Advertisement

Addressing the Law: Costume as Signifier in Medieval Legal Miniatures

  • Susan L’Engle
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Much of what we know of the history of costume has been compiled from depictions of clothing and accessories in works of art from all periods and in all media, representing religious and secular themes. A little-explored avenue has been the function of garments and textiles in expressing the law, as found in illustrations to thirteenth- and fourteenth-century manuscripts of Roman and canon law. Here illuminators manipulated elements of fashion, fit, accessories, and hairstyle, to characterize passages that discuss, for example, the division of authority, marriage contracts, crime and punishment, or the proper behavior of laymen and clerics. The physical appearance of human beings and their surroundings in these pictorial compositions informs us about contemporaneous aesthetic conventions, and this visual construction of cultural identity gives us an idea of how the viewer was expected to react to the image. Along with their often ingenious interpretation of textual themes, legal miniatures cast some light as well on the ways in which artists visually presented complex juridical concepts to medieval viewers. This chapter will explore three basic levels at which textiles and dress are used in a legal context: first, as background scenery; second, to identify protagonists, and last, to connote or explicate a point of law.

Keywords

Fourteenth Century Background Scenery Bodleian Library VISUal constructIOn Textual Theme 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 3.
    Siena, Biblioteca Communale degli Intronati, MS K.I.10; illustrated in Grazia Vailati von Schoenburg Waidenburg, “La miniatura nei manoscritti universitari giuridici e filosofici conservati a Siena,” in Lo Studio e i testi: Il Hbro universitario a Siena (secoli XII–XVII), ed. Mario Aschen (Siena: Comune di Siena, Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati, 1996), 79–144, figs. 13,14,17,18.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    For marriage customs in Tuscany and northern Italy ca. 1300–1500, see especially “Zachanas, or the Ousted Father: Nuptial Rites in Tuscany between Giotto and the Council of Trent,” in Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985), 178–212, for a detailed discussion of European marriage miniatures and their iconography, see the recent dissertation byGoogle Scholar
  3. Kathleen Nieuwenhuisen, Het Jawoord in Beeld Huwelijksafbeeldingen in middeleeuwsc Handschriften (1250–1400) van het Liber Extra (Ph. D. Dissertation, Academisch Proefschrift, Vrije Universiteit te Amsterdam, 24 November 2000).Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    For legal dress in general, see W. N. Hargreaves-Mawdsley, A History of Legal Dress in Europe Until the End of the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963).Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Jonathan Alexander, “Labeur and Paresse: Ideological Representations of Medieval Peasant Labor,” Art Bulletin v. LXXII (1990), 438.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    In thirteenth-century manuscripts, both manumittees and thieves were represented in this manner. Some examples are Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Canon misc. 495, fols. 171 and 216v; Toledo, Archivo y Biblioteca Capitulares, MS 32–15, fol. 185; Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, MS D.533. Inf., fol. 175. For some iconographical interpretations of hair and headgear see François Garnier, Le langage de l’image au moyen âge: Signification et symbolique, v. II: Grammaire des gestes (Paris: Le Léopard d’Or, 1982, especially 78–83);Google Scholar
  7. Ruth Mellinkoff, “Demonic Winged Headgear,” Viator 16 (1985), 367–381ff; and her Outcasts: Signs of Otherness in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages (Berkeley: Los Angeles, and Oxford: University of California Press, 1993), for the iconography of malefactors in general.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 20.
    See Pieter Spierenburg, The Spectacle of Suffering (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 13–20.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    See the numerous illustrations ranging from the late twelfth to the fifteenth century in Anthony Melnikas, The Corpus of the Miniatures in the Manuscripts of the Decretum Gratiani [Studia Gratiana XVI-XVIII] (Rome: 1975), vol. 2, 631–54.Google Scholar
  10. 31.
    “while helping her husband dress, the wife casts a concerned glance towards the three children behind her.” Quoted from Patrick M. de Winter, “Bolognese Miniatures at the Cleveland Museum,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 70 (October 1983): 328.Google Scholar
  11. 35.
    See Lodovico Frati, La vita privata di Bologna dal secolo XIII al XVII (Bologna: Zamchelli, 1900 [reprint Bologna: Arnaldo Form Editore, 1986]), 49–51Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Désirée G. Koslin and Janet E. Snyder 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan L’Engle

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations