By MARK F. HALL
The longing for justice has been a common theme in art throughout history and across many diverse cultures. The differences and similarities among the many ways this theme has been interpreted were the subject of Chong Ko Choi's April 19 slide-lecture program, "Law, Justice and Art: Aesthetics East and West."
Dr. Choi is a professor of law at the National University of Seoul in South Korea. He earned a doctorate in 1979 from Freiburg University in Germany, has been a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University and is currently a visiting professor at Freiburg University.
Beginning with examples from ancient Egypt, Dr. Choi showed about 90 of the several hundred slides in his collection of photographs of art related to law and justice. Many of the early works from Asia show the Chinese character symbolizing the word "justice" decorated with illustrations of various rites and rituals involving bamboo or fruits.
The Greco-Roman periods marked the introduction of a motif that has been used throughout the world ever since: Justitia, a goddess holding the scales of justice in one hand and a sword in the other. Often, though not always, shown blindfolded, this motif appears in sculptures and images in many courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Other notable sculptures symbolizing the longing for law and justice include, according to Dr. Choi, a statue of Moses by Michelangelo, in which he is portrayed receiving laws from God. Justice and law are portrayed in many famous Western paintings and in some of the earliest law books, as well. Illuminated manuscripts often contained pictures explaining legal concepts to the illiterate.
Dr. Choi is particularly interested in comparing artistic interpretations of law and justice by Eastern and Western cultures. Surprisingly, he has found that a number of similar motifs have recurred throughout both traditions for many centuries. One of these is the representation of the law as a fantastic animal. Dr. Choi noted this may have originated from the fact that the word meaning "law" in Chinese, Japanese and Korean is an abbreviation of the original word for "animal." Dr. Choi speculated that this motif may have spread from China through India, and from there was imported to the West.
In the East the animal is frequently depicted as a kind of single-horned goat, often shown butting the head of the guilty. In the Western tradition, as can be seen at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris or at the Cloisters in New York City, the animal is portrayed as a unicorn.
Another recurring motif is that of the Last Judgment, symbolizing men being held accountable for their worldly actions after their lives have ended. These images also frequently portray a great judge in the center of the picture, surrounded by assistants of some type, with those being judged shown below. In the Western tradition, the judge is Jesus Christ surrounded by his angels, while in the East it is often Buddha.
While the nature of courtrooms and punishments varies from one culture to another, their depiction has been a common theme throughout the world. In many cases, artwork provides the only record of legal systems of the past. Some artwork also provides a more vivid depiction "of the cruel and unusual aspects of punishment than any Amnesty International report."
A prolific author, Dr. Choi has more than 30 books to his credit. Two, In Search of Justice Images and Law and Art, formed the basis for this lecture, which was held in LC's Law Library with support from the Korean Trust Fund.
Dr. Choi said he is glad the Library has produced a calendar of Western legal artworks for the past three years and that he hopes that in the future it will be expanded to include artwork from other cultures. He considered his lecture at the Library to be a "significant event in the study of the growing field of legal aesthetics."
Mark Hall is a cataloger in the Copyright Office Cataloging Division.