Sculpture in the Courthouse and the Law Library

Massachusetts Law Updates 2014-11-23

At a time when law libraries are redefining themselves as a set of services rather than a place, there still may be a bit of time to value the place or the object within the place. Justice has long been personified, and artists have created representations that have graced our Courthouses and Libraries. Examples are still around to be appreciated.

In 1910, the American Antiquarian Society donated an 8-foot-4-inch-tall plaster cast of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses to the Worcester County Law Library Association. Moses assumed a place of honor in the Worcester Courthouse in Lincoln Square. For 97 years thereafter, Moses became the meeting place within the Courthouse for lawyers and their clients. When the Courthouse moved down Main Street to its new location, Moses came along. Ten inch tall replicas of the statue are now for sale by the Worcester County Law Library Trust, initially offered to recoup the cost of repairs to the statue; but the smaller cousins have become coveted artifacts. The replicas are on view at the Worcester Law Library.

Any visitor to the John Adams Courthouse in Boston will be impressed by Domingo Mora’s figural representations of sixteen ideas related to Law and Justice in the Great Hall. In the same location, there is a bronze statue of the nineteenth century attorney, Rufus Choate, by Daniel Chester French. A recent cleaning of the work has obscured the fact that practicing attorneys had a habit of rubbing Rufus Choate’s left foot for good luck before going into the Courtroom, giving it a particular shine.

Prominent among Daniel Chester French’s teachers was a sculptor named Thomas Ball. One of Ball’s favorite subjects was orator and attorney Daniel Webster. In 1853, a series of bronze casts were made of Ball’s clay statuette of Webster. Examples of these statuettes are currently in the collections of the U.S. Senate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and on view at the Berkshire Law Library. In 1876, Ball went on to sculpt a much larger (14’) version of the statute that stands today in New York’s Central Park. At the Law Library, Daniel Webster has a series of festive hats (several top hats, a straw hat, a sombrero) that he can be seen to sport.

Art appreciation, in the case of the statues of Moses, Rufus Choate, and Daniel Webster, is about looking and recognizing the story that is there waiting to be told.