The image is the first hinge in our mind on which words are articulated in figurative sequences, alphabets that are transformed into sounds. In art, the human figure can be rendered generically by a few anatomical elements or expressed in detail in a particular attitude, with a set of attributes that reveal the circumstances in which it is taken and illustrate its function and history. Attitudes, accompanying figures and a long series of 'companions', some of whom are more present than others, mark the passages of Justice and his complex journey.
Aulus Gellius, a Latin jurist and writer of the 2nd century AD, sketched a "typical" portrait of Iustitia: a young woman with a solemn, dignified appearance, a stern expression, a furrowed brow and eyes that were both sombre and full of energy. As Gellius points out, these are symbolic features that are easy to interpret: "Justice is virginal because it is incorruptible, strong because it knows no submission, austere because it leaves no room for prayers or flattery, fearsome because it is the implacable enemy of those who choose not to respect it".
However, this characterisation contains only part of the earlier stories, which are far more complex and shed light on a much older horizon where the order and harmony of the parts were the emanation of higher divinities. It was up to the sovereign, the eponymous hero or community leader, to be the transmitter and enforcer of good governance. This is the background to the Imago Iustitiae exhibition, on show at the Museo Correr in Venice until 3 September.
The exhibition traverses time in search of the formation of the primitive concept of Justice and shows the changes of the image over the centuries, masterfully rendered by great artists of all times. Idea, principle, concept, procedure, execution? Capturing the image of an abstraction (justice) and trying to pass it on so that it can be understood is a very difficult exercise. The greatest artists of all time have endeavoured to do this in an attempt to grasp and reproduce a common need, a set of rules, procedures and gestures that regulate and structure living. The long path of Justice, expressed as a Person, becoming an eternal image comes from far away, it welcomes and includes significant and complementary figures, but also elements abstracted from its manifestations, peculiarities such as film sequences and told stories of its procedures.
People of the imagination, defined as Allegories, summarise and recall the many faces of an idea describing the long path of civilisation, summarised with symbols and attributes to arrive at our days that seem to renounce figuration, the description of a scene, acting with alternative visual stimuli.
Re-working the signs does not mean erasing the past.
It may happen that Justice suffers time, place, power, that it conceals its image and transforms itself into a series of speaking presences or scenes. Justice transforms, evolves but retains its deep archetypal meaning: the search for an order and a balance that guarantees resources for all, that allows mankind to ensure constant exchange and evolution.
"Art,' explains Muve president Mariacristina Gribaudi, 'has always accompanied our everyday life, emphasising and translating philosophical, religious, political and existential concepts. To this day, this iconography is not only interesting from an artistic point of view, but manages to awaken in us important reflections that allow comparisons with the past. The exhibition in question deals with the theme of justice and how the expressive and didactic codes related to this subject have been visually translated by artists in different eras. Art, therefore, once again confirms itself not only as an expressive virtuosity linked to aesthetic beauty but also as an important witness to be considered from a historical-conceptual point of view. The exhibition is an opportunity to highlight heritage works related to this theme and to share little-known creations with visitors".
The tour begins in the magnificent hall of the Pisani Library of the Correr Museum, whose walls are entirely lined with elm-root bookcases and house valuable historical editions.
We wanted to welcome the visitor into this space of ancient knowledge and dedicate a series of shelves to the display of volumes and engravings, miniatures and drawings illustrating justice. They all respond to the common choice of accompanying with 'the Figures' the book that symbolises the knowledge of law and legal science.
Justice, an aspect of knowledge par excellence, very often bears in its hands the volume where the image is contained. This is the 'Book Offering', a scheme fixed before printing that, on behalf of the author, Justice delivers to the dedicatee, guarantor of equity and good government or executor and promoter of law. Through six sections, corresponding to the development of the allegorical figure from the dawn of civilisation to the modern age, archaeological finds, coins and medals are displayed (sections I-II). A series of 'stories and interpretations' by the most important artists from the Middle Ages to the 20th century illuminate its iconography.
There is no Justice without humanity, and that order, that constant attempt to sublimate the best part, against guilt and sin is really the message that comes from a beautiful, crowned woman, with Libra and sword, who sees everything even though she is sometimes blindfolded and who, seated on a throne, reminds us of the founding principles of civilised living.
There are three works by contemporary artists - Ai Weiwei, Kendell Geers, Koen Vanmechelen - granted by the Berengo Foundation, which create particular suggestions demonstrating how glass, once again, is a ductile conceptual interpreter.
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