Art History Mystery, Part 1

blackstoneAs I have always loved stained glass windows, one of my favorite locations in the law school is Eisenberg Hall. However, the trio of figures in the north set of windows bear no label, so I was curious about their exact identity. The center figure holding the stone tablets of the Law is of course Moses. Following this Biblical theme of lawgivers, I surmised that the figure to the right (as one looks at Moses) seated on the throne was King Solomon (more on the next blog post).  I also guessed that the figure to the left, in the judicial wig, was likely the 18th century jurist Sir William Blackstone. I also considered Sir Isaac Newton, as some images of Newton depict him with the typical 18th-century long wig and cravat (see e.g., the 1-pound note from the Bank of England). However, in these depictions, Netwon lacks the black robes that the figure in the stained glass wears. And while he divined the Laws of Nature, Newton would not be the most obvious choice for a law school library reading room (unless perhaps the artists were commenting drolly on the gravity of legal tomes).

As stained glass was the Scripture for the (often illiterate) medieval masses, I wanted to know for certain who the two figures flanking Moses were. Accordingly, within the first few weeks of Law School (September 11, 2007, to be exact), at an evening social in Eisenberg, I asked Dean Kearney, and he enjoined me with the task to find out.

That searching, in a veritable Homeric Odyssey, led me along weeks of many twist and turns, and to many minds of men and women. In the end, like Homer’s hero, I found myself back to where I started: all the evidence points toward the figure on the left being Blackstone.

On this quest, I sought out and received some aid from the very helpful and friendly law library reference librarians, who led me to the Raynor Library reference librarians, who led me to the Milwaukee Public Library reference librarians, including the Art/Media staff, who led me to the Wisconsin Architectural Archive and the grandson of the architect of Sensenbrenner Hall, a Mr. Eschweiler, a gentleman in his 90s who works in the Public Library upstairs archive but once a week. I finally managed to contact Mr. Eschweiler in person, and he and his wife generously allowed me to pore over ledgers, blueprints, and other original source documents from the 1920s. Unfortunately, nothing detailed the identity of the figures in the stained glass windows.

At last I sought out that Delphic Oracle, the New York Public Library. Their online reference staff sent me back to the Milwaukee Public Library. I pushed further and contacted the NY Public Library Art Department. Within short order a member of the Art Department contacted me. Here is an excerpt from the reply:

As suspected, we also believe the image is of Sir William Blackstone.  The stain glass image appears to be based on the oil painting attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds and located at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

If you go to the National Portrait Gallery website ( ), you may ‘Search the Collection’ (link at top center) for the term “Blackstone”, and receive several images in return.  The gallery contains two images of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780).  The stained glass image is similar to the painting attributed to Reynolds (ie…chair in background, face, hair, wardrobe and hand gesture).


Vincenzo Rutigliano

Art & Architecture, Room 300

So the figure is almost certainly Blackstone. This identification received later corroboration from a distinguished member of the bench. The following spring, in 2008, Judge William Pryor of the the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit visited Marquette University Law School to deliver a lecture, and there was a reception in Eisenberg afterward. When asked about the wigged figure in the stained glass, Judge Pryor stated that it had to be Blackstone. Thus, the mysterious figure must be Sir William.

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