Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Supreme Court Friezes

In the Courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court building there is a frieze identifying eighteen lawmakers, symbolic of development of law and its lasting value for civilization. The eighteen (with the interspersed allegorical figures) are:

South Wall
[Fame]
Menes
Hammurabi
Moses
[Authority]
Solomon
Lycurgus
Solon
[Light of Wisdom]
Draco
Confucius
Octavius Augustus
[History]

North Wall
[Philosophy]
Justinian
Muhammad
Charlemagne
[Equity]
John Lackland
Louis IX
Hugo Grotius
[Right of Man]
Blackstone
Marshall
Napoleon
[Liberty and Peace]

The frieze was created by Adolph Weinman when the courtroom was built in the 1930s. Weinman has another frieze in the room (on the East and West Walls) that is more purely allegorical. The East Wall frieze focuses on Law and Government. The center of the frieze are two tablets, reminiscent of the Ten Commandments; however, the tablets primarily represent the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights. These tablets are flanked by Majesty of Law and Power of Government. To Majesty of Law's right is found Wisdom, and a group of figures representing The Defense of Human Rights and the Protection of the Innocents. To Power of Government's left is found Truth, and a group of figures representing the Safeguard of the Liberties and the Rights of the People in their Pursuit of Happiness. The West Wall frieze is somewhat different; it represents the struggle of good and evil. At its center are Justice and Divine Inspiration, flanked by Wisdom and Truth. A little heavy-handed, I think; the North and South Wall friezes are better. Moses, Confucius, and Solon both appear again on the eastern pediment of the building, created by Hermon McNeil. The appearance of Muhammad in the North Wall frieze, by the way, is given a cautious but favorable review by KARAMAH, Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.

You can see the friezes for yourself.

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