IUSTITIA Mercatoria. Places, Spaces and Iconographies of Mercantile Justice in Europe (11th-17th Centuries)


The Project

IUSTITIAM is an interdisciplinary and comparative project, which stems from the awareness of the need to reconstruct the unity of the human and social sciences in order to break the isolation of legal studies. The subject of the project is mercantile justice in Europe between the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age, which will be analyzed from the unprecedented point of view of the study of the spaces chosen by merchants to administer their justice. According to Ernst Cassirer, man is not only an "animal rationale", as Aristotle claimed, but, given his symbolic nature, he is rather an "animal symbolicum". Access to and progress towards the symbolic, which is something uniquely human, creates the possibility of phenomena such as ethics and law. The main objective of IUSTITIAM is therefore to treat law, and in this case the law merchant (lex mercatoria), not as a dogmatic discipline but as a multiform phenomenon and therefore (first and foremost) as an experience. In the most classical of definitions, starting with Ulpian’s "suum cuique tribuere", the semantic scope of law overlaps with that of justice, i.e. its ultimate goal. Law, often perceived as an alien element to society because considered complex and almost unknowable, barricaded behind impenetrable technicalities, has been made tangible, and therefore knowable, through art, first and foremost fine arts and architecture. If the existence of a body of customary laws uniformly adopted across medieval and early modern Europe is still debated by scholars, the mechanisms of merchants’ justice are equally controversial, since the procedures applied were by definition brief and informal. IUSTITIAM proposes a never attempted approach to the issue of mercantile justice. By means of the study of places (courts, lodges, fondaci/kontors), spaces (squares) and iconographies (paintings, frescoes and sculptures), the project intends to link legal history, art history and history of architecture in order to analyze the “visual language” that merchants used over the centuries in the main European trade centers to express their idea of law and justice.

Funded under: FARE Ricerca in Italia scheme (Framework per l’Attrazione ed il Rafforzamento delle Eccellenze per la Ricerca in Italia)
P.I.: Stefania Gialdroni (mail: stefania.gialdroni@unipd.it)
Project number: R20XAEXX5X
Start date: 5 December 2022
End date: 4 December 2027