Friday, December 19, 2014

Margaret Aston, RIP

Martin Sheppard writes for The Independent about historian Margaret Aston, who died in November:

Margaret Aston was an historian whose work illuminated the study of English religious life between the late Middle Ages and the Civil War. Although she was from the most establishment of backgrounds her chosen field was that of popular belief, and her main subjects were heretics and iconoclasts.

An independent historian of the highest calibre, Aston combined exact scholarship with wide-ranging ideas and interpretation, bringing out the crucial part played by images and printing in changes to religious belief. Her beautifully written work has had a profound impact on all subsequent interpretations of the English Reformation.

He comments on her book about the famous allegorical painting of the English Reformation pictured above:

A remarkable by-product of Aston’s unrivalled knowledge of English iconoclasm appeared in 1995. The King’s Bedpost was a reinterpretation of Edward VI and the Pope, an enigmatic painting in the National Portrait Gallery. In a compelling detective story she demonstrated that the picture was painted much later than had been previously thought and reflected the crisis that led up to the excommunication of Elizabeth I in 1570.

The book is unfortunately out of print at Cambridge. The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies (PIMS) published a festscrift dedicated to Margaret Aston in 2009:

As that title notes, her work often centered on images and iconoclasm, including a two volume work that will be completed in 2015 with the publication of Broken Idols of the English Reformation, also from Cambridge.

Why were so many religious images and objects broken and damaged in the course of the Reformation? Margaret Aston's magisterial new book charts the conflicting imperatives of destruction and rebuilding throughout the English Reformation from the desecration of images, rails and screens to bells, organs and stained glass windows. She explores the motivations of those who smashed images of the crucifixion in stained glass windows and who pulled down crosses and defaced symbols of the Trinity. She shows that destruction was part of a methodology of religious revolution designed to change people as well as places and to forge in the long term new generations of new believers. Beyond blanked walls and whited windows were beliefs and minds impregnated by new modes of religious learning. Idol-breaking with its emphasis on the treacheries of images fundamentally transformed not only Anglican ways of worship but also of seeing, hearing and remembering.

~A major new contribution to our understanding of the English Reformation
~Analyses the causes and effects of iconoclasm and illuminates why certain types of images were particularly targeted
~Sets iconoclasm within a wider process of religious revolution designed to create new generations of believers and new ways of belief

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