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This image on the opening page of this essay graced the front of the brochure for the Conference Women, Justice, and Authority, held in 2000 at Yale Law School. The woman—robed, enthroned, and holding scales and sword—is one of many images inscribed on glass panels on windows at the law school. But she did not adorn our brochures because we thought anyone (including people working in the building) would know her as a local reference. Unlike many of the funky, enigmatic figures that dot buildings like the Yale Law School but whose meanings are obscure, this image is easily legible. Indeed, images like her are ubiquitous, appearing in courthouses and newspaper cartoons around the United States. We—from many different countries—have learned to recognize this image as the symbol of Justice because we have been taught to do so by political leaders hoping to link their decisions to justice itself.
The longevity of the link between visual depictions of acts of judgment and female statuary is impressive. That lineage can be traced back to the Egyptian Goddess Maat and then to the Greek Dike and to the Roman Justicia. Well-preserved deployments can be found beginning in Europe in the Middle Ages, and become more frequent after the Reformation. The Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Temperance, Prudence, and Fortitude (sometimes joined by the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity) replaced Catholic images of Judgment scenes and of saints in public buildings in Northern Europe. Swiss burghers adorned their coats of arms with Justice images, and Venetian Doges put her on the prow of their boat, the Bucintoro, which they used in yearly pageants.
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