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Re-assessing ‘liveliness’ in Post-Reformation English visual culture

Research Lunch – Christina J. Faraday

  • 19 January 2018
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre

How did images and objects in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England communicate? On the one hand, according to reformers, images were ‘dead and dumb’, incapable of conveying truth. Yet elsewhere in Early Modern English texts, physical images are frequently described as ‘lively’ – the very opposite of ‘dead’. What constituted a ‘lively’ image in post-Reformation England? Why was visual ‘liveliness’ desirable in a culture supposedly anxious about idolatry? This paper explores the ‘liveliness’ of objects and images in English culture, showing that this multivalent term can best be understood in relation to the rhetorical concept of enargeia: bringing a scene ‘before the eyes’ of your audience as though they were seeing it first-hand. Techniques described by authors for achieving vivid, potent effects in writing are here compared with techniques used by artists to teach, persuade and delight their viewers. Examining a broad range of image and object types, including portraits, narrative imagery, diagrams and household belongings, this paper makes a new case for Tudor and Jacobean confidence in the effectiveness and potency of visual objects.

Image credit:Unknown artist, sixteenth century, An Allegory of the Tudor Succession: The Family of Henry VIII, ca. 1590, Oil on panel, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

About the speaker

  • Christina Faraday SQUARE

    Christina J. Faraday is an historian of art and ideas specialising in the Tudor period. She is a research fellow in history of art at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge and a BBC New Generation Thinker. She completed her AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Cambridge while working part-time as a curatorial intern at the National Portrait Gallery in London. She was recently a postdoctoral fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre. She regularly contributes to podcasts and popular media, including BBC Radio 3 and Apollo Magazine, and in 2021 she was shortlisted for the British Journalism Awards in the Arts and Entertainment category. She lectures for the History of Art Department and Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge and the Wallace Collection in London. Her first book, Tudor Liveliness: Vivid Art in Post-Reformation England, will be published by the Paul Mellon Centre this year.