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Issues Involved and Arising in the Brancusi and Veronese Art Trials


The link between art and its legal interpretation is quite complex. This is mainly because it encompasses issues relating to hybrid criminals as well as civil laws. It ranges from regulation of artistic expression to art market. These include intellectual property, art protection as property and morality offenses like indecency, obscenity and blasphemy, among others. Moreover, it has been noted that law appears protective of art in the former context. This is quite different from current context, which is largely seen as censorial. Of great concern is the fact that modern statutes disavow link between aesthetic and legal judgment of art. This paper will explore issues involved and arising in the Brancusi and Veronese art trials. It will also critically evaluate those issues in relation to art trials over the past 25 years where courts have been required to decide legal meaning of art.

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Brancusi art trials

Artworks and their tittles have been a worrying issue in courts. For instance, both Veronese and Brancusi trials were based on the relationship between artworks and their tittles. The Brancusi trial happened in 1928 in the United States. This was under the customs court since his artwork seemed ambiguous. That is, there was confusion on whether it was to be categorized under the sculptures or articles of utility. The former was placed under the article 1704 based on the US tariff act of 1922 while the latter was based on article 399. In this case, the latter would have attracted import tax levy as opposed to the former that was free from payment. This issue generated vigorous debate within public and press. The customs department had refused to classify Brancusi’s artworks as sculpture. This is mainly because of its industrial finishing style as well as abstract surface that made them to believe that it was utilitarian object. This was to be 240 dollars, which amounted to 40% of its book value. In order to succeed, various artists were enlisted as trial witnesses. These included Edward Steichen, Jacob Epstein and Brancusi. This trial had an important implication on modern sculptures as well as economic considerations. In essence, the trial was aimed at defining sculpture and art. In this regard, the defense argued that tittle given to Brancusi’s artwork did not show resemblance, and therefore it was not a sculpture.

Moreover, the trial aimed at establishing determination of aesthetic judgment. It also remained to be seen whether the court would utilize its case precedent and statutes to resolve the question. Besides, there was also an option of relying upon evidences from artists as well as supplementary criteria, among others. Interestingly, article 1704 had also been incorporated in the 1913 version, to avoid the same confusion. However, it did not provide indications on representational qualities and attributes a sculpture should convey. It therefore involved various complexities in establishing whether Brancusi’s artwork was authentic or not. Furthermore, by accepting the artwork as a work of sculpture, it would widen the definition of art. Ultimately, the trial was on the definition of art and in this respect Brancusi’s artwork, its title and image as well as whether it represented a bird. What transpired was acceptance of the artwork as a sculpture and subsequent reversal of payment rules as stipulated in article 1704. It, therefore, allowed free movement of Brancusi’s Bird in Space without the levy.

Veronese art trials

One of the most significant components of art trial is its aesthetic regime of arts. This regime has spanned over 200 years with characteristics that free it from any specified rule, subject matter and hierarchy of arts as well as genres. Paolo Veronese’s trial happened much earlier than Brancusi’s did. This was in 1573 when he was arraigned before a tribunal about the inquisition in Venice. This was mainly because he was supposed to have introduced elements that were considered unsuitable to his painting. The painting was known as the last supper and was executed in the Venetian monastery of SS. In fact, this was the first time such an occurrence had happened, especially with reference to an artist’s piece of work. Moreover, the content of his work was quite deplorable to the public and Christians who viewed it as a form of prejudice. Of great concern to the tribunal was the presence of other figures and animals such as baboons, Turks as well as dwarves painted next to Jesus in his work. In this regard, it was important to know whether artists are simply added to pictures or paintings as they please rather than accustom them to their subjects. He tried to explain his actions by showing his artistic license that resonated with a novel sense of artistic freedom and identity, which worked in that period of late Renaissance. In this regard, artists believed that they could paint pictures the deemed fit as well as those that their talent permitted. Ultimately, he resigned to making a mistake and concurred that it was acceptable for artistic works to operate within limits. He was therefore forced to correct the mistake. However, what he did was change the tittle of his artwork form the Lord’s Supper to the feast in the House of Levi.

