Harvard Law School Library

Legal Portraits Online
HLSL Home Search Legal Portraits
Photo of Jeremiah Sullivan Black
Jeremiah Sullivan Black
Engraving of Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Lithograph of Richard Pepper Arden, Lord Alvanley
Richard Pepper Arden, Lord Alvanley

About the Collection

As part of its holdings of legal art and visual materials, the Harvard Law School Library owns a collection of over 4000 portrait images of lawyers, jurists, political figures, and legal thinkers dating from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth century. Although most of these prints, drawings, and photographs depict legal figures prominent in the Common Law, a significant number portray jurists and legal educators associated with the Canon and Civil Law traditions. The collection is particularly strong in images of eighteenth and nineteenth century British and American lawyers, ranging from such well known historical figures as William Blackstone, Jeremy Bentham, John Marshall, and Joseph Story to many lesser known jurists and legal educators. The collection also contains images of many graduates of Harvard College and the Harvard Law School. Librarian Eldon R. James and Dean Roscoe Pound began the collection in the first quarter of the twentieth century as an adjunct to the School's "basic collection" of paintings and sculpture. It has continued to grow significantly over the years, and today constitutes a major resource for images of lawyers and jurists that have shaped our Western legal heritage.

The collection of portrait images is the most heavily used portion of the Library's visual materials. Researchers and publishers almost daily request reproductions from this collection to illustrate scholarly articles, monographs, textbooks, Web sites, and television programs. Although the most frequent request is for reproductions of the likenesses of individuals important in the history of the law, the collection has also been consulted for iconographic images (e.g., scales of justice, blindfolded justice) and for scenes depicting judicial activity (e.g., courtrooms, assizes). Researchers in fields other than legal history may also benefit; many of the images will interest students of social history, costume, art history, and heraldry. Students of art may also find it useful as the collection covers many centuries and styles of portraiture.

About the Project

The Harvard Law School Library actively promotes the use of its historical collections of rare books, manuscripts, and visual materials. Although the portrait collection is already the most consulted collection within the Art & Visual Materials unit, greater accessibility will undoubtedly bring even more use. In early 2003, as part of a Harvard University LDI grant challenge, the Library began a project to digitize most of its collection of portrait images and make them available through VIA, Harvard University Libraries' online catalog of visual materials. Digitizing these images and making them widely available will greatly facilitate their access. It will allow patrons to conduct their own research with minimal intervention from the Curator, and significantly reduce handling of the originals, thereby markedly improving their state of preservation for the future.

Online Exhibition

In March of 2004 the Special Collections Department presented The Legal Portrait Project Online, an exhibition in the Library's Caspersen Room which combined examples of portraits from the collection together with computer terminals to allow viewing of the digitized images. An online version of this exhibition is now available for viewing.

Technical Information

Each of the portrait images is being cataloged using the OLIVIA cataloging system designed by Harvard University Libraries for describing visual materials. Once cataloged, the portraits are transported to Harvard College Library's Digital Imaging Group (DIG) for digitization. DIG is creating an archival 24-bit TIFF copy of each image at 17 mb (70 mb for larger portraits), from which a JPEG version of the image is derived for Web delivery. All of the images are stored using the Digital Repository Service, and may be accessed through VIA.

Small (less than 12 x 8 inches) originals are photographed with a Leaf Volare digital camera back. Archival Master images from small documents are capable of producing high-quality reprints up to 8x10 inches. Large originals were photographed with either a Betterlight Super 8k II digital camera back, or a Sinar 54 digital camera back. Archival Master images from large documents are capable of producing high-quality reprints up to a 1:1 reproduction ratio. The imaging specification for "delivery" images was designed to produce images optimized for delivery on the Web. The originals were cropped in camera to include only the portrait and relevant captions and plate marks.

Based on a review of a representative sample of the documents, "Curve", "Hue/Saturation", and "Levels" adjustments were developed in Photoshop and subsequently applied to all the images in order to attain a close tonal and color match to the originals. Archival master images were processed and saved in the DA SupraContrast Workspace.

Delivery images are created in batches by processing the Archival master files using a set of Adobe Photoshop "Actions" that resized and sharpened the images using an unsharp mask filter. All delivery images have been converted to the sRGB IEC61966-2.1 colorspace.

Cataloging Standards and Workflows

For a description of the cataloging standards and procedures used on this project, click here.
For a description of the workflows used on this project, click here.

Ordering Copies

Digital, as well as paper copies of the portrait images are available for purchase. Simply locate the image you wish to order, then contact the Special Collections department at specialc@law.harvard.edu or (617) 495-4550. Pricing will depend upon the size of the image.

Contact Us

We are eager to hear what you think of the online portrait collection. Please feel free to contact us with your questions or comments at the e-mail address below.


Contact: specialc@law.harvard.edu
Page last reviewed September 2009.
© 2003 The President and Fellows of Harvard College