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

  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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