Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2011 Issue

Blind Justice Was Not Always Just – An Exhibition at the Yale Law Library

Yaleexhibit2011

Blind Justice.

Blind justice is the focus of an exhibition taking place at the Yale University Law Library from now through December 16, 2011. The exhibition is entitled, The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of Law. We all know the symbol. A lady, representing justice, is seen with flowing gown, often a set of scales equally balanced in her hand. What is most distinctive, however, is the blindfold. Her eyes are covered, keeping out all sight. To her, all parties, rich and powerful, poor and humble, look the same. The blindfold has come to represent impartiality. She seeks no favors, sees no sides in a dispute, only justice.

It was not always so. As this exhibition reveals, a blindfolded Lady or Lord Justice goes back to the early days of printed books, the late 15th century. However, a blindfolded judge was not a symbol of impartiality then, but rather, of a not very bright judge. A person who couldn't or wouldn't see reality was not one in a position to make wise judgments. Indeed, the blindfolded person was a symbol of a fool. A 1497 edition of Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools depicts a court jester, a fool, blindfolding Lady Justice, bringing her down to his level.

A 16th century work concerning the criminal law and municipal ordinances for the city of Bamburg takes the image a step further. In this book, a woodcut entitled The Fool Blindfolding Justice depicts four blindfolded judges, wearing jesters' caps, with the caption, “Out of bad habit these blind fools spend their lives passing judgments contrary to what is right.”

Still, it was during the 16th century that we began to see blind justice as representing honesty and impartiality, rather than stupidity and corruption. Andrea Alciati's 1582 Opera omnia shows the central figure at a tribunal as blindfolded, apparently representing fairness. Interestingly, his colleagues are without hands, to show they have received no bribes. This nice touch for showing honesty never caught on. Perhaps one Venus de Milo is enough.

By the 18th century, the modern interpretation of blind justice fully takes hold. The pieces displayed in this exhibition run from the negative of Brant's Ship of Fools in 1497 through 1788. By then, the images have reversed their meaning.

The exhibit is curated by Judith Resnik (Arthur Liman Professor of Law), Dennis Curtis (Clinical Professor of Law Emeritus), Allison Tait (Postdoctoral Associate) and Mike Widener (Rare Book Librarian). It will be held in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery of the Lillian Goldman Law Library of the Yale Law School.

You may view items from the exhibit online by clicking this link.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.

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