Public Art, Private Expression

Why do so many public murals seem to have a homoerotic tone?

BY Christopher Harrity

July 20 2013 3:00 AM ET



The murals in Clark Hall were painted by Allyn Cox on a commission from William Andrews Clark, Jr. who was the donor of the building. The project took four years from 1930-1934. Mr Cox (1896-1982) was responsible for painting and designing the murals in collaboration with Clark and Lile, Dean of the Law School. It's hard in 2013 to imagine a college library with so much exposed penis. Times have changed.

The Murals
To the right, on the west wall, the three large panels in color depict a passage from the 18th book of the Iliad describing one of the scenes from the shield of Achilles. This primitive trial over the blood-price of a slain man is used to represent the Law as a means of settling disputes – weighing the conflicting interests of groups or individuals, and devining their relations to each other – a development of the idea expressed by Diké, Law and Order.        

Opposite, on the east wall, is Moses Delivering the Tablets of the Law to the Children of Israel. This indicates the idea of Eunomia, the Law of the individual for himself, that which it is good for him to be.        

In the four corners of the hall, over the smaller doors are four grisaille panels, each divided in two:

• On the west wall, at the left, the entire panel connotes criminal law with “Punishment” above and “Crime” below.
• On the west wall, at the right, the top part represents “Civil Law” and “Contract Law” is shown below.
• On the east wall, at the left, “Canon Law” is the upper portion and “Admiralty” the lower.
• On the east wall, at the right, is depicted “Equity staying the hand of the Common Law” above, and “Torts” below.

Source: University of Virginia Library

Tags: Art

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