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SYMBOLS AND ALLEGORIES OF JUSTICE AND LAW

Neither an American nor even a European invention, the image of Justice is over two thousand years old and in her various guises has been imbued with political and religious significance bv diverse cultures. Like most other allegorical figures, Justice is female and first appeared as a goddess in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. With the rise of Christianity, Justice was no longer a goddess, but became a personification of one of the Cardinal Virtues. One of Justice s most notable representations was executed by the Renaissance artist Raphael for the Vatican in Rome. Here, Justicia is a sweet-faced maiden in classical garb who raises a sword with one hand and holds a balance in the other. The putti that surround her serve to increase the tenderness of Raphaels allegory. The artist portrays her as a gentle protector of the less powerful.

Yet justice is not always represented as a nurturing figure. Rather, in many images she is intimidating and even fierce as she wields her sword, one of her primary attributes, which represents her willingness to use force to achieve her ends. Some images are gruesome and depict Justice maimed, often with severed hands. Among Justices other common attributes are scales (a symbol of decision-making), a crystal ball (an emblem of truth), and a blindfold (a sign of impartiality).

Even after the passage from goddess to allegorical figure, Justice remained a female figure with classical features and drapery. There is irony in the representation of justice as a woman, since women have only recently been able to participate in the institutions that distribute justice, and even today that participation is unequal. Yet it is that very fact that may explain justice's gender: a female figure dressed in ancient garments represents a timeless ideal, removed from the reality of historical specificity, to which individuals and governments can aspire.

With the boom in the erection of courthouses, other civic buildings, and monuments in the United States during the nineteenth century, both painted and sculptural depictions of Justice proliferated. While other symbols of the law often adorned these structures as well, the allegorical figure of Justice was seen as a particularly appropriate subject that fit into the iconography of a young America that wished to associate its law with justice. The figure of justice itself became interchangeable with what it represented, and as a result of this transformation became all the more powerful.

In American murals of the late nineteenth century, female figures were used to depict positive abstract ideas, including justice. As public murals depicting civic ideals became popular in the United States, artists shifted their representations of female allegories from beautiful, lyrical, decorative, and passive figures to heroic, epic, energetic, and "masculine" types that they believed better suited their official setting. Edward Simmonss Justice in the Criminal Courts Building in New York demonstrates this preference for the new dynamic female type. An art critic of the day described the powerful figure: "[it] is extraordinarily imposing; an abstraction ... a figure so vitalized that it looms impervious in its place, touches the imagination, and stirs the emotions, as is seldom the case with the Justitia of pictorial or decorative art. "The artist himself explained how he adapted the allegory to a specifically American context:

"My classifications were as clear as any botanists ... as to family she was a Justice of America and carried the flag. In the Middle Ages she was always represented as being blind, but in a glorious democracy she should be clear eyed. As to genus, she was of the state of New York and therefore should bear its coat of colors; as to species, she was of the city of New York and should bear its emblem. On one hand, she carried the scales for weighing the facts offered and, as either innocence or guilt must pre-dominate or there is no decision, the pans were uneven. In the other hand she carried the crystal ball, emblem of truth, surmounted by a cross, for she was a Christian Justice".

As in earlier civilizations and cultures that employed the ostensibly timeless allegory of Justice to more specific political, social, and cultural ends, American artists also fashioned Justice to suit an American context. Thus, Justice was identifiable by her attributes of sword and scales but was often accompanied by more specific accessories that identified her as exclusively American.

In addition to the dynamic image of Justice in the nineteenth century, an alternate mode of representation appeared simultaneously, that of the iconic presence. In these images, such as Edward Simmonss The Justice of the Iaw mural (c. 1895) for the Appellate Courthouse in New York, Justice appears as a solid, immovable figure. As one critic has suggested, these iconic figures assumed a role associated with women in the nineteenth century: "pillars of stability or 'repositories of moral and cultural authority.' " Here, Justice protects rather than leads, as one critic of 1902 points out: "We are reminded that Justice is not always majestic and fearful, but has a side wherein she is filled with mercy and kindness, so that she can be easily approached by the most timorous, when her protecting arms will fold softly around weak women and tender babes, and widow and the orphan will find succor at her hands".

While female allegories in America were mostly positive representations of virtue, artists occasionally employed female figures to represent Justice s negative counterpart, Injustice. In the depiction of vices, the classic ideals of feminine beauty and virtue were abandoned for a more contemporary representation of femininity gone awry. For example, in Elihu Vedder's murals Good Administration and Corrupt Legislation, the difference between Justice and Injustice is striking. In Good Administration, Justice is represented as an iconic, solid figure clad in classical drapery, who holds scales steadily in both hands. By contrast, Injustice in Corrupt legislation appears as a contemporary "fallen woman." While Justice wears classical robes that mark her as an ideal figure set apart from the corrupt world, Injustice is wholly a part of imperfect contemporary life. Her dress is decidedly unclassical, with plunging decolletage. Her disheveled hair, her exposed breasts and legs, and her indecorous manner of sitting suggest the opposite of ideal nineteenth-century womanhood, her dangerousness represented via sexuality. Despite the power of images like these, positive representations of Justice dominate public and official spaces in the United States. Injustice and Justice Maimed, allegories whose force depends upon the esteem in which the idea of Justice is held, have functioned both as warning and critique of a justice system that has strayed from its ideals.

Justice often reigned supreme as the lone virtue depicted in American courthouses during the nineteenth century, although her popularity waned by the turn of the century as tastes shifted. As the nationalistic mood heightened, the demand increased for more representations of national and local history. As the nation matured, its citizens preferred scenes and historical narratives specifically addressed to their cities, counties, and states. But while other images related to the law and justice have appeared—gavels, judges, and historic legal events—the allegory of Justice has prevailed as the most recognizable symbol of an ideal legal system.

 

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall.com Online Shopping Mall

Law Category: Prepaid Legal Services, Law , Legal, Attorney, Advice, Firm, Search, Attorneys, Lawyers, Power of Attorney, Durable, Forms

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