How many times have you been stumbling through the dicey Latin of a fifteenth century legal treatise only to stop and wonder what sort of person was behind that pretentious turn of phrase that you just couldn’t interpret?
Well, now you can catch a glimpse of the greatest legal authors of the Middle Ages and Renaissance for yourself. The Law Library has recently acquired a copy of an exceedingly rare collection of engraved renaissance portraits of the most celebrated lawyers of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries: Illustrium Virorum Iureconsultor[um]…, by Marco Mantova Benavides (1489-1582), printed by Bolognino Zaltieri (Venice, 1570).
This unusual work presents the faces of some of the most prominent jurists of European history along with some biographical information for each, namely the jurisdiction in which the person depicted worked and the dates of his professional activity. The collection contains twenty-four folio-sized portraits. I will leave it to you to determine whether beauty and wisdom coincide.
In fact, our acquisition was a two-for-one special, because bound with this title was another visually stunning item entitled: Imagines quarundam principium, et illustrium virorum, printed in Venice by Bolognino Zaltieri and Niccolo Valegio in 1569, which as the title suggests, contains a wealth of portraits of princes and other prominent men of sixteenth century Italy. This book contains thirty portraits of uncommonly high artistry.
A work of unusual content, this collection conjures up some idea of the prestige and public profile that practitioners of the law could attain in Renaissance Italy, giving us a hint of the social horizons under which they worked.
(Photos by Donna Sokol)