Digital collections


Facing the rich variety of digital collections it has a certain advantage to group them into several main categories. Books, archival records and images have each been put here into a category: digital libraries, digital archives and digital image collections. The sheer number of digital libraries is sufficient reason to present them separately, notwithstanding the fact that some libraries hold archival collections as well. Many digital collections present a great variety of sources. It is true one cannot separate books from documents and images. However, in my opinion even an incomplete survey of digital archives is certainly useful. A better understanding of and growing insight to digital collections for legal history will surely be reflected in their representation on this website, and thus virtual exhibitions appear on a separate page. Updating this section happens every week, and any constructive support is most welcome!

This page offers an overview of image collections, starting with a number of national portals for digital heritage collections. The classic collections for legal iconography are present here, too, and special subjects such as the Sachsenspiegel, emblem booksportraits and festival books.

Digital heritage portals

Databases for legal iconography

Among the tools helping iconographic research one should mention for example the Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte which is searchable online. A part of the website of the Index of Christian Art at Princeton is free accessible online. You can consult more at subscribing libraries and at the few institutions with a complete copy (Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.; Getty Center, Los Angeles; Institute for Art History, Utrecht).

Iconclass offers a systematic classification of subjects in art. This website is free accessible, but in practice it is useful to get acquainted first with Iconclass with an image database using this classification system. The Art and Architecture Thesaurus of the Getty Center is another classification system which can support your research. The Iconographic Database of the Warburg Institute in London is also most interesting.

General historical image collections – organized in alphabetical order by countries

For research in the field of art history one can find support at the following websites:

Some firms producing software to create digital collections provide overviews of institutions using their software. Sometimes it can be very helpful to look also at these overviews, shown here in alphabetical order:

Thematic image collections

A rather special place in legal iconography is traditionally given to the codices picturati, the illuminated manuscripts of the Sachsenspiegel, the influential thirteenth-century book on customary law in Saxony written by Eike von Repgow:

Emblem books form a particular Early Modern source of images. Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), himself a legal scholar, founded the genre with his Emblemata (1531). Emblems are images with a motto and a poetic explanation. Here some collections with digitized emblem books which can be searched using Iconclass. Emblematica Online points to other digitized collections.

Portraits of lawyers have always enjoyed interest. Some databases can help you to find images of them, many more image databases are listed by the Netherlands Institute for Art History:

Festival books is the generic term for occasional publications, often no longer than a pamphlet, published around the crowning of kings, the Joyous Entries into cities, marriages and funerals, and the signing of peace treaties. These works convey representations of power and images of justice and law. They are also a source for legal iconography because they are often wonderfully illustrated.

  • Early Modern Festival Books, Oxford University – a repertory for five libraries and a digital library based on and expanded from the study Festivals and Ceremonies. A Bibliography of Works Relating to Court, Civic and Religious Festivals in Europe 1500-1800 by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Anne Simon (London 2000) with 3000 books in twelve languages
  • Renaissance Festival Books, British Library and University of Warwick – some 250 of the 2,000 books at the BL documenting festivals and ceremonies in Europe between 1475 and 1700; these books are often prtinted as pamphlets, and contain often illustrations
  • Festival books, Special Collections, The Getty Research Institute – with some 1,300 digitized works
  • Festkultur Online, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel – 314 digitized works and much background information; thematic research in and for illustrations with Iconclass
  • Celebrating Italian Festivals, Beinecke Library, Yale University – 231 digitized Early Modern works from Italy