Lindsay Errington’s outstanding Courtauld thesis of 1973, was printed into book form in 1984 and is entitled Social and Religious Themes in English Art 1840 – 1860. Her abstract details her approach which centres around unravelling ‘the abusive criticism suffered by the Pre-Raphaelites in 1850 and 1851’ which Errington states ‘does not adequately account for the terms in which the hostility was expressed’.[1] Using the famous attack by Dickens, Errington positions the contemporary response to the Pre-Raphaelites as being religio-political rather than artistic, and astutely recognising that the Protestant or Catholic bias results in differing style and content. In order to recognise, understand, and correct early critical assumptions about the first Pre-Raphaelite pictures, Errington’s thesis sets out to investigate Pre-Raphaelite religious beliefs and their use of symbols. The sticking point Errington seeks to detail is that of the retrogressive Mediaevalism offensive to Dickens versus the naturalistic, Protestant, traits of their works.

Errington’s opening chapter is entitled ‘A Theory of Developments in the Wrong Direction’. The opening paragraph places beauty and ugliness and fury as being the abusive and misdirected criticism levied at the Pre-Raphaelites. Errington’s explicit aim for the chapter ‘is designed to deal with opinions as they were expressed, without regard to the essential truth or falsity of these’.[2] Commencing with Dickens, Errington sensibly points out that Dickens had no real need for him to ‘worry because a group of cocksure young rebels had set up their own rules against the hallowed tenets of the Academy’.[3] It is interesting, in the wake of the 2012 Avant-Garde Tate exhibition, that we encounter terms such as ‘rebels’ within a work of the 1970s (let us also remember the now famous Pre-Raphaelite exhibition held at the Tate in 1984, would not be unveiled for another eleven years after Errington’s writing). She also makes clear that ‘Household Words employed no critic of painting and did not, after the summer of 1850, publish Academy Reviews’.[4]

Millais, The Carpenter’s Shop (1849, Tate)

Dickens attack on Millais’ The Carpenter’s Shop (1849, Tate) seems somewhat hypocritical as a man that is (perhaps wrongly in Errington’s view) regarded as a realist.[5] It is an interesting question to ask: should Dickens ‘have been capable of appreciating a most faithfully delineated carpenter’s shop with correctly rendered wood shavings and plain unidealised work-people, and to have recognized this as the truth about the holy family?’[6] Like Errington, I don’t particularly buy the idea of Dickens as the Royal Academicians anti-PRB verbal executioner. Perugini, Dickens’ daughter, admits that ‘My father knew nothing of the technique of painting and could scarcely draw a straight line himself’.[7] It is curious that despite this apparent lack of skill in aesthetics, Dickens ‘was blithely able to condemn such a unanimously acclaimed masterpiece as Michelangelo’s Last Judgement’ although he was supportive of his friend, Daniel Maclise’s work despite that sharing many similarities to the highly worked details of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.[8] Errington makes a relatively convincing case that Dickens’ immoveable, inflexible mental vision resulted in pre-conceived ideas. It is true Dickens ‘was notoriously hard to satisfy in the illustrations for his books, and kept a strict control over the artist working for him’.[9] Errington points out that Dickens admired the biblical images of Ary Scheffer, which she describes as ‘saccharine’ and therefore unlikely to ‘contradict few private imaginings’.[10] The good and the other are the distinct types found within Dickens own literature: the other being the likes of Uriah Heep whose ‘ginger hair and mottled skin are picked out in horrid detail’ and the ‘good’ being Agnes who ‘is simply compared to the angel in a stained glass window’.[11] It is interesting that the good, is recognised as being both a celestial figure, and one which inhabits the aesthetic space of stained glass.

Dickens it seems was more tied up with the tendency of these works, or their capacity to influence or corrupt. Dickens was not it seems, attacking the works blasphemous tendencies. Certainly it is not that which seems to have enraged him. Errington reminds us that Dickens as a social reformer, not a Churchman, and as such he believed that a state of the mind where progress was denied was a ‘diseased condition’.[12] Errington considers the title of Dickens attack, Old Lamps for New Ones, which he says is from Aladdin. I am inclined to more than believe Errington’s timid suggestion that it ‘contains a hint of a sneer’ at Ruskin’s ‘Seven Lamps of Architecture’ which was first published in 1849. Dickens’ piece, like other articles in Household Words, embrace newness, the present and not the past is key to progress. The Pre-Raphaelites in that respect are dangerous in their use of retrogressive aesthetics.

