Introductory thoughts

This introductory post to our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Tara Hamling, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham.  Tara is an Art Historian by training and has published widely on the impact of the reformation on visual and material cultures, for example in her monograph Decorating the Godly Household.  Here she reflects on Collinson’s article, its influence, its relevance, and some of the challenges it still presents.

Why are we here? We’re here to acknowledge, celebrate and reconsider Patrick Collinson’s seminal lecture ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation’.  This hugely influential paper (published in 1986) which also informed chapter 4 of his book of 1988, The Birthpangs of Protestant England, has shaped a generation of scholarly enquiry into the impact of religion on culture, and of culture on religion, in post-reformation England.

My main interest, of course, is the visual arts – or to use Collinson’s term, pictorial arts, and especially the so-called ‘decorative’ arts in a domestic context. I want to offer, therefore, a few brief thoughts on how scholarship has tended to categorise sources and spaces, and the implications of these compartmentalised groupings for our understanding of Protestant attitudes to the image.

Categories of Image

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‘Joshua’, one of a set of painted panels with Old Testament figures, c.1600.  Victoria and Albert Museum. Copyright V&A, London

Since its publication 30 years ago, new work across disciplines on visual and material culture has uncovered a wealth of extant physical evidence that challenges the notion and process towards ‘iconophobia’ as established by Collinson. And yet, in the main, scholarship has tended to retain his basic framework, but point out that iconophobia couldn’t have extended to certain kinds of artwork in certain kinds of setting. Yet this newly noticed visual material has remained marginal. One of the reasons Collinson’s framework has survived the pressures placed on it by studies engaged with categories of surviving visual culture is that these artworks are deemed to be, well, not very good. Vernacular English art is judged rather embarrassing in its crude, awkward quality and this, together with an association with low culture and ‘lesser’ settings such as ‘cheap print’ or private houses, has allowed it to continue to pass relatively unrecognised. It has not been incorporated within the canon of early modern cultural forms.

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After Iconophobia?

After Iconophobia? An Online Symposium

Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis

aiIn 1985, Patrick Collinson delivered Reading University’s Stenton lecture on the topic ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation.’ More than thiry years on, this essay (published in pamphlet form in 1986 and in revised form as Chapter 4 of The Birthpangs of Protestant England) has gone on to shape a generation of scholarly enquiry into the impact of religion on culture, and of culture on religion, in post-reformation England.  Scholars have accepted, rejected, and modified Collinson’s arguments, but one way or another they continue to exert a powerful influence over reformation studies today.

If you haven’t read Collinson’s original article/chapter, we would certainly encourage you to do so, although reasons of copyright prevent us from uploading a copy on the public internet.  Still, the definitions of his two key terms may well be of interest:

iconophobia definitions

Tara and I therefore felt that the thirtieth anniversary seemed like a timely point to take stock and re-examine Collinson’s initial thesis, as well as flagging up some of the new directions that study of the areas explored in his original lecture (religious drama, songs and ballads, and pictorial art) was taking.  What is the current consensus regarding ‘iconoclasm’, ‘iconophobia’, ‘the second English reformation’, and the relationship between them?  In the summer of 2015 we gathered together a dynamic group of international scholars, under the auspices of Birmingham’s Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) and with the generous support of the School of History and Cultures, for a two-day workshop to consider the legacy of his seminal essay, as well as exploring the most exciting present and future trends in the field.  Given the success of previous online symposia at the ‘monster – history from below; voices of the people; addressing authority – we decided to widen the conversation further by presenting our thoughts in an open forum and inviting responses from anyone with an interest in the topic.

A new post will be published every few days over the coming weeks. We begin with some introductory thoughts (Hamling) and broad reflections on Collinson’s original thesis (Morton) and its relevance for the ‘long’ English reformation (Sangha).  We then move on to consider some more detailed case studies, such as dramatic representations of God’s word (Streete) and of god himself (Tasker), as well as dramatic representations of Elizabethan portraiture (Stelzer).  Next come some considerations of visual and material culture in the form of Doom imagery in print and paint (Dhillon), domestic imagery (Morrall) and the material culture of the post-reformation parish church (Orlik).  Finally, the symposium considers potential future areas for research (Green) as well as whether an essay as audacious and sweeping as Collinson’s could still be written (Ryrie).  We finish with some concluding thoughts (Willis).

The aim of this online symposium is not to present these pieces as finished ‘publications’ for posterity. Rather we hope that they will serve as spurs to discussion. You are thus warmly invited to reply to these posts with your questions, comments, suggestions and critiques, or join the conversation on twitter via #aftericonophobia.

Table of Contents

  • Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis, ‘After Iconophobia?’
  • Tara Hamling, ‘Introductory thoughts’
  • Adam Morton, ‘Definitions and Phases of Reform’
  • Laura Sangha, ‘Protestants and Images in the Late Seventeenth-Century’
  • Adrian Streete, ‘Collinson and Drama’
  • Jan Tasker, ‘The Presence (and Absence) of the Supernatural in Elizabethan Drama’
  • Emmanuel Stelzer, ‘Staged Portraits in Early Modern English Drama’
  • Malcolm Jones, ‘English single-sheet prints c.1580-c.1620 in the light of Collinson’s 1985 lecture’
  • Richard Dhillon, ‘Fragments of Doom in Post-Reformation England’
  • Andrew Morall, ‘The Case for Domestic Imagery’
  • Susan Orlik, ‘Somerton: a Parochial Case Study’
  • Ian Green, ‘Future Directions’
  • Alec Ryrie, ‘Historical Reflections’
  • Jonathan Willis, ‘Concluding Thoughts’

If referencing pieces published here, we suggest the following citation: Author, ‘Title’, in Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis (eds), After Iconophobia? An Online Symposium (2017) [URL: Date Accessed].

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