The Sachsenspiegel Picture Books: 
Working to put Women and Jews “in their Place.”

Prof. Madeline Caviness  (Mary Richardson Professor Emeritus, Tufts University)

The topic of the lecture is the representation of women and Jews in four picture books of German law dating from the 1300s: That is, representation under the law as stated in it, and also the visual and textual representations in the manuscripts.  One might equally say, the treatment of women and Jews in cultural production. The lecture is concerned with the unstable position of “girls and women, and Jews” to whom Saxon law states that imperial protection accords “immunity of their person and property”.  Rather than asserting anything like equality under the law, it seems the main thrust of the Sachsenspiegel law book is to naturalize peaceful settlements in areas of potential social conflict. In so doing, it constructs hierarchical difference as the mainstay of harmony.  Women and Jews occupied a grey zone in which they were extremely vulnerable to the political changes that diminished the authority of the emperors a few decades after the death of the author of the Saxon law book, Eike von Repgow, but before the earliest extant illustrated manuscripts of his text.