The Case for Domestic Imagery

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Andrew Morrall, Professor and Chair of Academic Programs at the Bard Graduate Centre.  Andrew has expertise and has published widely in a variety of fields, including early modern Northern European fine and applied arts, the reformation and the arts, the history and theory of ornament and the early history of collecting. Here he reflects upon the field of domestic imagery, and its relationship to Collinson’s thesis.

This contribution to the After Iconophobia workshop consisted chiefly in suggesting a number of perceived blind spots with regard to Collinson’s theory of “creeping aesthetic totalitarianism” in the sphere of Protestant visual culture in later Elizabethan England, in the light of subsequent scholarship.[1] Collinson’s argument is that between the years c.1570 to c.1600, there occurred a definitive and radical shift from a visual to a logo-centric culture, during which the religious image was apparently so completely removed from the culture that it was worth the author positing the question of the generation that grew up within those years:

“What do we know of the capacity to form mental pictures of someone who has never seen an actual picture? What would our mind’s eye of Christ be if we had been totally isolated from the Christian iconographical tradition”? (p. 296).

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Fragments of Doom in Post-Reformation England

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Richard Dhillon, an AHRC M3C-funded PhD student based in the University of Birmingham’s Department of History.  Richard is working with Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis on representations of the hell actoss the English reformation.  Here he reflects upon some of the changing ways in which the traditional ‘doom’ (or last judgement scene) continued to be represented visually after the reformation.

Guild Chapel

Fig. 1 A reconstruction of the Doom at Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel by William Puddephat.

In his accounts for 1563, John Shakespeare, father of William Shakespeare and chamberlain of Stratford-upon-Avon, recorded a charge of 2s for ‘defasyng ymages in ye chapel’.[1] In a purification exercise that has become emblematic of Protestant iconoclasm, Shakespeare whitewashed the walls of the town’s Guild Chapel, covering much of the rich scheme that adorned them, including the Doom which dominated the chancel arch.[2] [Fig. 1] The scene depicted the Day of Judgment, as described in the Book of Matthew. Christ sits in majesty at the centre of the scene. To the viewer’s left are the saved, entering the kingdom of heaven, and to the right are the damned, being delivered into the gruesome mouth of hell.

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Staged Portraits in Early Modern English Drama

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Emanuel Stelzer, a PhD student in intercultural humanistic studies in the department of philosophy and literature at the University of Bergamo.  Emanuel’s PhD project consists of an analysis of the uses and effects of staged portraits in early modern English drama. Here he reflects upon the extent to which the iconophobia thesis is compatible with treatments of staged portraits in early modern English drama.

Critics have traditionally employed a two-pronged approach to understand the significance of pictures in early modern English drama and of its visual dimension: they have read them either in terms of iconophobia or of iconophilia. These scholars generally refer to Patrick Collinson’s work, the seminal centrality of which is easily assessed in many diverse fields ranging from the history of Tudor and early Stuart portraiture, to the studies on Renaissance visual culture and on the impact of the English Reformation. I wish to demonstrate that the staging of portraits in early modern English drama can problematize this dualistic interpretation.

It is well known that Collinson diagnosed post-Reformation England with “severe visual anorexia”.[1] He neatly separated two moments in English cultural history: the first, “iconoclasm”, which destroyed and defaced holy icons and religious simulacra. The second phase, “iconophobia”, was nothing short of an epistemic shift which took place from the 1580s, when the very status of the image became the centre of denigration and fear. The Word had to triumph over the Image. More or less gradually, “the English became the people of a book, and that book was the Bible”.[2] Most importantly, Collinson also asked: “What do we know about the capacity to form mental pictures of someone who has almost never seen an actual picture?”[3]

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The Presence (and Absence) of the Supernatural in Elizabethan Drama

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Jan Tasker, an AHRC M3C-funded PhD student based at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute.  Jan is working with Martin Wiggins and Jonathan Willis on representations of the supernatural in early modern English drama.  Here she reflects upon the changing ways in which God was represented on the Elizabethan stage.

