Justice as a Sign of the Law: Ripa’’s Iconologie

Two codifiers of Renaissance iconography, Cesare Ripa and Andrea Alciati, generated compendia of icons and emblems, replayed by didactic invocations in art and literature, in politics and theology, and in popular pastimes from tarot cards to the satirical press. Through these multiple forms, a host of Virtues and Vices became part of the common visual vocabulary in Europe.

Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia marks the beginning of a shift in the meaning attributed to the blindfold. First published, without any pictures, in Rome in 1593, it was printed with images in 1603 and regularly thereafter, appearing in more than forty editions in eight languages.

Ripa detailed various kinds of Justice, each with her own set of attributes. One was Divine Justice (“Giustitia Divina”) and the other six were variations on “Worldly” Justice. All were clear-sighted but one, and sight itself was specifically admired in the descriptions of various Justices. For example, Ripa’s “Justice According to Aulus Gellius” – from the Padua Ripa of 1625 – is said to have “piercing eyes” and to wear a necklace where “an eye is portrayed” because “Plato said that Justice sees all and that, from ancient times, priests were called seers of all things.” “Divine Justice” (from the 1698 Amsterdam edition), was similarly clear-sighted, with scale, sword, and a dove in a halo above her head to invoke the Holy Spirit.

The sole version Ripa described as blindfolded was called Justice (or sometimes Earthly Justice). As a 1611 edition explained:

This is the type of Justice that is exercised in the Tribunal of judges and secular executors. She is wearing white because judges should be without the stain of personal interest or of any other passion that might pervert Justice, and this is also why her eyes are bandaged – and thus she cannot see anything that might cause her to judge in a manner that is against reason.

Ripa, Cesare. Iconologie (Paris: Mathieu Guillemot, 1644). Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Ripa, Cesare. Iconologie (Amsterdam: Adrian Braakman, 1698). Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Ripa, Cesare. Della novissima iconologia (Padua: Tozzi, 1625). Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript 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.

 

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