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Statues of Lady Justice in Hungary: Representation of Justitia in town halls, courthouses, and other public spaces

Statues of Lady Justice in Hungary: Representation of Justitia in town halls, courthouses, and other public spaces


Peter Takács, Széchenyi István University, Faculty of Law, Department of Jurisprudence, Győr, Hungary;


ISSN: 1335-3608


The representation of the idea of justice through the ancient Roman goddess-figure, recently known as Lady Justice, has constituted an essential part of European culture for centuries. This paper outlines these statues in town halls, courthouses, and public spaces in Hungary, and examines some of them in detail. The aim of the study is to draw a general picture of such statues in a Central and Eastern European country, namely in Hungary, to identify the characteristics of these sculptures, reflecting their social and political context, and in some cases  to contrast them with that of those which were characteristic in Western Europe. The nature of this study is multi and interdisciplinary, so it applies several methods in exploring its theme; for example, art and cultural history were mixed with reference to social history and legal history. The paper focuses on the legal and political culture – conceived in the cultural context, institutional prerequisites and behavioral patterns as components of law and politics – and treats statues of Justice as part of this culture.

As a way of introduction, the paper gives a brief overview of three murals, and discusses, briefly, the controversy around the authorship of one of them; stating that its attribution to Boticelli is, in all probability, misleading. The paper – after listing the Justitia statue in the town halls and court buildings of Hungary – evaluates in detail the statue of Justice which supplements the highly controversial Ferenc Deák Monument, erected in 1885 in central Budapest. It then analyses another one from1896 made by the finest sculptor of the late 19th century, Alajos Strobl, for the Palace of Justice which was opened in that same year. Finally, the paper gives a general overview of modern sculptures of the past two decades which can be found in Hungarian courthouses. The article illustrates, among other things, the interconnection of artworks and politics, sculpturing and law, and traditional values and modernity. In evaluating the selected representations of Lady Justice, it employs the approaches of political and cultural history as well as legal theory.  

For the sculptures in question, this study may raise questions from three disciplines: jurisprudence and law, social and cultural history, and the theory of art. The study is interdisciplinary and focuses primarily on the first and second areas mentioned, and, among other things, examines the cultural-historical functions of a law-related symbol. One of its main assertions is that statues of Lady Justice have been part of the legal culture for centuries, but the representation of justice has undergone changes as significant as the changes of legal systems themselves. On this issue, the study argues that representation is interwoven with concepts of law and justice and the relationship between politics and law. The study goes as far as to penetrate into the field of iconology at the level that E. Panofsky referred to as the pre-iconographic description, which is the first of the three possible steps in this field. At the second step, on the level of iconographic analysis, this study turns towards social and legal meanings, since it is interested in not so much about the aesthetic-iconological analysis of the artwork, but about the socio-legal and legal-cultural meanings of certain cultural phenomena.

From the point of view of legal theory, of ethics and of general social theory, innumerable questions can be, and usually are, asked about the visualization of justice. The most typical questions include: what objects and tools are used to depict Justitia (Lady Justice), and what do they mean when applied to law? Does she have a sword in her hand which she raises as if she were just about to lower it, or maybe hide it behind her? The answer is telling about the punitive or normative nature of the law. And what if she holds a palm branch (its usual meaning is peace) or Roman fasces (its usual meaning is authority) in her hand, and not a sword? What characteristics of law are expressed by the artist, if any, when depicting her sitting and what, if any, when depicting her standing? If she is sitting, what is she sitting on? A stone? (typical in the Middle Age) Or on a throne? (which refers to the ancient times, but is applied only in modern times) What does it mean concerning the characteristics of law if she lifts the hand holding the scales? It means, of course, that the normative nature of the law is more important than its punitive character. Is she blindfolded, and if so, why? It is – as we all know – about impartiality, but impartiality sometimes marks weakness. What does her clothing look like? Is it ancient, medieval, or modern? Is it simple or colorful? Is she depicted alone or with others, and if so, with the virtuous or with the sinner, with humans or with other goddesses? Is she depicted among “cardinal virtues” of ancient origin as one of them, or with scholastic “theological virtues”, or perhaps as one of the four virtues called the “daughters of God”? In our age, it is typical to put this question as well: why the embodiment of justice is a goddess and not one of the gods, namely why is she a female, and in what sense could a goddess be a woman? And if she is really a woman, for of which one of her most important features is beauty, how should the artist portray her female sensuality and womanhood? Is the artist free to depict her as sensually attractive?

One of our conclusions of this study is that raising these kinds of questions in connection with the statues of justice illuminates a possible way of thinking about the specific characteristics of law.


Representations of law and justice in visual arts. Courthouses. Statues of Lady Justice. Ferenc Deák Monument. Sculptures of Alajos Strobl. Decoration of court buildings. Modern public sculptures.

Bibliografické informácie (sk)

TAKÁCS, Peter. Statues of Lady Justice in Hungary:Representation of Justitia in town halls, courthouses, and other public spaces.In Človek a spoločnosť [Individual andSociety], 2019, roč. 22, č. 3, s. 11-42. doi: 

Bibliographic information

TAKÁCS, Peter. Statues of Lady Justice in Hungary:Representation of Justitia in town halls, courthouses, and other public spaces.In Človek a spoločnosť [Individual andSociety], 2019, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 11-42. doi: 

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