on a throne beneath the winged figures of Faith, Hope and Charity. To his right sits Prudence, Fortitude and Peace, while on the left there are Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice. The latest reappears crowned, enthroned, on the far left of the painting. It is depicted in the Act of holding up in perfect balance the scales, in this inspired from above by Sapienza. The complex composition end with a aparade of twenty-four towns councilors supporting symbolically two long tubes that Harmony, sitting just below the justice, welcomes them. These cords departing from two plates of scales and show how each citizen should be tied to each other by concorde will of justice. 

Luigi Winkler: 
In today's lesson we looked at the importance of iconography in the development and justicification of the law. Until the French Revolution the power of the la, ita was believed, was descended from God, and the paintings of antiquity and the Middle Ages are related to this concept (vertical scepter symbol of power, the tree that tends to God, the coronarion by the Pope the to king like the coronation of Carlo Magno); after the French Revolution the power is no longer legitimized from above, from God, but in the "general will" expressed in the Parliament. So, I came to mind is a famous painting by David, titled " The Coronation of Napoleon". In this painting we see Napoleon, in the cathedral of Notre Dame, take the crown at the top, and then place it on the head of Josephine. This iconography, is the first step that breaks with the tradition of the Ancient Regime. Napoleon with his back to the Pope, marks the end of the legitimacy of power that wants the Pope to crown its King, but its almost sacred place in the context makes it clear that he is still the holder of a divine law. 

Lucrezia Ciocci: 
“Jurisprudence” was one of the most contested Klimt’s work. It was commissioned in 1894 by Minister of Education to decorate the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. The university wasn’t happy for his work: Klimt portrayed a cruel force that was considerate inappropriate for the University.  He made three works: The Medicine, The Philosophy and the Jurisprudence. The Jurisprudence follows a hierarchical model. Below is the figure of the condemned, curved and narrow from the tentacles of a giant octopus. Around the condemned we can see three female figures: the Fates  and at the top, on a gold background, we can see the  allegories of the Truth, Justice and the Law. Klimt doesn’t represent them as institutions that help men but as cold and heartless women that punish men. I understand the embarrassment of the university in front of this painting: it would been more appropriate for an university a painting that would transmit faith in justice than a painting that gives a sense of anxiety and disquietude.  Maybe to understand this painting we have to consider who was Klimt and the historical period in which he lived. In fact he was a member of the Vienna Secession: a group of artist that tried to represent the world in which they lived in a different way from the traditional forms, Klimt was the president of the Secession, he believed that it was the instrument to create a new, free and authentic art. At the end of the XIX century the Austria believed in the idea of the “Austria Felix”: a great empire full of elegant cafĂ© and theaters. Austrians didn’t realize that this golden age was at end and they weren’t ready to understand and accept the anxiety of Klimt’s paintings, I think that his work was against the idea that Austria had of herself. Klimt was so offended by his critics that had no intention in put the work in the Great Hall that he gave back his salary and took his paintings with him. Unfortunately his paintings were lost in the fire of 1945.  

Laura Sonnino Silvani
The ostrich as an attribute of Lady Justice
I found all these lessons about Law and Iconography (or better Iconology) very interesting: as a law student I was always interested in the meaning of Justice. Since it is a very huge social and juridical concept, that was treated and that has changed through time, it was very stimulating to visualize it in symbols, to better understand it and appreciate it.
We talked about how IUSTUTIA was represented as a lady, Lady Justice, holding a scale in one hand, to represent her impartiality and objectivity in the judgment, and a sword in the other, to represent her authority in executing the sentence and the law itself. Eventually, after the 16th century, in some representations she was painted as blindfolded: For some authors, to better underline the idea of her impartiality in the sense that the good judge can’t be influenced by the appearance or  by the wealth of the parties, for others, as the result of a  misinterpretation of a critique that was moved to the magistracy of that time by some painters and illustrators and that, instead, was afterward interpreted as a good quality. But I wanted to point out about another attribute that was put on the left of Lady Justice by many painters and authors: the ostrich.
The ostrich is the biggest living species of bird on earth, it has big wings but it is not able to fly. From XVI century it became one of the attributed of Justice, as Cesare Ripa in his “Iconology” and as Plinius The Old in his “Naturalis Historia” confirm.
The Ostrich was linked to justice because it was believed that they could digest everything, even iron, as Justice is capable of meditating every judgment, and that is also why it was placed by Cesare Ripa as an attribute of Gluttany as well.
Also for the Egyptians the ostrich was an attribute of the Goddess of Justice, Ma’at, who was always represented with an ostrich feather on her head. She was also the Goddess of the Truth and, therefore, the ostrich feather represented also the hieroglyphics, that were considered also a manifestation of Truth.

Image of the Goddess Ma’at, Queen Nefertari’s Tomb


“Allegoria della Giustizia e della VeritĂ  e i Vizi”, Giorgio Vasari (1543)

“La Battaglia di Ponte Milvio” , Giulio Romano, Stanze Vaticane, Roma (1520-24)

Sala di Costantino, Palazzi Pontifici, Vaticano (1520-24)

Gemma di Stefano
During the lectures of Professor Martyn we saw that Lady Justice is often depicted with a snake, and we repeatedly emphasized the presence of dogs in courts, explaining the symbolic meaning of every animal. In Vatican City (Apostolic Palace, Sala Costantino, 1520) we have a fresco by Giulio Romano in which Lady Justice is depicted with an ostrich. And this is not the only depiction, with a simple search on the internet I found others. Therefore it intrigued me. So I did a little research to understand the iconographic meaning of this animal. I found two theories: the first one says that in ancient times it was believed that the ostrich was able to digest iron, and this supposed ability was seen as a useful  attribute for the slow and intricate machinery of justice. The second one comes from ancient Egypt. The ostrich was a symbol of justice and equality because his feathers are all the same length. In fact, the Egyptian goddess of order, balance and justice, Ma'at, is always depicted with an ostrich feather on her forehead. 

