Document Type


Media Type



From the fifteenth- to eighteenth-centuries, artists across Europe and England painted a scene depicting the negotiation of a marriage contract. In nearly every painting, a notary sits or stands at a table, quill in hand, memorializing the details of the dowry transfer. Some artists celebrated the accord, while others condemned arranged marriages made for purposes of status and money. Interestingly, at the same time the artists painted, massive changes occurred in the law and political philosophy aimed at changing some of the inherent problems in marriage law, such as the rights of women, the influence of parents, and divorce. To what extent does art reflect and influence the law? The study of art and law is a nascent yet vibrant discipline. By exploring the historical and legal context of art, we gain a better understanding of how the populace interpreted and followed the law, as well as how artists tried to influence the development of social norms. In the context of marriage contracts, this historical research is timely given the current debate over same sex marriage. Much has been made of the history and origin of marriage by both sides in the same sex marriage controversy. The analysis of these paintings yields some clues in how Western culture conceived of marriage during a time of massive social and legal change.

First Page


Last Page


Publication Date









Northern Illinois University Law Review

Suggested Citation

Benjamin A. Templin, The Marriage Contract in Fine Art, 30 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 45 (2009).

Included in

Law Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.