Justinian’s Institutes, illustrated

Michael Widener

Among the most outstanding illustrated law books of all times is an edition of Justinian’s Institutes published by a member of the Giunta printing dynasty of Venice, Instituta novissime recognita aptissimisq[ue] figuris exculta (Venice: Luca-Antonio Giunta, 1516). The “aptissimae figurae” are small woodcut vignettes that introduce 22 of the titles in the Institutes. Below is the woodcut for Inst. 2.10, De testamentis ordinandis (Of the execution of wills), showing a man dictating his last will from his sickbed. The Roman emperor Justinian promulgated the Institutes as a textbook for students of Roman law, and remained the standard introduction to Roman law for students throughout the medieval and early modern periods.

All 22 woodcuts are in a new gallery on our Flickr site, Justinian’s Institutes illustrated. The images appear first in two-page spreads, showing them in context, and then as cropped images of the woodcuts themselves. The image titles cite the title of the Institutes where the woodcut appears (i.e. “Inst.2.10” is Book 2, Title 10 of the Institutes), followed by the title in Latin and an English translation taken from R. W. Lee, The Elements of Roman Law, with a Translation of the Institutes of Justinian (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1944).

This edition of the Institutes is stylistically a companion to the three heavily illustrated volumes of the Corpus Juris Canonici that Luca-Antonio Giunta published in 1514: Gratian’s Decretum, the Decretals of Gregory IX, and the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, all of which we were fortunate to acquire in 2009.


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