Katharina Bohdal
I found this painting interesting since it contains lot's of the elements we were talking about in the lesson with professor Martyn. 
So is King Solomon positioned in the center of the painting on a throne which is higher than the rest of the scene underling his important role in the judgement. 
As a whole the scene reminds of depictions of the Last Judgement such as the one by Hans Memling.
The elevated position of Solomon between the figures and his pose are eluding to the image of Christ as the judge of the world throning above mankind. The red cloak of Christ, representing his ability to judge about life and death, is mirrored in Solomon's clothes the painting by Poussin. In fact also Solomon is about to decide about the life of the child held by a soldier on the left hand side of the painting. 
The backrest of Solomon's throne resembles the godly glory which surrounds Jesus in Memling's triptych.
The two women who claim Solomon's judgement on the other hand are arranged in a way that the real, the 'good' mother, is positioned on Solomon's right hand side, the 'good' side, whilst the mother of the dead child is on the left, the 'bad' side. The same schematic is used in the depiction of the Last Judgement where the honorable ad prayerful people can enter heaven on the right hand side (of Christ) while the sinners are expected by hell's creatures on his left hand side.
From the motive of the 'sacred space' in which the judgement takes place, of which we talked during the lesson, in Poussin's finished painting rests nothing more than a slight idea. In the sketch to his work however the 'sacred place' is clearly visible. The great public is separated from the judicial action by a bar and can watch the scene only from distance. The figures involved in the process are placed in the foreground in an open space in which one can clearly assume the roles the parties have in the process. 
A reason for Poussin to change the composition in the end might have been that through the reduction of figures he achieved a higher focus on the main action of the painting. In difference to the lively background in the sketch the plain and quiet background in the final painting underlines the grandeur and majesty of Solomon.

The Judgement of Solomon by Nicolas Poussin (finished 1649)

Scetches for the painting

The Last Judgement, Hans Memling (painted from 1467-1471)


  1. Thank you very much, Fabiana,
    Lorenzetti's painting, indeed, is a must when talking about representing and legitimizing law/justice/governance. Whereas the Sienese frescoes stress 'governance', but mention 'justice', many northern European towns stressed 'justice', but also mentioning 'governance'. E.g. there is a remarkable set of seven paintings by Hans Vredeman de Vries (ca. 1595) in the Gdansk/Danzig town hall, where we see 'Justitia' on every panel. I'll try to show you some examples tomorrow. What is particularly interesting in the Gdansk painting, is that the artist wrote very explicitly the names of the allegories in the painting. This makes it, five centuries later, much easier to 'understand'.

  2. Thank you prof. Martyn for your quick and interesting reply!

  3. It's time of iconclass!

  4. Thanks, Luigi, for the Napoleonic coronation scene. It is indeed a beautiful example of a legitimizing painting (there is an interesting wiki-page on it: To grasp the changed position of the church, compared to Ancient Regime paintings, one should bear in mind the 1801 concordat.
    David was the official painter of the court and he was very influential to other 'official' painters in the 19th century.
    Related to the coronation ceremony, you should also have a look at the Napoleonic portrait of Ingres, in which you will see several ceremonial symbols, amongst others the 'main de justice' we saw earlier this week.
    Georges Martyn

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  6. Thank you very much, Lucrezia, Laura and Gemma, for adding new pictures and explanations!
    - The Klimt case Lucrezia mentions is a very particular one. I agree with your interpretation, Lucrezia, that the artist was very critical to the establishment in making this painting. Be aware, though, that he was not representing (the virtue of) justice, but ‘jurisprudence’ (the science of law) as one of the faculties of the university. It is a pity the painting was lost... But is surely is a great example of legal-critical iconology!
    - Thank you, Laura and Gemma, for bringing the ostrich into the picture (and be aware: the snake is not a symbol of justice, but a symbol of prudence as a virtue (and of vanity as a vice)). The ostrich, indeed, has also been an important symbol of justice (if you want to go and see another example in Rome, you’ll find a Lady Justice with ostrich, as one of the four virtues on Pope Adrian VI’s tomb in Santa Maria dell’Anima). As Gemma stated, two possible explanations are given for the use of this animal as a symbol. What I particularly would like to stress, is that this example, like many others, shows that some symbols last for several centuries. Sometimes attributes and meanings evolve or change, sometimes not. The sword, for instance, was already used as a symbol of justice and power in Babylonia, while the scales were the attribute of Aequitas in Ancient Rome. It was only during the Late Middle Ages that sword and scales were united with Lady Justice. Remarkable at this point is that, before Lady Justice, sword and scales were the attributes of the Archangel Michael, weighing the souls of the death... and this brings us back to the Last Judgment as a classical representation of Justice in the medieval and early modern church porches and court halls. The ‘icon’ of Saint Michael was elaborated in the first centuries of our era... in the Coptic Church of Egypt.
    Thanks for your enthusiasm and suggesting new nice pictures!
    All the best,
    Georges Martyn