International Journal of Law in Context

Research Article

Judging pictures: a case study of portraits of the Chief Justices, Supreme Court of New South Wales

Leslie J. Morana1*

a1 Birkbeck College, University of London


This essay is about portraits: judicial portraits. It offers a case study of the interface between law and visual culture. Its object of enquiry is a collection of pictures (painted and photographic), depicting the sixteen Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia, from 1824 to the present day. The original paintings hang in the Banco Court, Sydney. The photographs and digital copies of all the images are on the Court’s website. Beginning with a brief review of socio-legal scholarship on the judiciary, the essay explores existing work on the visual image of the judge. In response to the limitations of that research, the paper turns to art historical scholarship to facilitate an analysis of the aesthetic and technological factors (the continuities and changes) that shape and generate the meaning of these judicial images. It explores the relevance of context upon meaning. The paper demonstrates a number of methodological approaches and reflects upon the contribution that a study of judicial pictures may make to socio-legal scholarship.


* The preliminary research was undertaken with the generous financial and institutional support of the University of Sydney, January to April 2007; particular thanks to Gail Mason and Jenny Millbank. Linda Mulcahy, Dermot Feenan and participants in seminars in various universities in Australia (Sydney, Flinders, Macquarie, Melbourne), and at Birkbeck College gave detailed and insightful comments on earlier drafts. Thanks also to participants in the 18th British Legal History conference and the SLSA conference in 2008.