Faces of the Courtroom: How the Visual Elements of Portraiture Contribute to the Construction and Communication of Courtroom Sketches
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The purpose of this study is to interrogate the composition and influence of courtroom sketches from an art historical perspective with the aim of demonstrating not only their importance in the public’s understanding of the Canadian legal system, but also their ability to shape and challenge our perception of the individuals that appear before the courts. Specifically, this study focuses on the ways that art historical portrait theory can contextualize the construction and legibility of a courtroom sketch. The question of how courtroom sketches use the visual elements of portraiture to represent participants at a trial is applied to three case studies: the sentencing hearing of former colonel Russell Williams, the trial of Jian Ghomeshi, and the trial of Senator Mike Duffy. Each case took place in the Ontario criminal justice system and produced significant media attention resulting in a large number of sketches from various artists. The correlations identified and discussed in this study between the courtroom sketch and the practices of portraiture demonstrate that the historical conventions of representations are inextricable from the construction of images in contemporary media. In addition, this analysis serves to extricate the courtroom sketch from its traditional role as support for a textual report of legal events to a more accurate role as a primary source of information dissemination to the public.