A GREAT courtroom sketch radiates with the power of intimacy. You are right there, peering with a voyeur’s view of an iconic mob boss, or cult-leader killer, or world-famous celebrity trying to squeeze into a bloody glove. You get to look square into the eyes of the accused, thanks to the trained eyes of an artist.

To celebrate this art form, some of the most resonant courtroom sketches of the past half-century will be on display starting this week at the Library of Congress. The new exhibit, titled “Drawing Justice,” will kick off with a panel discussion — at noon Thursday at the library — as several featured illustrators illuminate this sublime but fading field.

The nearly 100-work exhibit will feature historic sketches such as Howard Brodie’s drawing of Jack Ruby at his sentencing for killing Lee Harvey Oswald; Marilyn Church’s trial drawing of Martha Stewart; Pat Lopez’s capturing of a nervous Ken Lay looking at evidence during the Enron trial; Bill Robles’s drawing of the haunting, dead-eyed Charles Manson on the witness stand; and Joseph Papin’s image of “Son of Sam” murderer David Berkowitz in mental anguish.

“While the legal system is generally open to all of us, courtroom artists open the door — via our newspapers, televisions and now computers — to gain privileged access to a trial,” the library’s Sara Duke, the show’s curator, says of the unique role of these talents. “But artists don’t act merely as recorders of a moment. They distill for us how people gesture, their relationships to other people in the room and moments of action in the court that define the trial.”

For the exhibit, which especially spotlights about a dozen top artists, Duke and her team culled from 10,000 drawings with an eye toward their historic weight and compelling nature.

“We realized,” Duke says, “that we had a critical mass of original courtroom illustrations that represented the artistic styles of California, the Midwest and New York — which are quite distinctive.”

Comic Riffs asked Duke to spotlight a few of her representative favorites from the show. They include:

  • “A great sketch captures a moment in time that distills the essence of one of the people in the courtroom,” Duke says, “like Bill Robles’s drawing of Charles Manson leaping at Judge Charles Older with a pencil as the bailiff uses all his might to pull him back,” or “Marilyn Church’s drawing of the Dapper Don, John Gotti, meeting her gaze.”
  • “A great sketch distills the essence of the trial, like Jane Rosenberg’s drawing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial, which shows FBI agent Sarah De Lair holding up the shredded remains of the backpack,” Duke says. “We are brought back to the moment Tsarnaev detonated the bomb at the end of the Boston Marathon, the bloody aftermath and the manhunt, as well as that moment in the courtroom.”
  • “A great sketch also shows how the legal system works,” Duke says, whether it’s David Rose’s piece that reflects “the volume of paperwork generated in Daniel Ellsberg’s and Anthony Russo’s ‘Pentagon Papers’ trial or the five admirals sitting in the court of naval inquiry in Arnold Mesches’s drawing for the Pueblo affair.”
  • Aggie Kenny’s drawing of the landmark Falwell v. Hustler shows Larry Flynt outside the main proceedings,” Duke says. “It’s not the wheelchair that segregates Flynt but an outburst during a previous Supreme Court appearance. That decision gave cartoonists, comedians and writers the right to parody. It protects editorial cartoonists, but it also protects television parodies.”

“Drawing Justice” will run through Oct. 28 in the South Gallery of the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building.