Valérie Hayaert (Paris/Bonn): Gift-giving Practices and Honest weighing in the Early Modern World


My project at the Käte Hamburger Centre aims at uncovering the interface between symbolic literature and epistemology in its wider sense in early modern Europe (1450-1700). This period of intense symbolic production also saw the cultural forces of humanism and the Reformation collide: crucial shifts in the law, scientific advancement and dramatic expansion in trade and travel. At stake across the board was the gift-giving economy. I will examine intersections between symbolic literature, gift-giving practices and their legal implications. The interaction of law and economy may be found in the symbolic substratum of legal thought. The philological inquiries pursued by humanist jurists show that there were strong links forged between ancient legal thought and exchange practices. The original root of the combination between oikos and nomos, for example, is by far more diverse that what is apparent in the modern definition of economics. The main focus of this investigation is on philology and etymology, as an attempt to shed light on past economic practices. Humanistic approaches to law lie indeed in their attitude to language.

Economic exchanges in the ancient gift-giving economies were challenged by a set of ethical presumptions and shared values. How did these values cope with the rules of the mercantile world? Legal humanists carried out sophisticated inquiries about ancient symbols. Their antiquarian interests led to the invention of a humanistically shaped symbolism which has endured a long-lasting influence. Among several symbolic cognates, we find the creation of emblems. As it is well established, emblems were first invented by a lawyer, the Italian jurist Andrea Alciato (1492-1550). Emblem books authored by lawyers often represent oral covenants or performative acts such as marriage oaths, exchanges of armors or judicial rites. Instead of depicting money-lenders or the daily routines of profit-oriented acts, emblems persistently reminds us of the necessity for any polity to share judicial values : among many examples, we find the insistence upon bona fides (good faith) between two counteractants, the virtues expected from a virgin (chastity, as a guarantee of patrilinearity), the loyalty of oath-giving between two warriors. If we believe that legal systems are more the outcome of practice than logic, the various symbolic acts depicted in this corpus are likely to deserve an in-depth study.

My topic will include two moments: one devoted to analyze the economical nature of emblems (understood as xenia, i.e. symbolic gifts shared within the circles of humanist lawyers and humanists alike) and the second moment will deal with the hand gesture of Lady Justice as a virtual symbol of honest weighing. Instead of focusing on the impersonal agency of the balance, the allegorical posture of Lady Justice insists on the subjective agency of its user. Lady Justice’s scales must be held with a particularly cautious gesture: as an archetype of honest weighing, the body of Lady Justice serves as a virtual model to evidence the proper method of weighing to avoid fraud. Her precision handling, as we will see, has been described in a remarkably detailed piece of legislation (Theodosian Code 12.7.1 de Ponderatoribus) and I will arguethat this law has probably influenced the depiction of Lady Justice's hand gesture throughout the early modern period and beyond.

Dr. Valérie Hayaert

Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Valérie Hayaert studierte von 1996 bis 2000 Moderne Literaturwissenschaften an der École Normale Supérieure (Fontenay-aux-Roses/Lyon) sowie an den Pariser Universitäten Sorbonne-Nouvelle (Paris III) und Denis Diderot (Paris VII). 2005 erlangte sie am European University Institute Florenz ihren Doktorgrad in Geschichte und Zivilisation mit einer Arbeit zum Thema „Mens emblematica’ et humanisme juridique: le cas du ‘Pegma cum narrationibus philosophicis’ de Pierre Coustau, Lyon, 1555“. Die Arbeit wurde 2006 mit dem „Prize for the Best Interdisciplinary Thesis“ des European University Institute Florenz ausgezeichnet.
Anschließend lehrte Valérie Hayaert in Frankreich, Tunesien, Großbritannien sowie auf Zypern. Nach ihrer Lehrtätigkeit arbeitete sie als Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Erasmus House in Brüssel sowie an der Fondation Bodmer in Cologny (Genf). Seit 2014 ist Valérie Hayaert am Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice, Paris, tätig. Darüber hinaus war sie 2017 Fellow am Pariser Institute of Advanced Studies. Seit 2013 ist sie Mitglied des Herausgeberbeirats der Zeitschrift „Emblematica. An interdisciplinary Journal for Emblem Studies“.  

Seit April 2018 ist Dr. Valérie Hayaert Fellow am Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur“.