Visual idea(l)s of law and justice. A legal, art and cultural historical inquiry into the iconology of Belgian law (1795-1914)

Visuele noties en idealen van recht en gerechtigheid. Een rechts-, kunst- en cultuurhistorisch onderzoek naar de iconologie van het Belgisch recht (1795-1914)
Start - End 
2015 - 2018 (ongoing)



The period known as the long 19th century (1789-1914) is characterised as a formative phase, bylegal historians for the current Belgian legal system; by art historians, for the current visual mediaand Belgian art; and, by political and cultural historians, for the Belgian nation state anddemocracy. For our current society, research has shown that we have our closest encounters withlaw through visual media (cinema, TV,…), and that the political elite creates symbols throughwhich they legitimise their power. These two aspects have not been researched for Belgium’s 19thcentury. I will bridge this gap by analysing the official imagery – monuments, prints, medals,…ordered by the government –, which had to express the political elite’s ideal of law and justicetowards the mass public. Focussing on Constitutional and Criminal legal history, a corpus of imageswill be collected. Using the art historical method of iconological interpretation, this corpus ofofficial legal imagery will be filed in a database; explained; and linked to its legal culture, which iswhat the government and its actors thought the law is or should be(come). By focussing on casestudies, this interdisciplinary research will thus show how Belgian 19th-century legal cultureevolved and, from a comparative perspective, differed from the scrutinized French case (legalhistory); how artists dealt with such official assignments (art history); and how imagery wasemployed by the government (cultural history).