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

Metrics of Law

Measure, number and weight are the foundations underpinning law and justice. Numerous relevant images of artefacts documenting the importance of spatial and temporal metrics for the finding of justice can be found in photo archives. One example are the balance scales of Iustitia, which point to the arithmetic of weighing and measuring that is supposed to lead to just verdicts, while at the same time calling to mind the weighing of souls at the Last Judgment. It is based on the Christian notion that God created the world from chaos using a compass and became a righteous judge by measuring and counting. The deus geometra is reflected not only in the allegory of architecture, but also in the combination of geometry and justice, where the concept of divine and worldly justice is linked to arithmetic and geometric tools. Here the scales also represent the notion of iustitia commutativa – according to Aristotle the judge’s corrective judgment post facto, which is intended to restore equality after unfair dealings. The sound of the bell, like the one of the Bargello, in turn measured the beginning and end of a legal act. Chronometric instruments such as sun dials and compasses were central to commercial and mercantile law. In the 16th century Egnazio Danti’s quadrant on the façade of Santa Maria Novella made it possible ito recalculate time in terms of the Gregorian reform of the Julian calendar. In public spaces market signs, such as swords, flags, shields and three-finger salutes indicate the freedom and jurisdiction of the market and on the walls of houses locally applicable measure specifications are still found immortalised in stone today. The measure of torture was determined by the judge, yet the torture equipment predetermined the measure with which the confession was to be extracted, step by step, from the defendant.


Census of population, scene from the life of Mary, Giuseppe and Apollonio Assini, 1724/1741, Chapel of Villa Bichi Borghesi, Scorgiano (Monteriggioni). Photograph by Roberto Sigismondi, KHI, Photothek, Inv. 559291.

Five clerks, Giovanni Battista Caporali, Perugia, Archivio di Stato, Sussidio Focolare 1524. Photograph: Carlo Fiorucci, 1980, KHI, Photothek, Inv. 420262.

Notarial counting of a family’s inventory, Ghirlandaio workshop, fresco, c. 1482. Florence: Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino. Photograph by Cipriani, KHI, Photothek, inv. 41335.

Allegory of Justice, bronze. Florence: Piazza della Trinità. Photograph by Ralph Lieberman. KHI, Photothek, inv. 475391.

Allegory of Architecture with compass, Florence, Campanile di Giotto. Photograph by Brogi. KHI, Photothek, inv. 41596.

Bell, Bartolomeo Pisano, bronze, 1249. Florence: Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Foto: Unidentified photographer, KHI, Photothek, inv. 80981

Astronomical mural quadrant with sundial, Egnazio Danti, marble and metal, 1574. Florence: façade of Santa Maria Novella. Photograph by Ivo Bazecchi. KHI, Photothek, inv. 540032.

Market signs at town hall in Augsburg. Photograph by Karl Frölich. Karl Frölich Collection. Max Planck Institute of European Legal History, Frankfurt/M., inv. SF=F0000D025101a

Market measures (brick measures) on the walls of the “Mauthaus” in Nuremberg. Photograph by Karl Frölich. Karl Frölich Collection. Max Planck Institute of European Legal History, Frankfurt/M., inv. SF=F0000D025401a

Market sign of immunity, stone hand. Photograph by Karl Frölich. Karl Frölich Collection. Max Planck Institute of European Legal History, Frankfurt/M., inv. SF=F0000D058901a

Freedom stone in Sankt Gallen. Photograph by anonymous. Karl von Amira archive, Munich, folder 18, image 1.

Thumbscrews from the Nationalmuseum München, Karl von Amira, photographs and ink drawings. Karl von Armira archive, Munich, folder 36: torture, torture equipment, V. 90m-90t.




© KHI in Florence | 09.08.2020 16:55:17