The Marriage Contract in Fine Art
Northern Illinois University Law Review, Vol. 30, No. 3, 2009
64 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2009 Last revised: 2 Oct 2019
Date Written: 2009
This paper studies the depiction of the marriage contract in Dutch, French and English genre paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries. Increasingly, scholars have recognized that visual imagery influences the development of legal norms and institutions. During the period studied several genre artists produced paintings that dealt with themes that were central to the issues surrounding the marriage laws, such as the rights of women or whether marriage is a sacrament or a contract. Interestingly, many of the themes depicted in the collective body of marriage contract art echoes and amplify the issues surrounding the rights of women and the scope of the marriage contract in the writings of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although it is impossible to measure the impact this collective body of work had on changing the law, the artistic and legal themes expressed in these paintings illustrates the “pre-formative” role of art in terms of signaling where change may occur in our legal norms and institutions. This analysis of the depiction of the formation of the marriage contract may also be of some interest to family law scholars given the renewed interest in the historical foundation of marriage law as a result of the debate over same-sex marriage. The analysis of visual representation of the marriage contract yields another data point for marriage scholars researching the history and origin of society’s conception of marriage as either a contract or a sacrament.
Keywords: visual representation of law, lawyers, notaries, marriage contract, betrothal agreement, dowry, fine art, genre paintings, historical origins of marriage
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