The Walters Art Museum Presents The Art of Law: Legal Documents From The Collection Of The Walters Art Museum
Baltimore–From Jan. 14 through April 9, 2006, the Walters Art Museum will present The Art of Law: Legal Documents from the Collection of the Walters Art Museum, a richly illustrated collection of 17 books and manuscripts pertaining to the study, practice and administration of the law from the 12th to 15th centuries. The crafting of the manuscripts, their impressive format and their beautiful illuminations contribute as much as the text to the understanding and the interpretation of the law.
This exhibition examines the rediscovery of Roman law in the Middle Ages and how it influenced the codification of canon law, the law of the church. Canon law held jurisdiction over matters such as wills, defamation, marriages and the conduct of the clergy. The show also highlights the process of codification and publication of the laws of individual cities and the reemergence of law as an esteemed profession in medieval Europe.
“Presenting manuscripts never before exhibited in the museum, this focus show is a step in making this fascinating field known to the public,” said Martina Bagnoli, assistant curator of manuscripts and rare books.
The Art of Law: Legal Documents from the Collection of the Walters Art Museum has been generously sponsored by Hodes, Ulman, Pessin and Katz, P.A.
This exhibition will present some of the cases brought before ecclesiastical tribunals in the Middle Ages. The modern public will find many similarities with contemporary life. In the 13th-century judges had to answer instances of annulment of marriage on the basis of impotence, false pretence and presumed death as well as rule over blatant instances of corruption.
The criteria to argue and rule over these cases were found in large volumes for the instruction of students called Decreta. First assembled by the monk Gratianus, the Decretum explored different cases of the law, tracing the theological implications behind the courts’ decisions. These compilations enabled both students and seasoned practitioners of church law to argue cases presenting similar facts or to construct arguments involving issues that had not yet been addressed by the ecclesiastical courts. Often the Decreta were accompanied by lengthy explanations written by well-known university law professors. These commentaries were written in the margins surrounding the main text. The layout of these law books, which were written by hand, was an extraordinary feat of page design. In some books, precious illuminations were added so that the reader could capture the essence of the case at a glance.
In the Middle Ages, at a time when human and divine law were closely linked, the dispensation of forgiveness was informed by the same philosophical undercurrent pinning the writings of the Decreta. Among the documents in the exhibition is a rare papal bull (1331) signed by bishop Beraldus of Fargues (1314-1333) granting forty days of indulgence to whoever visited or gave alms to the Church of Notre Dame de Fargues at Albi in France during specific feast days. If sins could not be atoned by pilgrimage or donations, a confessor might peruse the Summa Confessorum, a popular manual for priests receiving confessions, so that they could find a just punishment for the expiation of sins. One such Summa on view is illustrated with a marvelous image of a medieval tribunal-lawyers and priests sits at their desks, each with an open law book in front of him, while God presides as Supreme Judge.
The Walters Art Museum is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets and is one of only a few museums worldwide to present a comprehensive history of art from the third millennium B.C. to the early 20th century. Among its thousands of treasures, the Walters holds the finest collection of ivories, jewelry, enamels and bronzes in America and a spectacular reserve of illuminated manuscripts and rare books. The Walters’ Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Ethiopian and western medieval art collections are among the best in the nation, as are the museum’s holdings of Renaissance and Asian art. Every major trend in French painting during the 19th century is represented by one or more works in the Walters’ collection.
Peabody Court is the official hotel of the Walters Art Museum. This historic property is just around the corner from the museum and features George’s, a ful