Brancusi and Veronese art trials

The two trials happened in different settings as well as contexts. Brancusi’s case happened in the 20th century while that of Veronese in the sixteenth. It can be noted that in Brancusi’s case, it was of great essence to know the true definition of art and its aesthetic components. On the other hand, as much as Veronese’s artwork was recognized as one, it was expected to conform to the subjects’ moral context. It is also quite important to note that in both cases the relationship between artworks and their tittles are at stake. Moreover, the fact that artists can represent artworks as they please as well as tittle them in a similar manner is not a legal or an aesthetic option. It is therefore quite necessary to note that Veronese situation depended on laws that existed at the time and this may not necessarily apply to modern governance. Religious law was therefore given the edge in this period. Therefore, Veronese could not offer any defense, which allows his artistic expression in this line. The current laws have those in respect of obscenity, which allows for defenses in accordance with artistic value. Therefore, the change of tittle in Veronese’s trial can be considered as conversion of an unlawful into a lawful act in accordance with appropriate rubrics of artistic genres and religious law.

However, it is also important to note that contrast in these trials as seen in modern notions. For instance, Veronese accepted to change his tittle in order to conform to the law while Brancusi’s trial prevailed in respect of art experts’ interpretation of artwork in court. Moreover, authorship has been emphasized in modern notions as opposed to previous times. It is also quite necessary to note that Brancusi’s artwork was investigated in terms of its validity as a sculpture or work of art. This is slightly different to Veronese’s case, which explored the effect of his artwork on the subjects. Brancusi’s trial is not a good example of modern art trials, which are mainly composed of copyright issues. In fact, it only gives a hint of what artwork is and does not nay any way allow the law to accept every kind of artwork which may be inappropriate. This is also not to show that judges are incompetent concerning artistic works. For instance, in 1967, Mark Morell was convicted of allegedly defiling the United States flag in his artworks. This was done irrespective of call into his right to free expression. This shows how important artistic value is to its subjects and area of jurisdiction. In essence, analysis of legal judgments and trials need to encompass morality laws such as obscenity and blasphemy, among others. Moreover, thorough analysis of such laws should also be carried out in order to defend artistic expressions in an acceptable manner.

Issues Involved

Brancusi’s trial, which occurred in 1929 exposed several issues that surround artists and their works. In addition, that of Veronese initiated numerous issues that surrounded and which still affects artworks. Among the issues involved is the tittle of artworks. For instance, Brancusi’s sculpture was brought into contention when it was realized that its tittle and industrial finishing style as well as abstract surface that made them to believe that it was utilitarian object. Similarly, Veronese’s painting depicted Jesus to be in a surrounding that included German dwarfs, Turks and baboons during the last supper. This was quite different form the knowledge of that context and was viewed as trying to change the real events. In response, Veronese tried to cite his license as allowing him to express his skills as he pleases and to his ability. However, the religious laws at the time did not condone such imaginations, as it was tantamount to prejudice. Moreover, more people would be misled into understanding the seriousness and context of events in the last supper. This prompted Veronese to rename his artwork to fit its context. Therefore, the issues involved included the artwork, its tittle and image as well as whether it represents the tittle. Other issues involved included laws governing artworks, definition of art as well as the context and setting of their artworks.

