Sunday, December 2, 2012

Van Eyck in the Netherlands

From the Wall Street Journal, an article about a special exhibit at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (my emphasis added):

Visitors should be aware that because of the iconoclastic purges of the Protestant Reformation—in which thousands of paintings, sculptures and other devotional objects were removed from churches, abbeys and convents across northern Europe and systematically destroyed as violations of the Ten Commandments' ban on graven images—pictures like these are extremely rare. Only about 36 Netherlandish paintings of the pre-Eyckian era are now known to exist. So what you see in Rotterdam is very nearly the most complete display of early Netherlandish painting possible—a triumph for the curators and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the public, as such an exhibition will probably not occur again.
More about the exhibit here.

Of course, England endured waves of iconoclasm, as this Folger Library website attests:

The conflict over idolatry, which began on the Continent with Luther and Calvin's polemics against Rome, eventually crossed the Channel into England with Henry VIII's break with Rome. Protestant sympathizers translated and published iconoclastic works such as John Ryckes' Image of Love (1525) and John Calvin's sermons. Opponents published their own counterarguments; Thomas More, for example, refuted Ryckes' Image of Love in his Dialogue Concerning Tyndale (1529). The main argument of the defenders was that images were "laymen's books" enabling the illiterate peasantry to acquire knowledge of the Christian faith and grow spiritually. Images of Christ and the saints, the argument went, were not objects of worship, but didactic aids. As Protestant ideas spread and took hold, however, the tensions over the use of images, and whether such use constituted idolatry, became more intense. Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer preached against them. Nicholas Ridley attacked idolatry in A Treatise on the Worship of Images.

Following the accession of Edward VI, royal injunctions ordered the removal of all images from English churches in 1548. Iconoclasm reached a fevered pitch during Edward's reign, resulting in the defacement of baptismal fonts, the destruction of stained glass windows, the whitewashing of pictorial depictions on walls, the painting over, or actual removal of, mounted crosses depicting the crucifixion of Jesus known as roods. During the reign of Catholic Mary I, many images were restored and the Edwardian injunctions repealed. However, in subsequent reigns, iconoclastic activity returned, although it was more sporadic, and the re-established and moderated injunctions for the removal of images were not always uniformly enforced, revealing the ambivalence of the populace. Nevertheless, the destruction of images, as a subject of theological debate as well as an activity, remained an on-and-off issue from Edward's reign to the Glorious Revolution as the English sought to construct a Protestant identity.

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