In Memoriam: José Calvo González (1956-2020)

José Calvo González
September 15, 2020

“Sostener entre las manos un libro antiguo es como sustentar el tiempo.”
[“An ancient book is like a time machine in your hands.”]
     – José Calvo González

My late friend José Calvo González was not well known in the U.S., but in Portugal, Latin America, and his native Spain he was the leading scholar in the law and literature field. As Professor of the Philosophy of Law at the Universidad de Málaga, he published dozens of books and articles, among them Borges en el espejo de los juristas (2016) and El alma y la ley: Tolstói entre juristas (2010). In addition to publishing, he tirelessly promoted the work of others through collective works such as La cultura literaria del derecho: alianzas transatlánticas (2019), and in his lively blog, Iurisdictio-lex Malacitana.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to José because of his enthusiastic support for our Rare Book Collection over the years. He was directly responsible for several of my acquisitions of illustrated law. José was a committed bibliophile, and we shared an interest in the illustrated law books that I have pursued for our collection. Indeed, two of my final purchases for the Rare Book Collection are books that José alerted me to. One of these is De iure maritimo & navali (Stockholm, 1651) by Johann Loccenius. This work on comparative maritime law has a lovely added engraved title page, showing Justitia standing in the prow of a sailing ship.

The other book is the two-volume Institutiones romano-hispanae (Valencia, 1788-1789) by Juan Sala Bañuls. It came to my attention when José told me about the first edition of the work, published under the title Vinnius Castigatus, which he owned. He described it to me as an effort to “hispanicize” the commentary on Justinian’s Institutes by the Dutch jurist Arnold Vinnius, a popular textbook that was nevertheless suspect in Catholic Spain because Vinnius was a Protestant. The frontispiece shows Justitia handing the Siete Partidas (the medieval Spanish law code) to the Spanish king and the Institutes to the Roman emperor. José captioned the image, “Con la justicia se afirma el trono” (“Justice affirms the throne”), i.e. that justice is the basis for the monarch’s authority and for law in general. As a visual metaphor for the importance of legal literature, the image has few equals.

José also had an eye for law-related popular and children’s literature. Thanks to him, our Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection has El Juez (“The Judge”), part of the popular Lucky Luke series of comic books by the Belgian cartoonist Morris, in both a Spanish translation and the original French. Other titles José led me to included Les arrêts illustrés (2017) by Astrid Boyer, and a 4-volume set of Les tribunaux comiques by Jules Moinaux (1882-1889).

Although José Calvo’s main work was in law and literature, he made a number of significant contributions to book history. Letra y duelo: imprentas de viudas en Málaga (siglos XVII-XIX), the catalogue of an exhibition he organized in 2009, is an innovative study of the role of women in printing and publishing in early modern Málaga. The catalogue is now available online, thanks to the Ayuntamiento de Málaga. In another exhibition catalogue, El derecho escrito: la cultura del libro e impresos jurídicos en las colecciones privadas malagueñas, siglos XVI-XIX (2005), he studied legal culture of the 16th-19th centuries through the books that local jurists left behind. In addition, he marked the 30th anniversary of his law school at the Universidad de Málaga with a catalogue of their rare book collection, In theatro librorum: fondo antiguo en la Blblioteca de la Facultad de Derecho (2009). All three are gifts to the Law Library from their distinguished author.

In addition to supporting our Rare Book Collection with gifts and guidance, José was a tireless supporter of our public programming, giving wide publicity to our exhibitions and publications through his blog. He took great pleasure in encouraging and promoting the work of others. The Law Library and I are among many, many individuals and institutions who are indebted to him for his enthusiastic support.

José and I were friends for twenty years, yet I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person until his visit to the Law Library exactly one year ago. Along with his friends and my wife, we spent several wonderful hours with the books in our Rare Book Collection. It was a long-awaited and memorable event, one of the highlights of my career. I regret that there won’t be another.

Adiós, hermano.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

José Calvo González (seated) with friends in the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room, 14 September 2019. Photo courtesy of Raoul Osorio Berardinetti.

José Calvo González (right) with Mike and Emma Widener, 14 September 2019. José was moved by Emma’s story of her daughter Clara’s encounter with Jorge Luis Borges.

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