Dickens’ anti-Catholicism is described by Errington as a ‘stubborn streak’.[13] Errington seems to read Dickens’ obstinacy as being centred upon the idea that the arts are ‘subject to exactly the same process of improvement and development as science’ and that to disregard or actively discard the laws of perspective etc. is absurd.[14] Using sarcasm Dickens goes on to discredit Pugin, and the University of Oxford whom he sees as a partly responsible but ludicrous symptom of a church which ‘still claims to be infallible’.[15]

In 1840, Thackeray had appraised the Catholic art of France so: ‘There is nothing, my dear friend, more easy in life’.[16] Thackeray’s description could easily be applied to The Carpenter’s Shop, particularly the early Flemish art comments upon colour and posture. In 1848, Kingsley was also contributing to the discussion about Catholic art via his serialised novel ‘Yeast’. At a dinner party, we encounter the comment: ‘That vile modernist, naturalism is creeping back even into our painted glass. I could have wished that the artist’s designs for the windows had been a little more Catholic’. On querying this, the host is told that the ‘saint’s wrists and ankles were not sufficiently dislocated, and St. John did not look quite like a starved rabbit with its neck wrung’.[17]

Unlike much of the secondary literature on the Pre-Raphaelites, Errington convincingly and astutely places Dickens attack within an already established critical language; ‘There is nothing original in his attitude, for his remarks existed already – in vestigial form’.[18] Dickens reference to Raphael is considered by Errington as a vehicle for conveying the expression of the spiritual through the bodily beautiful, but it appears that Dickens’ measuring rod is in the successful depiction of the natural (unlike Kingsley).[19] In Dickens’ ‘Pictures of Italy’, ‘the villain of the piece, the instigator of most of the ugliness or discrepancies to be seen in Italian painting, turns out, of all things, to be the Roman Catholic church.’[20] Aesthetically then, Dickens appears to be critical of not just the Catholic Church but of the monastic way of life which he perceives as deforming the figures produced by Catholic painters. Dickens’ language is bordering on the offensive (e.g. deceit and intellectual torpor, repulsive countenances etc.) but it does appear to offer consistency with other critics’ responses. His attack on The Carpenter’s Shop is suddenly not so singular in its veracity; ‘did Dickens see them [the figures] as being of the convent stamp, or were Millais’ eyes supposed to be so clouded by Rome that he actually preferred ugliness?’[21] This loathing of Roman Catholicism accounts for the apparently irrelevant dragging in of Pugin and Oxford.[22]

It is clear that the imputation of Catholicism to the PRB was not uncommon, and the Art Journal proclaimed ‘We shall not be surprised if some of the present sect follow the same example, notwithstanding Mr. Ruskin says he has had letters disavowing their inclination Puseyism’.[23] Other attacks implicitly use religion as a commentary or point of division, and position the Pre-Raphaelites with Dürer and the Flemish artists. Errington heavily stresses the connection between the Pre-Raphaelites and the ‘Catholic artists of the middle ages who had also displayed a predilection for the hideous’. The Times certainly saw Millais’ attempt as more than just a blasphemous Christ and Virgin Mary, they saw it as an attack on ‘everything we are accustomed to seek and admire’.[24] It was this revolting move which suggested revolt.

We should be mindful of assuming the Medieval, Catholic look of Millais’ work was automatically accepted by Catholics. The Ecclesiologist for example was rather hesitant, although recognising its ‘mystical’ qualities: William Dyce’s work seemed preferable, ‘graceful and pure’.[25] Issues surrounding the success or contribution of religious art was hotly debated, from Dickens, to Pugin, to Carlyle. Pugin found the word Protestant to be synonymous with destruction (and who can deny their destruction, particularly that ordered by Henry VIII?) Sir David Wilkie offered a less bitter reading when he commented ‘The talent that has been devoted to the Roman church, whether rightly or wrongly applied, has been immense’ and ‘The art of painting seems made for the service of Christianity; would that the Catholics were not the only sect who have seen its advantages’.[26] Ruskin’s attitude is somewhat complex, he declares to be surprised that it is not ‘more frequently observed that real art is of no service to the Romanist’.[27] It is hard to deduce Ruskin’s meaning, and Errington does little to resolve this (only hinting that Michelangelo was not a Romanist but not being able to say as much). Perhaps we should assume Errington is referring to Ruskin’s interest in naturalistic art, which was also a style Dickens warmed to (naturalism was something Pugin wrote about in a derogatory fashion).