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Issues arising

The Brancusi and Veronese’s trial both conveyed various issues that arise form artworks. These include authorship, limit to expression, legal laws, context, subject and definition of artworks, among others. The issue of authorship was quite relevant in Brancusi’s case when court inquired whether he was the authentic author of the sculpture. Authorship led to other issues such as copyright and intellectual property, among others. It was also realized that artists could not express their artworks as they pleased in order to work within public morality guidelines. This ensured that indecency, blasphemy and obscenity laws were used to regulate such offences. For example, Mark Morell was convicted for allegedly defiling United States flag in 1967. Moreover, his conviction was upheld irrespective of calls on his right to free expression. This shows how important artistic value and decency is in expression of artworks. Legal laws and statutes also arise as to their limits in affecting artworks. This was very important in both cases as elaborated. For instance, the judge called in exports to assist in interpreting authenticity of Brancusi’s art. This showed that legal statutes and case precedents are limited in their effect on artworks. Moreover, the context of an artwork is also well conveyed. This is mainly because it signified the kind of ruling made on artworks. For instance, due to prominence of religious laws in Veronese’s times, he had to accept defeat and correct the mistake made in his paintings.

Other issues that arose are on the relationship between artwork and its title, which was quite contentious in both cases. Moreover, the content or elements that accompany an artwork are of great importance to the subjects. This is mainly because it determines whether the artwork is relevant to them as well as if it complies with public morality. This was quite predominant in Veronese’s time although it still plays a big role in modernity. Various issues have also arisen as to copyright, ownership laws as far as originality and artworks are concerned. Finally, definition of art has also been an important issue in law courts. There are various designs added by engineers and these have different from artistic values. It is therefore of great importance to understand the meaning of art.


Artists have the right to represent their works as they please and to the best of their knowledge. However, these principles are still guided by public morality, which was in force in the ancient times. It is also quite necessary to note that representation of artistic works in any of these forms is not a legal or an aesthetic option. However, due to strength of religious law in the 16th century as well as public outcry, the tribunal forced Veronese to change his tittle from the Lord’s Supper to the feast in the House of Levi. Modern times have seen convictions of artists accused of defiling important objects in life. For example, this was witnessed in Morell’s case of 1967. Another case was also witnessed in 1961 regarding copyright issues, which entailed D. H. Lawrence’s modern masterpiece. In essence, both cases involved issues relating to definition of artwork, its limits and legal statutes that guard it. It also shows the various changes that have transpire over the centuries about artworks and its regulations. Changes have also been effected in laws to accommodate issues such as obscenity, copyright among other unlawful acts.

Issues in relation to art trials over the past 25 years

Several art trials have been conducted in the past 25 years. These have involved issues such as meaning of artworks, authorship, copyright, and intellectual property issues. In modern times, most Americans assume that artists have the right to express themselves as they please. In fact, they assume that the law guarantees them this right through the constitution. However, it is worth noting that this is only true as far as some arts are. Furthermore, the American courts have continued to interpret the first amendment as that which allows many restrictions on what the public are allowed to see and hear as well as what artists can say. This prompted the government to exhibit artworks that were at the center of trials in courtrooms. Each of the exhibits is accompanied by a summary of case and the judgment obtained. In other words, they are put in place to guide artists and the public on artistic expressions and acceptable practices. Some of the cases include Jeffrey Altbach versus Franciszek Kulon, which was based on artistic expression and defamation of 2000. Others included Chapman Kelley v. Chicago Parks Authority and Christoph Buchell vs. Mass MoCCA among others. The main issues were copyright, obscenity, harmful content to minors, public safety, violent imagery, zoning laws and sexual harassment, among others. It is therefore quite important to note several issues have developed regarding artistic expression compromises its value and such have been dealt with by law. It can thus be said the law has taken a censorial role in artistic expression.


Artwork is important in the world as it conveys creativity and significant aspects of life. However, its use has been a subject of various debates that range from obscenity, indecency, authorship, meaning of art, content and subject, among others. Over the years, society have transformed they way artistic works are viewed. However, public morality has continued to regulate expression of artworks. Examples seen in Brancusi and Veronese trials brought up many issues that surround art. Of great essence in this regard is the meaning of art as well as how legal statutes affect it. In addition, its relation to art trials in the past 25 years has been quite significant. In general, it is very clear that legal judgment and trials regarding meaning of art that encompasses aesthetic regime requires inclusion of public morality laws in order to regulate issues such as indecency, obscenity and blasphemy, among others.


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