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Graduate Student Organizes Exhibition at Yale Law School

October 20, 2016

Christopher Platts (History of Art) is co-curator of an exhibition on view now through December 15 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery of the Yale Law Library, 127 Wall Street.

“Representing the Law in the Most Serene Republic: Images of Authority from Renaissance Venice” features colorful illuminated manuscripts, illustrated books, prints, drawings, coins, and medals of historical significance and visual splendor.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Republic of Venice played a central role in the political and economic affairs of Europe, ruling an empire that extended from northern Italy, down the Adriatic, to the eastern Mediterranean,” Platt explains. “By the year 1500, Venice could claim that it had been a sovereign republic for more than a millennium. Indeed, the city was so highly esteemed for its stable government, selfless leaders, and free citizens that it came to be known as ‘La Serenissima,’ the Most Serene Republic.”

The exhibition presents the most significant offices and symbols of the Venetian state and explains how laws were crafted, debated, publicized — and even broken. Images include portraits of the doge and other high magistrates, governors appointed to rule the Republic’s territories abroad, senators, and lawbreakers consigned to prison or the galleys.

Representing the Law” is accompanied by an online exhibition <>, a catalogue <>, and periodic excerpts in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog, <>.

Platts first proposed the exhibition to his co-curator Michael Widener, rare book librarian at the Law School, after spending the summer of 2011 studying fifteenth-century illuminated manuscripts as a fellow at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

At that time I became interested in the holdings of Yale's other libraries, particularly the little-known treasures at the Law Library and Medical Historical Library. I visited Mike [Widener] and found at least ten beautifully illuminated Italian legal manuscripts, seven of which were from Venice. Seeing these inspired me to think of an exhibition in which they could serve as the centerpiece.” Together, Platts and Widener organized and planned the installation. Platts arranged to borrow coins, medals, prints, and drawings from the Yale University Art Gallery and wrote the object labels and introductory texts for the show and its catalogue. He will give a related lecture at 1 p.m. on November 11 in Room 121 of the Law School.

Platts’ dissertation, advised by Professor Robert Nelson and Laurence Kanter, chief curator of the Yale University Art Gallery, focuses on the medieval Venetian painter Paolo Veneziano (c.1290-1358), who is credited with founding the Venetian pictorial tradition. Many of Paolo’s most important paintings “have never been situated in their original historical, social, and religious contexts,” Platts says. He aims to correct this by relating the art to the patrons who commissioned it and to the priests, friars, parishioners, and others who would have interacted with it.

Born in Washington, DC, and raised in Bethesda, Maryland, Platts’ interest in his field first surfaced when he spent a semester in Zermatt, Switzerland, during high school. His art history class traveled to Venice and Padua to look at medieval and Renaissance art first-hand. While an undergraduate at Harvard, he volunteered at the Harvard Art Museums and spent several summers in Venice, working in museums and researching paintings.

Platts is married to Charlotte Gray, who is pursuing her PhD in the History of Art at Harvard. They have two children, Thayer (5) and George (2), with whom he spends virtually all his free time at the playgrounds of Cambridge, at Harvard's Natural History Museum, or at the beach, when the weather permits.