The latest addition to our Flickr site is “Dutch legal dissertations”. This set of images is another product of my interest in illustrated law books.
The Lillian Goldman Law Library owns thousands of dissertations for doctorates in law from the 17th-18th centuries, most of them from German universities. The title pages of the German dissertations tend to be fairly plain and text-heavy (see the “German legal dissertations” set on Flickr for a taste), although the woodcut headpieces and initials can be quite pretty; you can view several examples in the “Justitia - initials” set.
However, almost all of the 18th-century Dutch dissertations have ornate engraved title pages, like the dissertation on hunting law shown here, one shown here, Dissertatio juridica inauguralis: De venatione (1734), submitted by Nicolaus de Gijselaar for his doctorate in law from Leiden University. Note that the title page is larger than the rest of the 24-page pamphlet. This is another common feature of Dutch legal dissertations. One hypothesis is that the title pages did double duty as broadsides advertising these important academic events, where the candidate would formally present his dissertation to the assembled faculty and dignitaries.
I have yet to find the same engraving re-used in another dissertation. This indicates both the prosperity of the Dutch Republic and the importance placed on the dissertations.
At this writing, “Dutch legal dissertations” contains images of only 10 dissertations, but more are on their way. I am scouring the uncataloged dissertations for additional examples.
– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian