The Harvard Law School Library has announced the opening of a new exhibition entitled “The Legal Portrait Project Online.” The exhibition is the culmination of an 18-month project to catalog, digitize and make available the law school’s 4,000-item portrait collection of lawyers, jurists, and legal thinkers dating from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth century. The exhibition, which is on display in the Caspersen Room of the library, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until March 31. The collection can also be found online at

“This project is important both in terms of access to and preservation of this unique resource. Having digital images and corresponding cataloging data publicly available over the web will allow far broader access to these materials than was possible previously,” said Steven R. Smith, curator of art and visual materials. “In addition, such accessibility will dramatically reduce handling of the original pieces, thus greatly improving their state of preservation for the future.”

Although most of the prints, drawings and photographs depict legal figures prominent in the common law, a significant number document jurists and legal educators associated with the canon and civil law traditions. The collection is particularly strong in images of eighteenth and nineteenth century British and American lawyers, ranging from such well known historical figures as William Blackstone, Jeremy Bentham, John Marshall and Joseph Story to many lesser known jurists and legal educators.

Harvard Law School Dean Roscoe Pound and Librarian Eldon R. James began the collection in the first quarter of the twentieth century as an adjunct to the school’s basic collection of paintings and sculpture. It has continued to grow significantly over the years, and today constitutes a major resource for images of lawyers and jurists that have shaped our Western legal heritage.

The project was funded in part by the Harvard University Library Digital Initiative, which began in 1998 as a five-year program to develop the university’s capacity to manage digital information.