In 1606 the Parliament of King James I of England passed an act banning players from ‘jestingly or prophanely […] speak[ing] or [using] the holy Name of God or of Christ Jesus or of the Holy Ghoste or of the Trinity’, or risk a £10 fine.[1]  Following the Reformation God was not to be taken lightly, and such usage was considered blasphemous or, potentially, idolatrous.  However as Patrick Collinson noted in his seminal lecture ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia’ God had apparently left the English stage more than twenty years earlier – or had he?[2]


My current research explores how dramatists across a variety of genres continued actively to explore the theological issues concerning supernatural beings, including God, during the period 1533 – 1642. In this early stage I have been identifying dramatic works that contain explicit supernatural elements of a potentially religious nature.  This blog will share these early findings in respect of the disappearance, or otherwise, of the Christian God.  The data discussed comes from an electronic trawl of Dr Martin Wiggins’ work for his ongoing British Drama: A Catalogue, including all known dramatic works (not just plays) written in the period 1533 – 1642.[3]

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Collinson and Drama

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Adrian Streete, Senior Lecturer in English Literature 1500-1780 in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow.  Adrian’s books include the monograph Protestantism and Drama in Early Modern England and the edited volume Early Modern Drama and the Bible: Contexts and Readings, 1570-1625. Here he reflects upon the ways in which drama in Protestant England continued to represent God’s Word on the stage. 

Part of the post is taken from the essay ‘Literary Genres for the Espression of Faith: Drama’, in Andrew Hiscock and Helen Wilcox (eds), The Oxord Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Religion (Forthcoming, 2017).  Some of these topics are developed further in Adrian’s forthcoming book Anti-Catholicism and Apocalypse in Seventeenth-Century English Drama (CUP, 2017).

I want to raise two related questions stimulated by Professor Collinson’s lecture. What is ‘biblical drama’? And what does ‘representing the word’ on stage entail? Over the past thirty years, literary scholarship has offered a number of replies to these questions. I will outline what I think are the most important of these responses. But before I do this, I want to remark briefly on the striking interdisciplinarity of Collinson’s lecture. Think of the willingness today of historians like Peter Lake and Quentin Skinner to engage in literary analysis, or conversely of the fine historical work of literary scholars like Brian Cummings and David Norbrook. In 1985, these disciplinary boundaries were much less fluid. Historians were not always as keen to take literature seriously as historical evidence. Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning was only five years old. Dollimore’s Radical Tragedy had just been published in 1984. As we might expect, Collinson refers to a number of historically-minded literary scholars. But he also makes reference to the Marxist-inspired work of Margo Heinmann, and in his notes he thanks Michael O’Connell of the University of California, whose book The Idolatrous Eye would be published in 2000. With characteristic prescience, Collinson’s methodology assimilates key aspects of New Historicism and Cultural Materialism.

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Protestants and Images in the Late-Seventeenth-Century

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Laura Sangha, fellow monster-head and Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Exeter.  Laura’s first monograph was on Angels and Belief in England 1480-1700, and she is currently working on the pious Leeds antiquarian and diarist Ralph Thoresby. Here she reflects upon the relationship between Protestants and Images in the latter part of the seventeeth century.

In this blog post I draw on Patrick Collinson’s article to reflect on my own research into the life and times of the devout antiquarian, Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725), posing a series of questions for readers. In particular the post considers what happens after iconophobia, in the context of the ‘long Reformation’, and it reconsiders the functions of images in post-Reformation England.

Sangha - Thoresby

1) The Second English Reformation/ and the rest

In ‘iconoclasm’, Patrick Collinson made the continuing development of religious cultures and the aging of the evangelical movement a headline. Continue reading

Definitions and Phases of Reform

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Adam Morton, Lecturer in the History of Britain at Newcastle University.  Adam’s doctoral thesis, which he is currently revising for publication, focusses on (amongst other things) the impact of Reformed theology upon visual and material cultures. Here he reflects upon the legacy of Collinson’s article for the field of reformation studies.

9780333439715I began my undergraduate career convinced that I wanted to be a historian, but entirely unsure which bit of the past I should dedicate my life to unlocking. Patrick Collinson’s Birthpangs of Protestant England (1988) – of which a revised version of his Stenton Lecture From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia (1986) formed a part – was one of four books (the others being John Bossy’s Christianity in the West (1985), Robert Scribner’s For the Sake of Simple Folk (1981) and Alexandra Walsham’s Providence in Early Modern England (1999)) which convinced me that the Reformation was the thing for me. In each case I became so absorbed in reading them that all sense of time lapsed. I emerged from their pages to discover that day had become night and in one instance a grumpy porter had to inform me rather briskly that the library was now closing. Such was their power that over a decade later I can still remember exactly where in the Morrell Library at the University of York I was sitting when I first encountered each author: remarkable experiences in an otherwise unremarkable building.

When I embarked on PhD study on the relationship between anti-Catholicism and visual culture several years later, I quickly discovered that for many historians working on popular culture ‘Collinson’ was a synonym for ‘wrong’. Continue reading