Ahead of a lecture by co-curator Christopher Platts GRD ’17 slated for mid-November, an exhibition entitled “Representing the Law in the Most Serene Republic: Images of Authority from Renaissance Venice” is on view at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, containing a variety of mediums that spans Yale’s art and library collections.
The exhibition includes illuminated manuscripts, reproduced images, etchings, coins, medals and legal documents that retell the narrative of Renaissance Venetian law and represent a combination of resources from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Yale University Art Gallery collection and the Law Library.
Platts highlighted the “myth of Venice” — the widely celebrated success of the Venetian republic’s legal system during the 15th and 16th centuries — as a reason to focus the exhibition on the Renaissance period.
“It was a challenge because I’m used to thinking of works of art for their visual beauty and historical context,” Platts said. “It was a new experience understanding law and government in this way and trying to find intersections between art and law.”
Platts — who curated the exhibition alongside Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Law Library — added that he and Widener discovered that some of the figures mentioned in the legal documents were also those pictured on coins from the YUAG’s collection. One such example is the head of the Venetian government, who gave permission for several illuminated books and manuscripts now owned by Yale to leave Italy in the 17th century.
Heather Nolin, Assistant Director of Exhibitions, Programming, and Education at the YUAG, highlighted the importance of understanding the law via an artistic lens through a showcase at the law library.
“Our Founding Fathers looked back to the Venetian model for our own government, so looking back to the genesis of these ideas is certainly very important,” she said.
Platts said he chose to represent the more complex concepts of Venetian law through visual resources and objects on loan from the YUAG, in lieu of providing many textual explanations.
Nolin added that she was impressed by the reverence of beauty found in Venetian policy documents, noting the significance of Platt’s use of visual resources to convey Venetian principles of governance.
“They had the same aesthetic appreciation in their legal documents [as they did in their visual art],” she said. “I think that speaks volumes to the importance of beauty in a society, as well as the visual vocabulary they were using as markers of the Venetian republic.”
The limited exhibition space — two glass cases — compelled the co-curators to focus on the showcase narrative and make full use of the physical space.
Widener added he is in the process of supplementing the Law Library’s vast book collection with illustrations. The library currently houses approximately 1,000 volumes of Italian law manuscripts and books, most of which are statutes.
“The opportunity to put a face or figure to the main actors of the story that we tried to get across… was great,” Platts said. “It was a chance to try to combine the two fields in a way that was both historically interesting and visually appealing.”
The show runs through Dec. 15.
Clarification, Oct. 8: This article has been updated to clarify that Heather Nolin works at the YUAG, rather than the Law Library.