Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790

Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790

Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790

Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790

Excerpt

The year 1531, in which the Convocation of Canterbury recognized Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church in England, can conveniently be taken to mark the close of the medieval period of art in England. By 1535, at any rate, most of the old religious themes in painting were proscribed and the painter was no longer able to exercise his art in what had been the most fruitful field of subject-matter for artists in Europe for a thousand years. A taste for pictures of classical mythologies had not been imported as yet from Italy, and a new and national tradition of painting had to grope its way to birth by exploring the only outlet which remained, the field of portraiture. We can best estimate the nature of this subject-matter from the finest surviving monument of Pre-Reformation figure style, the windows of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, which were set up between 1515 and 1531. If Henry VIII had been endowed with any of the qualities necessary for a royal patron of the arts, a wonderful opportunity was to hand for welding the painter's art to the service of a Protestant kingdom. For, by the end of 1532, Hans Holbein, who had paid an earlier visit of a year and a half to London, had come to settle in England for the remainder of his life, driven by economic necessity to seek fortune in what seemed a hopeful and prosperous kingdom as a change from the meagre prospects for a great artist in a city, such as Basel, torn by the religious disturbances of the Reformation. Holbein, conscious of his prodigious abilities, came to the Court of Henry VIII as a speculation, as Leonardo and Bramante, two generations before, had come to the Court of the Sforzas at Milan. His powers were frittered away to as little purpose as Leonardo's were by his royal patron, but, by the time of his death in 1543, he had left few fields of art in England untouched. On painting, where there was little native tradition, his influence was less than on the art of the printer or goldsmith, perhaps also less than his influence on architectural decoration. But 'modern' painting, in any serious sense (as opposed to 'medieval' painting), may properly be said to begin in Britain with Holbein's second and final visit in 1532.

Portrait Painting in England before Holbein

The remains of portrait painting of the period before Holbein's arrival are somewhat more meagre than has hitherto been supposed, since the 'Lady Margaret Beaufort' in the . . .

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