One of the most powerful aspects of the Vidal Mayor—the subject of my previous three posts—is how it portrays people engaged in everyday legal activities and disputes. The illuminated manuscript shows the law in action, and it depicts law as a human creation.
In this respect, the images in the Getty’s manuscript remind me a bit of the judicial bobbleheads I discussed in my first video.
But there’s something even deeper going on, because the figures are also meant to embody principles of jurisprudence. They are meant both to represent and to set in motion a way of thinking about law.
In a fine academic article about the subject, one scholar describes the significance of the images this way:
The functioning of [their] representative mode can be grasped when perceived in the context of the larger meaning attributed to the category of the imago in the Middle Ages: not only as a symbolic material product—miniatures or metaphors—but equally as a mental image, an imaginary mental operation, in this case the juridical enunciation of a case. Through this structure, the Vidal Mayor’s images adopt the formula of juridical casuistry. Not only do they reproduce the casuistic methodology by giving yet another juridical example for each fuero, but also the image itself reproduces the casuistic procedure undertaken by the judge as he is shown stating a particular case in his court. Through reproducing the methods of jurisprudence, the images of this manuscript on customary law, make up, in this manner, the core of juridical complexities. Their visual movement originates in the court, moves through the particular case stated, and then takes us back to the court where the fuero is being applied—thus to the text.
Like this scholar, I’m struck most powerfully by how the images of the Vidal Mayor depict legal ideas through human gestures—especially hands.
And so, without saying more, I’ll include some of those hands here—and let the images do the talking … partly because the hands are so evocative of legal and social relationships, but also just because they’re beautiful. For medieval atmosphere, I recommend playing this soundtrack in the background (it’s from roughly the same time and place).