Desmond Manderson: Klimt's Jurisprudence - Sovereign Violence and the Rule of Law

Organized by the Minerva Research Group "The Nomos of Images. Manifestation and Iconology of Law"

This seminar develops an extended analysis of Gustav Klimt's lost masterpiece, 'Jurisprudence', bringing it into a richer dialogue with its social and legal context. 'Jurisprudence', a suffering naked man surrounded by eyes, eerily captures the relationship between 'sovereignty and bare life' that Agamben argues was re-forged and refined across the twentieth-century. Klimt's image might perhaps be regarded as the very first, and perhaps still the most comprehensive, representation of this profoundly important figure of legal modernity. But Klimt does not merely exemplify Agamben's force field of jurisprudential violence; he also complicates and interrogates it. Drawing on two of the most important cultural events to take place in Vienna at the time—the first performance of Aeschylus' 'Oresteia'; and the first publication of Sigmund Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams'—we develop three distinct readings of the painting's relationship between man, law, and sovereignty. Like an optical illusion, Klimt's painting hovers uncertainly between three different but equally necessary perspectives: law as it is (the social); law as we imagine it (the philosophical); and law as it might be (the political). The name for the highly charged study of their relationship is 'jurisprudence'.

After the lecture and workshop with Desmond Manderson, Stefan Huygebaert, PhD fellow at the Nomos Research Project, will present an aspect of his ongoing research on legal iconography entitled: "Are you Justitia, Minerva or Themis? A numen mixtum as symptom of the synthesis between art & law in fin-de-siècle Belgium".


Desmond Manderson is an international leader in interdisciplinary scholarship in law and the humanities. His work has led to essays, books, and lectures around the world in the fields of English literature, philosophy, ethics, history, cultural studies, music, human geography, and anthropology, as well as in law and legal theory. Throughout this work Manderson has defended law's connection to these humanist disciplines is critical to its functioning, its justice, and its social relevance. After ten years at McGill University in Montreal, where he held the Canada Research Chair in Law and Discourse, and was founding Director of the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas, he returned to Australia, where he is jointly appointed in the ANU College of Law and College of Arts and Social Sciences at Australian National University. His current project, Fiat Lex, is on representations of law and justice in the visual arts.

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