Rare Books Blog

September 24, 2011

This glimpse at the imagery of Justice makes plain the richness of its history and signification. Didactic emblems addressed fears of corruption, of irrational authority, and an absence of even-handedness. Blindfolds, double-headed Justices, and handless judges captured some of these stresses.

Yet recall that Justice iconography was once far more varied. Within a century after Ripa, his seven Justices had been distilled into one stock figure identified by scales and sword. And Ripa’s mention of a blindfold as a marker of the obligation that Justice not be “tempted away from using reason” came to be an expected accoutrement.

The images in this exhibit are a testament to the normative enterprise that built public courts of law and sought to elaborate the import and obligations of law. The movement away from public adjudication is a problem for democracies because adjudication has important contributions to make to democracy. Adjudication is itself a democratic process, which reconfigures power as it obliges disputants and judges to treat each other as equals. The scales, the attribute of Justice with the longest history (dating back to Babylonia and Egypt), evoke the evenhandedness to which judges aspire today.

Our excursion into Justice iconography aims to appreciate but not to romanticize the roots of the didactic practices surrounding adjudication. While old images remain legible, courts in today’s democracies are new inventions – benefits of political and social movements insistent on equality, dignity, and fairness for all. But these aspirations have yet to be realized, just as a visual vocabulary to match those ideas remains under-developed. Whether political will exists to support both the infrastructure of courts and access for all those now eligible to use courts is in question, and hence, the ability of courts to provide active sites of public exchange before independent judges cannot be taken for granted.

Image: Decorative headpiece from Johann Stephan Pütter, Patriotische Abbildung des heutigen Zustandes beyler höchsten Reichsgerichte (Frankfurt & Leipzig, 1756). Lillian Goldman Law Library (German Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York).

“The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

September 24, 2011

Thanks to the following individuals and institutions for their assistance in preparing this exhibit:

Kathryn James
Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts,
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

Nicholas Salazar
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Yale University

Shana Jackson
Lillian Goldman Law Library

Drew Adan
Lillian Goldman Law Library

Image:Frontispiece from Maximae juris celebriores, deductae ex jure canonico, civili, glossa (Tyrnaviae: Typis Academicis, S. Jesu, 1742). Lillian Goldman Law Library.

“The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

September 24, 2011


    • Judith Resnik & Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). “By mapping the remarkable run of the icon of Justice, a woman with scales and sword, and by tracing the development of public spaces dedicated to justice—courthouses—the authors explore the evolution of adjudication into its modern form as well as the intimate relationship between the courts and democracy.” In addition, the Representing Justice page, in the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Document Collection Center,  brings together image collections, articles, and videos relating to the book.

    • Fondo Antico - Immagini della Giustizia, a website prepared by the library of the Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia, is a well organized and thorough examination of how the image of Justice is employed in early printed books. It includes a lengthy bibliography.

    • The Digital Collections page of the Rechtshistorie website includes annotated lists of useful links under the headings “Databases for legal iconography” and “Thematic image collections”.

    • Rechtshistorie’s editor, Otto Vervaart, also writes a companion blog, Rechtsgeschiedenis. He has written several thoughtful and informative posts on the topic of legal iconography, dealing with their importance for legal history and the challenges in locating online resources. See, for example, “The face of justice” (Dec. 19, 2010) and click the Legal iconography tag to see the others.

    • Justitia: Iconography of Justice is a Flickr gallery that as of September 2011 contained 133 images of Justice taken from volumes in the Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library. See also the related gallery, Justitia - headpieces. Headpieces are ornaments used as decoration at the head of a chapter or division of a book.


      “The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.



      September 22, 2011


      How is it that the figure of a woman, draped, holding scales and sword, has been so widely recognized as a symbol of the law for more than 500 years?

      This question is at the heart of the latest exhibit from the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection: “The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law.” Using images from books printed between 1497 and 1788, the exhibit traces the roots of the iconography of Justice, a remnant of the Renaissance, that remains legible today. The exhibit features eleven volumes from the Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, along with four emblem books on loan from Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

      The shifting attributes of Justice, displayed in the exhibit, reflect the complex relationships between judgment, sight, knowledge, and wisdom. In the 1400s and 1500s, a blindfold on Justice signified her disability; today the blindfold is commonly understood as a sign of justice’s impartiality.

      The exhibit is curated by Judith Resnik (Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School), Dennis Curtis (Clinical Professor of Law Emeritus, Yale Law School), Allison Tait (Gender Equity & Policy Postdoctoral Associate, Yale Women Faculty Forum), and Mike Widener (Rare Book Librarian). The exhibit draws heavily on Resnik’s & Curtis’ new book, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms (Yale University Press, 2011).

