A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

PREFACE

By PROFESSOR TANCRED BORENIUS

UNTIL comparatively recently, whoever said 'English Medieval Art' could almost certainly be interpreted as alluding to nothing but English Medieval architecture. No one naturally would dream of belittling the importance of the mistress art in England during the Middle Ages; but the extent to which other branches of art were cultivated in this country during the same period was long greatly underestimated, and even now it is in many quarters far from fully realized. The reasons for this state of things are not far to seek: on two different occasions, the examples of English painting and sculpture (both concepts being here taken in the widest sense) were subjected to a systematic onslaught-- in the sixteenth century by the Reformers, and in the seventeenth by the Puritans: nor have later times always shown the reverence towards the existing examples of ancient pictorial and sculptural art in England which one might have expected. One branch alone of English Medieval painting has escaped the attention of the iconoclast in a more marked degree--that which concerned itself with the illumination of manuscripts. Not only do many English illuminated manuscripts survive in Continental libraries, but even those which have never left these shores led a comparatively uneventful existence even at the time when other works of art were suffering the most pitiless destruction. Hence English illumination has been the first category of English Medieval Art apart from architecture to come into its own: and thanks to the activity of a number of scholars the importance of English Medieval Art generally is beginning slowly to emerge. Eloquent expression of what has been achieved in the rediscovery of English Medieval Art was given in the great Loan Exhibition which

-vii-

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