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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 J Faraday

    Christina J Faraday is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, working on the concept of ‘liveliness’ or vividness in post-Reformation English art, exploring parallels between rhetorical and poetic theory and visual art. With support from the AHRC she is also working part-time as a Curatorial Intern at the National Portrait Gallery, London, on an exhibition of portrait miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, opening in February 2019.