Destructive Defiance: Catholic and Protestant Iconoclasm in England, 1550-1585

Destructive Defiance: Catholic and Protestant Iconoclasm in England, 1550-1585

Davis, David (University of Exeter)

Cromohs Virtual Seminars: Recent historiographical trends of the British Studies (17th-18th Centuries), 2006-2007: 1-5 


Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, ‘The reputation, the name, and appearance of things have grown on-and-into things and become their very body.’For iconoclasts, the things that once appeared to be devotional and sacred were transformed into detestable idols that needed to be destroyed. How a thing was defined could determine its survival. Currently, several discourses on European iconoclasm exist, but Margaret Aston’s work on sixteenth century English iconoclasm remains the most nuanced and informed argument. Though this paper does not wish to contend with her findings, the story of iconoclasm has several questions that need to be asked and answered. First, while there were a variety of iconoclasts, the historiography too often portrays iconoclasm as a homogenous movement, dividing the ‘intensely visual’ Catholic and the ‘the invisible, abstract, and didactic word’ of the Protestant.Further complicating things, recent studies have highlighted that the visual culture of early modern England was more diverse and ambiguous, in its permissibility, than the dogmatic distinction between Protestant and Catholic. Also, much has been said about the religious attitudes and the changing religious climate that informed iconoclasm. But as Joel Budd has correctly said,’It is far from clear that the laity perceived iconoclasm as a generalized assault on the old faith.

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