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The Faces of Renaissance Law – Pic of the Week

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A portrait of Antonio Capodolista (1420-1489), a teacher of canon law originally from Padua

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.

Jurist Raniero Arsendi (d. 1358)

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)



(Above) Jurist Nicolaus Castrensis; (Right) name of figure cut out of the LC copy; (Below Left) Paulus de Castro (d. 1441); (Below Right) Pope Pius V (1504-1572).





Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for this interesting post! It took me some time before I found a website with the page with the lawyer whose name has been erased in the LC copy. The website of the Virtuelles Kupferstichkabinett, a portal to several German graphical collections,, contains references to this iconographical resource, see The edition owned by the LC is rare indeed. The image at the German portal site – from a copy at the Herzog-August-Bilbiothek in Wolfenbüttel – shows Riccardo Malumbra (around 1259/1264-1334), a lawyer born in Cremona. The missing words are “Ricardus Malumbra Cremonensis”.

  2. Hello, I have in my possession the Paulus Castrensis portrait from this edition. The text engraved on plate under image is ‘PAULUS CASTRENSIS PATER Anno MCCCCLXVII’. I am curious, what this date 1467 refers to? It does not coincide with the Paulus Castrensis death… Regards, Alexander Rivlin, PhD, Highland Park, IL.

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