Damhoudere’s illustrated law books

 The newest galleries in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site feature two of the most heavily illustrated books in the history of legal literature, both by the Flemish jurist Joost de Damhoudere (1507-1581). Both were also among the most popular law books of their time, going through numerous editions in several languages.

Damhoudere’s Praxis rerum criminalium became the standard handbook of criminal law in northern Europe. We recently acquired the first edition, published in Louvain in 1554 under the title Enchiridion rerum criminalium. Our Flickr gallery, Enchiridion Rerum Criminalium (1554), presents all 54 of its woodcuts, which illustrate specific crimes and criminal procedure and also serve as documents of daily life in early modern Europe. Below is my personal favorite, illustrating the crime of dumping one’s garbage on passers-by. Praxis rerum criminalium was published 36 times between 1554 and 1660, and was translated from Latin into Dutch, French, and German.

The other gallery, Practique iudiciaire et causes civiles (1572), contains the 17 woodcuts from Damhoudere’s Practique iudiciaire et causes civiles (Antwerp, 1572), including the portrait of the author at right. It is the only French edition of Damhoudere’s Praxis rerum civilium, which was appeared in 14 editions between 1567 and 1660.

These two works must owe much of their popularity to their usefulness, but perhaps their illustrations also played a role in making them attractive to buyers. I know of few other early law books with so many illustrations, and none with such lively ones.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

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