Perhaps the fascination with the Gothic was what interested Ruskin, but in reality there seems a divide between the Southern (Catholic) art and Northern (Protestant) art, and critical discourse seemed to accept / reject according to certain manifestations of perceived traits. The Art Journal produced an article which tried to recapitulate Christian art, and to assign Protestant and Romanist divisions accordingly. In some ways Wornum sought to dispel singular religious categorisations and attempted to provide a more universal accepting language for understanding great art.[28] Wornum essentially said that it was just as possible for Protestants to have created / to create great Art as it was for the Romanists – caeteris paribus. This argument is somewhat shaky. Wornum is quoted as ‘an apologist in action as an art historian’.[29]

Pugin is then presented as a Catholic apologist: who sees Dickens’ preferred naturalism as being a substitution ‘in the place of the mystical and divine’.[30] Pugin’s work is a manifesto of sorts, or perhaps a call to arms: ‘we must learn that the period hitherto called dark and ignorant far excelled our age in wisdom’.[31] Pugin contrasts the medieval period with the nineteenth century throughout the book, attacking naturalism as well as progress and science. In opposition when Dickens was protesting, he was ‘defending modernity and national pride rather than a theology in the more ordinary sense’. As William Michael suggests in his text Fine Art, religion was for the majority more about lifestyle and a way of conducting oneself than an engagement with theology.[32]

Kingsley was vehement in his dislike of Raphael, Michelangelo, and the Pre-Raphaelites: ‘I am a thoroughly anti-preraphaelite benighted pagan heathen in taste, and intend some day to get up a Cinque-Cento club, for the abolition of Gothic art’.[33] The language of Kingsley, Pugin, and Dickens is all extremely hyperbolic and excessive. Kingsley was dead against Dürer etc. (which he refers to as the ‘old German painters’) and expounded a time when art would begin again ‘where Michael Angelo and Rafaelle left off, work forward into a nobler, truer, freer, and more direct school than the world has yet seen’.[34] It is not a hugely convincing argument that Protestantism was at work on Raphael and Michelangelo though, and even Errington suggests Kingsley’s view is tantamount to self-deception.[35]

Dyce’s lectures upon Christian Art attempts to examine and categorise the periods of Christian Art. The Gothic is labelled ‘Ascetic’ and characterised for Dyce by the prevalent religious attitude.[36] For Dyce, the period from the late thirteenth to the early fifteenth century, introduced ‘a new standard of perfection in art; made that standard spiritual rather than physical’.[37] Robert Browning’s poem Old Picture in Florence, is written in a way which exemplifies this attitude:

To bring the invisible full into play,

Let the visible go to the dogs – what matters?[38]

Dyce is quite scathing about the Naturalist painters fashion post-Renaissance, in part because of the ‘unspiritual imitation of nature’.[39] Interestingly, Lord Lindsay, saw fresco as being a more spiritual medium, which Dyce seemingly imitates in his owls from the 1850s onwards.[40]

Errington summarises by saying those who wrote on Christian art were in agreement as to the ascetic character of pre-Renaissance schools, and the humanised, naturalistic character of those of the post-Renaissance.[41] It is the relative and apportioned values which caused division. ‘For Pugin they were respectively, defined as spiritual and sensual, for Kingsley as Manichean and sensuous – an alteration of adjectives that makes all the difference in the world. Pugin described the Reformation as a “Dreadful scourge”, for Kingsley it was synonymous with ‘liberty, civilisation, truth’.[42]

Errington returns to Browning, as someone who stands as a useful witness on standard nineteenth century art-historical interpretation and as someone whose art historical knowledge exceeded Ruskin’s (due to his living in Italy for some time). His poem ‘Fra Filippo Lippi’ (1855) is often paralleled with the aesthetic doctrines of the Pre-Raphaelites but, by 1855, they had largely shed their, what Errington rather brazenly calls, ‘obnoxious revivalist traits’ for the naturalism we now associate them with (perhaps).[43] The poem is described by Errington and she approaches it as psychological monologue, which illuminates the peculiar character of both Lippi’s art and offers him as a type for the Renaissance.

Religious convention demands soul within painting, like that English revivalism of the 1840s which so annoyed Kingsley, and Lippi paints such a painting for the Prior in the poem. His painting is full of intense symbolism to ‘compensate for the defective anatomical drawing’.[44] It is the soul which is at stake here:

Now is this sense, I ask?