      The exhibit is on display through December 16, 2011 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street. The exhibit is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily. The exhibit will also go online here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.


      Rare Book Librarian

      August 15, 2011

      Anyone who uses modern American case reports, either print or online, is familiar with “star paging”: “A method of referring to a page in an earlier edition of a book, esp. a legal source. This method correlates the pagination of the later edition with that of the earlier edition” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 3rd Pocket Ed. 2006).

      My friend and colleague Fred Shapiro has discovered that the first use of the term “star paging” appears to be in 1850, in the front matter to the 4th edition of Joseph R. Swan’s Treatise on the Law Relating to the Powers and Duties of Justices of the Peace and Constables, in the State of Ohio (Columbus: I.N. Whiting, 1850). A form of star paging, with the original page numbers in [square brackets] became common after 1770: Burrow’s Reports (2nd ed. 1771), Jenkins’ Exchequer Reports (3d ed. 1777), and the 12th ed. of Blackstone’s Commentaries (London, 1793-95) are all early examples. The 1680 edition of Coke’s Reports claims to use a similar system, but there are large gaps in the bracketed page numbers in the margins and one is not sure what to make of it.

      However, by far the earliest example of star paging I can find is in a 1596 edition of Year Book cases from the reign of Edward III: Anni decem priores, Regis Edwardi Tertii… (London: Jane Yetsweirt, 1596). Here is an example: the number “20” in the margin between rules is the original page number, and to the left of the number is the ” * ” sign in the text.

      I discovered it thanks to a reference in Ian Williams, “ ‘He Creditted More the Printed Booke’: Common Lawyers’ Receptivity to Print, c.1550-1640,” 28 Law & History Review 39 (2010), at 57. Yetsweirt used star paging again the following year in another collection of Year Book cases, but the use of star paging seems to have fizzled out until the later 18th century.

      If anyone has evidence of earlier use of star paging, I’d love to hear about it.

      Rare Book Librarian

      July 19, 2011



      A new book by José Cárdenas Bunsen, Escritura y Derecho Canónico en la obra de fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Madrid: Iberoamericana-Vervuert, 2011), includes several illustrations taken from the Rare Book Collection, including those adorning the cover. The images come from the 1514 editions of the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII and the Decretals of Gregory IX, issued by the Venetian printer Luca Antonio Giunta.

      Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566) is considered a pioneer in the campaign for human rights.He participated in the Spanish conquest of Cuba and was shocked by the atrocities that the Spaniards inflicted on the native inhabitants. He eventually entered the Dominican order, was later named Bishop of Chiapas, and spent the last fifty years of his life as an outspoken advocate for the rights of native peoples. See his biography in Wikipedia for a fuller account.

      In his book, Cárdenas Bunsen argues that canon law played a decisive role in shaping the world view of de las Casas and the arguments he deployed in his writings, such as the Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies). The book also includes a useful description of canon law studies at the University of Salamanca in the early 16th century.

      Cárdenas Bunsen is now Assistant Professor of Spanish at Bucknell University, and was a frequent visitor to the Rare Book Room while researching his doctoral dissertation at Yale.


      Rare Book Librarian


      July 15, 2011

      One of my favorite books in our collection is featured in the July/August issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. Justin Zaremby (Yale Law School Class of 2010) wrote “Marginalia” about a heavily annotated copy of Sir Edward Coke’s First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England (1633), commonly known as Coke on Littleton. Zaremby was the lead curator on our recent exhibit, “Life and Law in Early Modern Europe.” Read the complete article here.

      In his article, Zaremby notes that “Marginalia allowed lawyers to update their printed books with references to recent cases, statutes, and treatises.” Coke’s infamously dense and erudite work is itself a collection of marginalia or glosses on the early classic of English property law, Thomas Littleton’s Tenures. A contemporary of Coke’s, John Aubrey, joked that “The world expected from him a Commentary on Littleton’s Tenures; and he left them his Common-place book.” One of this volume’s annotators was Samuel Butler (1612-1680), author of Hudibras, a satire on the Puritans that was one of the best-sellers in late 17th-century England. A later owner was H. Buxton Forman (1842-1917), who collaborated with Thomas J. Wise on some of the most notorious literary forgeries of modern times.

      I first saw this fascinating book a couple of years before my arrival at Yale, and I was thrilled to be able to finally acquire it in 2009. I’m even more thrilled that Justin put it to such good use.


      Rare Book Librarian



      Subscribe to Rare Books Blog