Justice on display at Law Library

The exhibition at the Lillian Goldman Law Library feature rare illiustrated books.
The exhibition at the Lillian Goldman Law Library feature rare illiustrated books. Photo by Alison Greenberg.

While students bemoaned the injustice of their workloads during finals week, the Lillian Goldman Law Library welcomed the “Images of Justice” exhibit, showcasing a set of the library’s rare illustrated law books.

The exhibition, located on level L2 of the library, displays four European legal volumes from the 16th through 18th centuries depicting Lady Justice with sword and scales. She appears in various contexts with other symbolic figures, including the sister virtues, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude, and a dog and snake, representing friendship and animosity. Curator Seth Quidachay-Swan, a Southern Connecticut State College student pursuing his master’s degree in library science, compiled the exhibit from books in the Goldman Library’s rare books collection as part of his internship in Rare Books and Reference Services at the Law Library.

"Praxis Rerum Civilium," by Joost de Damhoudere.
"De Jure Belli ac Pacis," by Hugo Grotius. The title translates to "On the Laws of War and Peace."
"Dei Delitti e delle pene," a treatise by Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria. In English, the title means "Of Crimes and Punishment."
"De Jure Belli ac Pacis," by Hugo Grotius. The title translates to "On the Laws of War and Peace."

Quidachay-Swan said he chose some of the most detailed, iconographic images of Justice in the collection when organizing the exhibit.

One of the images, from Cesare Beccaria’s Of Crimes and Punishments, depicts Lady Justice turning away in disgust from a severed head, representing her aversion to cruel, arbitrary punishments. Another from 16th century Antwerp shows a two-faced Justice: one face, blindfolded, making unbiased judgments, while the other, with full sight, delivers the punishments with a sword.

“Usually people just think of law books as words, words, words — boring collections of dense language, but these illustrations are unusual and exciting,” said Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian and lecturer in legal research at the Law Library.

The exhibition was inspired by Widener’s collection of antique legal illustrations currently displayed in an online photo gallery.

Quidachay-Swan and Widener said the exhibition will help to explore law, morality and politics by providing visual representations to accompany the concepts in the books, bringing some seminal texts out of hiding.

Yale Law School professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis LAW ’66 also provided background for the exhibition with their study on legal imagery, which they expanded into a book titled “Representing Justice: From Renaissance Town Halls to 21st Century Democratic Courtrooms,” to be released by Yale University Press in the coming year. Their work provided Quidachay-Swan the context for a2,000-year-old tradition of depicting feminine Justice as an allegory for the legal system, the curator said.

Resnik praised Quidachay-Swan’s use of diverse sources from a German Renaissance texts on international law to an illustration from Beccaria’s tome on criminal justice.

“The pictures and imagery help us to understand the normative political purposes of public court-based processes,” Resnik said in an e-mail.

Resnik and Curtis plan to teach a course at the Law School next spring based on the book and images of the political imagination, Resnik said. Students in the class may be given the opportunity to curate an addition to the small display Quidachay-Swan has started, Widener added.

The exhibition will run through the month of March and is open to anyone with a Yale ID.