- Pictures and Popery: Art and Religion in England, 1660–1760
This excellent, accessibly written, and carefully evidenced study addresses the intriguing and long-neglected issue of religious painting and (in a deliberately more limited way) sculpture in England after the Reformation. The received notion has always been that antipapist iconoclasm and widely disseminated propaganda against imagery in Protestant churches, along with well-publicized laments from artists about the lack of native patronage for religious paintings, meant that there was indeed no pictorial work to speak of in churches in this period. The fact that wealthy and educated aristocrats who had undertaken the Grand Tour bought works of religious art by Italian artists has been explained by invoking the prevailing aesthetic hierarchy that—following the model taught by the French Academy and adopted in England—placed "history painting" (i.e., subjects inspiring moral virtue whether from classical history or the Bible) as far superior to other genres. Few have asked what, in fact, the owners of these paintings—whether situated in private chapels or in grand saloons—understood these paintings to signify or how they reconciled their imagery with the dictates of Protestant teaching. Moreover, anyone who regularly explores English cathedrals and parish churches can see for themselves a remarkable number of religious paintings from this period survive, not to mention stained glass and other church furnishings. Furthermore exhibition catalogues of the Royal Academy in London (founded in 1768—outside this book's chronological limits) furnish many more examples of religious art than might popularly have been supposed.
Haynes draws out the complexities and nuances of these issues. Her proposition that "religion in England was not all of the plainness of Puritanism, the fervor and political dominance of which tends to overshadow our understanding of this period,"provides the premise for chapters that deal specifically with Grand Tour education, the interpretation of Catholic pictures in England with particular reference to Raphael's cartoons (commissioned by Pope Leo X and purchased by Charles I—now on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum from the Royal Collection), the collecting of Catholic pictures with particular attention to Holkham Hall and Horace Walpole's sermon of 1752, and the dispute over the positioning of an image of St. Michael in the Parish of All Hallows in London. Haynes explains how antiquity (that essential component of the gentleman's education) was mediated through Catholic art of the Renaissance that thereby became not only unavoidable but also compelling. In her penetrating analysis of a range of contemporary texts by writers on taste, Haynes persuasively argues that owning and displaying Catholic art was justifiable on two grounds: firstly that it was not the image itself but the use to which it was put that was significant in Protestant doctrine, and secondly that Englishmen as independent-minded and free individuals (in a way that Catholics, it was argued, could not be) were able to exercise judgment and decorum in their [End Page 384] viewing of religious art. In short, an ability to respond appropriately to Catholic art could be seen as one of the yardsticks of education and taste. Paintings were, Haynes insists, not neutral—their owners and those who saw them did not bracket out their subject matter and merely admire their style—they negotiated what they were well aware were contentious religious spaces. And here Haynes, in a way that is typical of the thoughtfulness of this book, rejects the dependence of so many recent scholars on Jurgen Habermas's notions of public and private spheres, arguing that homes, churches, and institutional buildings in this period were porous and multifunctional. Other merits aside, the bibliography of this book is a must-have! [End Page 385]