Lady Justice shines in Bruges

The Art of Law in Bruges takes us on a journey through the court system in our regions as it functioned between 1450 and 1750. Art played an important role. Witnesses and defendants were shown what could be their fate if they did not tell the truth. Art was also used to warn judges not to yield to temptation.

A crucial figure in the depiction of justice in art is Lady Justice, who is given a room of her own to shed light on her attributes: the balance, the sword and the blindfold.

Here too you will find the work that has made the longest journey to Bruges: Archangel Michael and Saint Agnes by the renowned artist Colijn de Coster. It is on loan from the Bob Jones Museum in Greenville, South Carolina (USA).

Assistant curator Tine Van Poucke: “Initially the blindfold had a negative connotation. It suggested that Lady Justice did not possess a keen eye, but its meaning later evolved to stress the impartiality of justice. A blindfolded Lady Justice could not see the rags or fine clothes of the defendant and as a result spoke a fair judgement. Here too you can see a genuine executioner's sword. The sword provided quick relief and was often used for members of the nobility who enjoyed preferential treatment.”

An interesting work is Iustitia and Iniustitia by Hans Vredeman de Vries. The Antwerp painter made this work for the council hall in Danzig (today's Gdansk). On the one side we see judges paying attention with their hands in their sleeves. On the other the balance is askew and the judges' open hands ready to take hold of any bribes are clearly visible.

The Art of Law runs at the Groeninge Museum in Bruges until 5 February 2017. The exhibition is curated by Tine Van Poucke and Vanessa Paumen with the assistance of legal historians Georges Martyn and Stefan Huygebaert.