Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval England: Textuality and the Visual Image

Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval England: Textuality and the Visual Image

Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval England: Textuality and the Visual Image

Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval England: Textuality and the Visual Image


"This collection of essays presents itself in a very promising way. Its topics are both currently fashionable and undeniably central to late medieval England. Its contributors include an impressive gathering of eminent medievalists. Its publisher has given the volume an elegant design...' -Joel Fredell, The Medieval ReviewThe pressure to destroy images was not an exclusively sixteenth-century phenomenon. The late medieval period witnessed both religious and secular conflicts over images. The essays in this book, each by an outstanding scholar, consider issues of central concern - literary, political, and art-historical - that arise from image making and breaking.


Jeremy Dimmick, James Simpson, and Nicolette Zeeman

Iconoclasm is always an acknowledgement of the power of the image. Many of the chapters in this volume explore the consequences of the intense and mutually defining relationship between the love of images and their destruction. They do so, for the most part, in terms of the historical, social, political, devotional, and textual theories and practices of the later medieval and early modern period. During this period the image becomes the focus of extreme and often violent forms of contestation.

The fact that such contestation pre-dates the Reformation is attested by all the chapters in this book. the subject of iconoclasm has long been central for cultural historians concerned with the post-Reformation period: scholars often delineate the contours of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century textual culture by reference to the destruction of images in these centuries. Very often, however, that delineation stops at the moment of destruction itself, and goes no further back into the complex relations of image and text in late medieval cultural practice. Iconoclasm thereby becomes, effectively, an early modern topic, without a late medieval history. Modern historiography of this period takes its own shape, rather too passively, from the very cultural practices that are its object.

Two seminal studies began work on pre-Reformation English iconoclasm and idolatry. Margaret Aston's magisterial England's Iconoclasts (1988) begins with the Wycliffite origins of Reformation image controversies, and Michael Camille's innovative The Gothic Idol (1991) revealed the pervasiveness and complexity of the figure of the idol in medieval art and culture. This volume of essays extends the work of these important studies, in the conviction that the attractions and dangers of the image have substantial ramifications not only for art history, but also for a wide range of other late medieval and early modern cultural practices.

In the opening chapter, James Simpson considers iconoclasm in relation to questions of historical periodization. He argues that memorial images are inevitably statements of historical affiliation and commitment; to break those images is to break the pattern of history itself. the very category of the 'Middle Ages' was itself generated, in part, by Protestant identification of the pre-Reformation period as a period in which the imagination both ruled and mesmerized the psyche.

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