Legal “trees”

April 30, 2008

One focus of my collecting efforts is law books with illustrations. These illustrations are often portraits of the authors or allegorical images, but I am especially interested in illustrations used to describe legal concepts.

Tree diagrams have been used since the Middle Ages, particularly in legal texts from the European continent on Roman, canon, or feudal law. They were most commonly used to diagram family relationships: trees of consanguinity dealt with relationships by blood, while trees of affinity described relationships by marriage.

In 16th-century law books, trees were often used to describe other legal concepts and relationships. The “arbor dividui et individui” at right is one example. It comes from Arbor dividui et individui by Martin Sanchez (1538), bound at the end of Luca da Penne’s commentary on the Code of Justinian. The “arbor dividui et individui” diagrams different types of legal actions regarding stipulations and contracts having to do with divisible and indivisible things (thanks to my colleague Jennifer Nelson, reference librarian at the Robbins Collection, UC-Berkeley, for deciphering the meaning).

See my gallery of legal “trees” on Flickr for other examples.

The Arbor dividui et individui by Martin Sanchez is quite rare. The first edition (Toulouse, 1519) is held by the Robbins Collection, the Bavarian State Library, and France’s Bibliotheque Nationale. The only other copy of our 1538 edition is at the Baden-Württemberg State Library. Our copy is part of the Roman-Canon Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.


Rare Book Librarian

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