Sandford-Crouch, Clothing & legal identity in late medieval Italy

The role of clothing in the construction and development of professional legal identities in late medieval Italy

Clare Sandford-Crouch (Northumbria)

Taking an interdisciplinary approach – drawing on evidence from literature, and other aspects of visual and material culture, including art – the paper examines the importance of clothing and appearance to public perceptions of the status of those in charge of administering justice in the towns and cities of northern Italy in the late medieval period.

The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries saw significant change in the role of legal professionals in northern Italy. In part, this was attributable to a change in the prosecution practices of the criminal justice system, but also to the development of a class of legal professionals, including judges, lawyers, and notaries, and other civic officials for law enforcement. It was following these changes that, during the fourteenth century, specific costumes of office developed for those exercising legal authority in Italy.

The paper suggests that the evolution of distinct legal dress codes at this time of change can be seen as part of the construction and development of a professional legal identity. In exploring legal dress as a manifestation of authority and status, it puts forward an argument that specific aspects of the system in northern Italy, for the appointment of judges in particular, may have encouraged the development and use of legal dress as ‘visual shorthand’, as ‘signs’ through which the status and values of the profession could be communicated.