Some interesting questions on legal iconography by Stefan Huygebaert


This is one of the most intriguing art works I came across when researching Belgian legal iconography, and I’m very interested in reading your interpretations, views, thoughts,… Give it a go. How do you read the different personifications in this sculpture group (here shown on a post card), by means of their attributes? What about their interaction? Bearing this in mind, what could this allegory be about, according to you? What do you think the artist had to say about law & justice?

4 thoughts on “Some interesting questions on legal iconography by Stefan Huygebaert

  1. Giulia D'Eusanio says:

    First of all the attention is focused on the center of the image, maybe a sovereign, “lined” by the two standing figures looking at him. On the left side of the sovereign there’s clearly the Justice, with her scale but no sword and not blinded; she’s standing up firmly and with her right foot on the higher step, on the sovereign level, and with her right hand on the throne; but on her right arm seems to be a snake, such as to symbolize a corrupted justice or quite the opposite a justice which “dominates” corruption. In the center the sovereign is sitting comfortably on his throne, with his sceptre but not holding it firmly in his hand; he is looking straight forward, maybe to his reign or his people; his left foot is on the higher level, more than the last step where there’s also Justice, such as is more than justice itself; below him there’s also a book (maybe of laws or a Bible), which is also maybe another symbol of his supremacy. On our left side there’s a woman with a child, she’s on the first step and her right leg is still on her “back”, such as she’s stretching out to the sovereign but in reality she’s distant from him; for me she could be the Truth and the child could be the Innocence or Purity, such as the truth could reveal it; they’re like just one single thing, and she’s like offering herself and what she implies (the innocence or purity); at least she’s on the same level of the book, of the law. The whole scene puts the elements in a sort of “hierarchy” for that time, where there’s the sovereign, then the justice, really near, which maybe also empowers his supremacy, and then laws, useful in order to reveal the truth.


  2. Sarah Penge says:

    Probably the first thing that came across my mind was something related to the birth of law: the woman with the baby represents the birth of law, the young lady the phase in which the law is applied and the old man the last phase, when the law needs a change because it is no more valid.


  3. diana martellini says:

    this is a very intresting image……it may represent an allegory of the good government: the figure on the right is of course lady justice, and i’m quite positive that she approaches to the figure in the middle (the power? the state? the goverment? a judge?) to make sure he grants to the figure in the left side (may it depict just a mother and her child, or it might be the personification of the struggling people that seek justice, or more simply the means to survive, like food) her request…….or at least she’s making sure that what “the people” is looking for is evalueted with proper care and with the attention the matter demands by the government


  4. lawadminhumanities says:

    Dear students,
    Stefan Huygebaert was so kind as to send us a reply to your comments:

    “Thanks for your comments on this. I enjoyed reading both your interpretations, especially given your attention to details such as attributes and pose, well done! I picked out this particular group because it is multi-interpretable and it caused quite a bit of discussion during the late nineteenth-century. Sarah, I liked your reading of age and evolution in the group, and I agree that age is an important element here. The clear old age of the central figure (for whom probably a Florentine man stood as a model) was a point of discussion when the art work was first presented. As a matter of fact, up until today, this group is still in its plaster version, where normally it was planned to be carved in (much more expensive) marble.
    Next to the age, the pose of the central personification, “the sovereign (…) sitting comfortably on his throne”, as Giulia calls him, was seen by some as problematic. Together with the rather old appearance and the naked torso, the central personification was interpreted by some as an image of a bored, fatigued Justice. The figure on the right, which – I agree, Giulia – could very well be called ‘Justice’, was named ‘The law’ by the artist. On the other side, indeed, most probably innocence is held by a personification named ‘Clemency’. Put together, this group was and still is titled “Justice between Clemency and Law”, or sometimes “Justice inspired by Clemency and Law”. If we then apply Giulia’s interpretation, with the element of hierarchy and a certain “offering” of both standing, female personifications, the question I thinks evolves to: is this central personification Justice, a ruler or a judge? What about the gender aspect: a sitting man, two standing women? And would you see this as a hopeful representation of the Belgian legal system around 1880, or a critique?”


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