English single-sheet prints c.1580-c.1620 in the light of Collinson’s 1985 lecture

This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Malcolm Jones, former senior lecturer in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield, and author of The Print in Early Modern England.  Malcolm also has more than 70 Pinterest boards with examples of early modern visual culture.  Here he reflects upon the implications that surviving single-sheet prints in the period c.1580-c.1620 have for Collinson’s ‘iconoclasm to iconophobia’ thesis.

When first I came across Patrick Collinson’s statement in From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia, that by ‘iconophobia’, in the period c.1580-c.1620,[1] his ‘Second Reformation’, he intended, “the total repudiation of all images” (p.8), I was non-plussed, but I assume he meant “the total repudiation of all religious images”, or “of all overtly representational religious images”, or something along those lines, rather than a quasi-Islamic ban on all representational imagery in those decades, and I have proceeded on that understanding.

His meaning is perhaps clarified in the final section of his lecture which is devoted to “pictorial art and its creeping disappearance as a means of communicating religious knowledge and arousing moral virtue”, but even here he specifically excludes from consideration emblems, and “secular didactic, decorative, ceremonial and heraldic” art (p.22).  By apparently ruling out of consideration ‘decorative’ art, he thus glosses over the entire wealth of religious imagery which Tara Hamling has recently brought to our attention in “Decorating the ‘Godly’ Household”.

isize-reduced.phpCollinson was “startled” by the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd which is one of the several emblematic woodcuts illustrating the sheet entitled “The map of mortalitie” issued in 1604 — the only single-sheet print he mentions, incidentally — but as Tessa Watt was the first to point out, “The Good Shepherd” seems to have been the one depiction of Christ’s person that was tolerated throughout this period – albeit in the small-scale size of a printer’s device. David J. Davis has recently surveyed such small-scale religious ‘emblems’ in exhaustive detail [Seeing faith, printing pictures. Religious Identity during the English Reformation Brill, 2013].

In my “The Print in Early Modern England” (2010), I noted how, in reproducing in woodcut the Bishop of Salisbury’s arms, which included the Virgin & Child, in his “A display of heraldrie” (1610), John Gwillim evidently felt it politic to confirm his Protestant orthodoxy with respect to such imagery, though protesting that he was “farre from their opinion who damne it for superstition to portraict that glorious Virgin or her Babe”. It is noticeable that Thomas Trevilian betrayed the same nervousness six years later when he copied two Continental prints of the Virgin and Child into his Great Book, but labelled both Circumcisions.

The print corpus of this era of English history has suffered enormous losses. Such ‘religious’ sheets as were issued will have been subject to disproportionate loss via deliberate destruction by those of an especially puritan tendency, i.e iconoclasts in the usual understanding of the term. The English reflex of the popular German and Dutch broadside which shows the Pope on a richly caparisoned steed confronting Christ on the ass is a case in point – only the papal half of the English sheet survives, the other half having evidently been deliberately cut off.

220px-samuel_pepysBut our impression of the corpus of late Elizabethan and Jacobean art is grievously skewed, for what has come down to us is not just what has fortuitously survived destruction, but – overwhelmingly — what was selected for preservation by collectors who for the most part evinced a positive disdain for the ‘popular’ – the avowed subject of Collinson’s lecture (“our concern is primarily with popular culture” p.22). The sad fact is  that – with very few exceptions, such as Samuel Pepys – the collectors on whom we rely for the preservation of such material were part of a connoisseur-based tradition that eschewed and denigrated the vernacular and popular, in favour of continental ‘high art’.

But it is further the case that such material of this nature as has – against all these odds – survived, has most of it only been noticed and published during the past decade, and was thus unknown in 1985 even to historians of art per se. Of the 31 extant or lost English prints datable to the period of his “Second Reformation” listed below, only some 10% are likely to have been known to Collinson, the remaining 90% not having been reproduced (e.g. in Hind’s volumes), doubtless enhancing his impression of the paucity of such material.

But Thomas Trevilian’s only recently facsimiled compendia of 1606 and 1616 are something of a ‘missing link’ for our knowledge of prints available in the Jacobean era, not only attesting to the great number of continental religious prints circulating in London, but also to several lost native productions, most of which qualify as ‘moral’ – e.g.

The Childrens Duty (1608, 1616)

Carry-Tale and Make-Tale (1608, 1616)

The Use of Time both Good and Evil (1608, 1616)

Description of the fower formes of the cardes (1608, 1616)

St Bernard’s Vision or the narrow and broad way to heaven and hell (1616 only)

The Shepherd in Distress (1616 only)

The Picture of Sloth (1616 only)

The 12 Sybils (1616 only – English, but pre-dating the Droeshout set)

In the print repertoire of Collinson’s “Second Reformation” era (i.e. 1580-1620) amongst the survivals, there are admittedly no overtly religious images – yet there are several which seem to me to be qualify under his allegedly missing category of “pictorial art” which “arous[es] moral virtue,” amongst which, in addition to the above, I would include the following prints, both extant, and not extant but recorded in the Stationers’ Registers (marked SR here).

 a Table entitled the Four Elements, the Four Seasons, the Four Humours, the Four Virtues (1587 SR – lost)

Looking Glass for Each Estate [a memento mori] (1595)

The Roll of the Daunce of Death with pictures and verses (1598 SR – lost)

A Godly Meditation (1590s/a.1604)

A picture called Jacke on both sides (1606 SR – lost)

Picture of a carnal man and a true Christian (1607)

The Good Hows-holder (1607)

Death and the Five Alls

Keep within Compass

All do ride the asse (1608)

A good Houswife

The historie of the life of man [a ‘staircase of the ages’] (a.1603, 1616)

The Tree of Fortune (a.1608)

The Description of a Bad Housewife

The Severall Places where you may hear news

A Table of Mans lyfe (1610 SR – lost)

A handfull of Doctrine or the groundes of religion in the forme of a hand (1614 SR – lost)

Fillgut & Pinchbelly and Bulchin & Thingut (both 1620).

