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The Nomos of Images. Manifestations of the Law in Picture Atlases and Photo Archives

On Passing Judgment: Judge, Lawmaker, Tyrant

The court can be compared to the theatre whose basic premise is the unity of space, time and action. Judicial truth is conveyed through language and it is the result of an internal procedure whose conclusion and highlight is the verdict of the judge presiding over the court. The figure central to the judicial process varies in the pictorial evidence, ranging from the depiction of the good and righteous to that of the manipulable and tyrannical judge. In Botticelli’s “Calumny of Appelles” the judging King Ptolemy I. is shown with ass’s ears. He is flanked by the allegories of Ignorance and Suspicion, but also Jealousy, Treachery and Deception that are accompanying Calumy step in front of his throne. Founder of the Roman Republic Lucius Iunius Brutus epitomises the law as defender of the Roman legal system: he had his sons executed, because they were about to betray the Republic. He holds a staff and offering cup, the Roman attributes of justice, in his hands. Like King Solomon he is depicted as an exempary judge in decorative programmes on facades of public buildings and in court rooms. St. Thomas touching the side wound of Christ symbolises the judicial ideal of getting as close as possible to the truth, in order to be able to pass righteous judgment. This biblical episode was frequently depicted in civil courts such as the Mercanzia, the venue for legal proceedings of the five largest guilds of Florence. Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s image of the podestà, the epitome of judicial and authoritative power in the community of Siena, is contrasted with the image of Tyranny who, like a judge of Satanic origin, sits enthroned above the chaos and the violently disrupted order of the polity.


Former Tribunale. Florence: Complesso San Filippo Neri. Photograph by Hilde Lotz-Bauer, before 1940. KHI, Photothek, inv. 382366

Sala dell’Udienza with Iustitia. Florence, portal of Palazzo Vecchio. Photograph by Luigi Artini, 1987. KHI, Photothek, inv. 451432

The Calumny of Apelles, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1494–1498, oil painting. Florence: Galleria degli Uffizi. Photograph by Brogi, before 1900. KHI, Photothek, inv. 2830

The Calumny of Apelles, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1494–1498, oil painting. Florence: Galleria degli Uffizi. Photograph by Alinari, before 1925. KHI, Photothek, inv. 19074

Martyrdom of St. John with judge, Filippino Lippi, fresco, 1487–1502. Florence: Santa Maria Novella. Photograph by Paolo Bacherini. KHI, Photothek, inv. 583190

Brutus, the Good Judge, Maso di Banco, fresco, c. 1340. Florence: Sala dell’Udienza, Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana. Photograph by Luigi Artini. KHI, Photothek, inv. 483310

King Solomon in the Sala di Udienza, Palazzo Communale, Lucignano (Arezzo), fresco. Photograph by Luigi Artini, KHI, Photothek, inv. 382040

Julius Caesar as a judge, Luigi Ademolle, Palazzo Comunale, Sala del Consiglio, Lucignano (Arezzo). Photograph by Roberto Sigismondi, KHI, Photothek, Inv. 581234

Doubting Thomas, Giovanni di Francesco Toscani, oil on panel, c. 1420. Florence: Galleria dell’Accademia (formerly at the Tribunale of the Mercanzia). Photograph by Anderson, before 1924. KHI, Photothek, inv. 14633

Christ and St. Thomas, Andrea del Verrocchio, bronze, 1486. Florence: Orsanmichele. Photograph by Brogi. KHI, Photothek, inv. 18042

Allegory of Good Government with the virtues Iustitia, Fortitudo and Temperantia, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, fresco, 1338–39. Siena: Sala dei Nove, Palazzo Pubblico. Photograph by Fotografia Lensini. Archivio Grassi, KHI, Photothek, inv. 241629

Tyranny with the vices Greed, Pride and Vanity, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, fresco, 1338–39. Siena: Palazzo Pubblico, Sala dei Nove. Cliché, KHI, Photothek, inv. 205812




© KHI in Florence | 10.08.2020 07:56:57