The Struggle for Protestant Identity in Seventeenth Century England ‘Catholic’ Pictures and Protestant Buyers

Seanine Warrington


Religious art was proudly supported by Anglicans after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for its ability to connect both the early and Medieval churches with the Church of England, and, more importantly, to demonstrate the Anglican’s rejection of the increasingly powerful dissenting perspective. Because nonconformist challenges to the Church’s authority were often framed around the issue of religious imagery, art became a focal point for a power struggle between two Protestant groups: the Anglicans and the Puritans. Taking a defensive stance on the use of religious imagery, the late seventeenth-century Anglican Church promoted religious art on a large scale, both for church and household worship. As a symbol of their loyalty to the Church of England, Anglican laity brought pictures featuring Biblical and hagiographic imagery into their homes for both instructional and devotional purposes. These images, purchased at London auction houses, reflect how the middle levels of lay society enthusiastically embraced religious iconography and indicate the self-conscious identity of Anglicanism in the midst of Protestant conflict and division. The question of the presence of ‘Catholic’ images in Protestant English homes goes beyond simple decoration—religious imagery became a symbol of one’s religious sentiments.


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ISSN (Print): 1705-2947
ISSN (Online): 1712-5634