I’m also including here such overtly anti-Catholic sheets as,

The Popes Eschucheon or Coatte of Armes… (1606)

Mappe of Pictures of the Popes Petigree (SR 1606 – lost)

Cornelius of Dort (c.1619)

Friar whipping nun

63df755e29517d0c9fd9f5764107b8caI have deliberately excluded from consideration political prints such as The Revells of Christendome (1607), The Papists Powder Treason (1612), and other Gunpowder Plot prints, and A Description of the housekeepinge of the virgin of Batavia  (1615 – SR lost), as well as  others which it would be a stretch to term ‘moral’, e.g. The Pleasant History of the World Turned Upside Down, but I am perhaps wrong to exclude this last-named ‘table’, evidently part of the tip of the iceberg of lost broadside imagery that was pasted or tacked up on tavern walls. Writing in 1589, in this period of alleged ‘iconophobia’, Thomas Nashe interprets this very sheet in a moralising manner: It is no maruaile if euery Ale house vaunt the table of the world upside downe, since the child beateth his father, and the Asse whippeth his Master.[2]

Collinson has a fair amount to say about broadside ballads in his lecture though entirely omits to consider their visual content, whereas we know that for illiterate Elizabethans and Jacobeans this aspect was a major part of their appeal. In Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614), as the ballad-singer is about to embark on A Caveat Against Cutpurses, the immediate question asked of the naïve Cokes by his sister is, Has’t a fine picture, brother? To which he replies, O sister, do you remember the ballads over the nursery-chimney at home o’ my own pasting up? There be brave pictures! The childhood of Cokes and his sister would presumably fall within the era of Collinson’s “Second Reformation”, and yet it is also in this very genre – as Watt and others have shown – that overtly representational religious images appear.

If we are nevertheless still obliged to endorse Collinson’s observation of the scarcity of overtly religious imagery during this period – at least in so far as the print repertoire is concerned – crucially, it is only the native product that is at issue. Again, Trevilian’s compendia are eloquent testimony to the volume of continental religious prints available in the print-shops of the metropolis. Is this what William Burton means when – in a sermon published in 1602 – he complains that “Popish pictures shew themselues in euery shop, & street almost”? In 1622 Peacham is noting for the benefit of his gentlemen readers that Goltzius’s “prints are commonly to be had in Popeshead alley”, at which address we know the printsellers, Sudbury & Humble, had been established since 1603 – and Trevilian copied several of Goltzius’s prints in 1608 and 1616.

Were we to extend Collinson’s terminus for his “Second Reformation” by only 5 years, to 1625, at least another 20 extant English prints could be included, 1624 being something of an annus mirabilis in this regard.

The Double deliverance (1621)

The Funeral of the Netherlands Peace (1621)

The Four Fathers of the Church (1622)

Nine Modern Worthies [suite of 9 prints] (1622)

A Mappe of the Man of Sinne (1622)             [anti-Catholic]

Seven Champions of Christendom [suite of 7 prints] (1623)

Spiritual Warfare (1623)

Which of these fower (1623)

The King [i.e. James I] holding the Pope’s Nose to the Grindstone (a.1624 — lost)

The Nine Worthies [suite of 9 prints] (c.1624)

A discovery of the Jesuits’ Trumpery (c.1624)    [anti-Catholic]

The Pope’s Pyramides (1624)                              [anti-Catholic]

A Pass for the Romish Rabble through the Devil’s Arse of Peak (1624) [anti-Catholic]

Travels of Time (1624)                                         [anti-Catholic]

The Christian’s Jewel (1624)

A Thankful Remembrance 1624

Five Senses [suite of 5 prints] (a 1625)

XII Months of the Year in the Habits of Several Nations [suite of 12 prints] (a.1625)

memento mori skeleton with verses engraved by Fulwood (c.1625)

A Nest of Nunnes Egges [a1626]                         [anti-Catholic]

an00163667_001_lI have also excluded from consideration – though they are numerous throughout this period – and routinely moralised, thus qualifying as a category of pictorial art which “arous[es] moral virtue,” the so-called ‘portent and prodigy sheets (several of which I showed at our workshop).

If I were to summarise my thoughts on Collinson’s lecture, insofar as it relates to prints, I should want to start by saying it is a product of its time — of course — but that that was a time which had not yet witnessed the bringing to light of the more ‘popular’ type of print, however scant the survivals are, so that even art historians working in the period were unaware of the great bulk of the printed pictures listed above – yet it is on such imperfect knowledge that Collinson’s pronouncements were made.

[1] We can argue about his terminus ante quem, but if we stick to the evidence afforded by the lecture  ….

[2] Preface to Greene’s Menaphon (1589), A3v-A4: McKerrow 1904-1910, III, 315.




1 thought on “English single-sheet prints c.1580-c.1620 in the light of Collinson’s 1985 lecture

  1. Pingback: After Iconophobia? | the many-headed monster

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