A fine way to paint soul, by painting body

So ill…

And any sort of meaning looks intense

When all beside itself looks and means nought[45]

Errington suggests Lippi’s aesthetic ideal ‘might be described as an anticipation of the theory of Protestant naturalism’, because he believes physical and spiritual do not have to be separated.[46]

If you get simple beauty and naught else,

You get about the best thing God invents:

That’s somewhat: and you’ll find the soul you have missed,

Within yourself, when you return him thanks.[47]

Lippi suggests we paint things the way they are, and as we reject sterile art forms we incorporate a level of sensuality. The poem is about the struggles of a monk against the authority of the Roman church and the asceticism of the convent he is painting for, and although Browning may well have utilised a Ruskinian theory it is the desire to record the material world as it is witnessed which is important to note.

Browning was suggesting the monk had an aesthetic attitude which was akin to Protestant values. In 1845, William Bell Scott reported a stained glass workshop performing the opposite function. He also remarked upon Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s theological ignorance and ‘disposal to view all ‘pietistic matters’ in terms of ’sentiment’.[48] Bell Scott was not a fan of the Oxford Movement, and described the stained glass workshop as ‘threatening to become a serious antagonist to our freedom from clerical domination’.[49] Bell Scott wrote of Rossetti that it seemed ‘somehow or other the Oxford Tractarianism just then distracting weak intellects had possibly already undermined that of this wonderfully gifted boy’.[50]

Young England was started in opposition to Toryism, by Disraeli and friends, in the early 1840s. Dickens’ associated Millais with Young England and the Art Journal did similar in 1851: ‘Narrow indeed is the way they [the Pre-Raphaelites] have chosen, because between the Giottesque and the grotesque there is but a step.’[51] There was little evidence for declaring that the Pre-Raphaelites were in league or supporters of the Young Englanders, but that did not stop Dickens’ vehemence. It seems the issue was between retrogressive attitudes and progressive ones. Dickens, like Kingsley, both sought to alter the poverty within society, not as a monastic or religious responsibility but as a basic human right. Progress for them was a matter of reform, to improve not out of duty, but out of reason. Feudal or monastic protection of the poor was a medieval principle that was, inevitably, backward looking if applied during the nineteenth century. Young England embraced Gothic art and medieval social arrangements, and therefore exhibited attitudes in opposition to Dickens (and Kingsley, as can be found in his novel ‘Yeast’). The Pre-Raphaelite pictures exhibited in 1851, no doubt, reinforced any adverse opinions formed of the group.[52] With no evidence for an interest in the poor question, it seems the Gothic symbolism, jewel colour etc. was enough to fuel the fire.

A few months after Dickens’ attack on Millais painting, Papal Aggression broke out. The English were savage toward Papists, Puseyites, and Tractarians. Another Dickens article for Household Words shows his complete abhorrence for Rome, Young England, retrogression, ugliness and disease. Errington suggests the article can be read as a sequel or second instalment of Old Lamps for New Ones.[53] Punch also chimes in with a couple of articles that distort ‘revivalist ideas as a foil to the progressive and reasonable notions of modern reformers’.[54] It wasn’t just satire that was resisting the retrogression, Reverend Young plainly stated ‘this English nation, however embarrassed by political paradoxes, or how untrue soever to its own principles, will not go backwards.’[55] As Errington points out, it is hard to tell the two examples apart, despite one being a satirical commentary and one presented as a genuine critical view point.[56]

In the chapter’s conclusion, Errington suggests the aggressive denouncement of the early Pre-Raphaelite paintings was in part because of ‘the wave of concern over conditions amongst the poor’ and the discussions about social obligation, responsibility, charity, and progress all raged.[57] In short, it was the religious nature of their images which took the lid off this political melting pot. One final point Errington makes is that Dickens was not alone in his maltreatment: she also holds Pugin responsible. This eventuality was an unfortunate result of Pugin’s claim that England was ‘merry England, at least for the poor classes’.[58] This claim permitted Dickens and Kingsley to insert their ‘dubious proofs of ancient merriment into his own picture of art-history’.[59]

Errington commences Chapter Two by restating the first chapter was theoretical. Having unpicked the critical responses of Pugin and Dickens (which ‘solemnly declare that particular artistic styles evince unpleasant or amiable qualities’) she suggests that the modern viewer would be confused as to the vehemence; ‘we can only accept their word’ that such responses were relevant and genuine.[60] In order to progress her train of thought, Errington moves on to discuss the ‘surer’ ground of subject matter, particularly that of works created in the decade prior to the Pre-Raphaelites. Errington is quite right when she declares this as being the formative decade: describing it a decade which ‘politics, religion, and social reform, the painters’ styles, and the painters’ subjects began to be attached to each other in those recognisable and predictable knots which had not yet been unravelled by 1850’. Rather sensibly, Errington allows the possibility that the Pre-Raphaelites were not entirely rebellious, and proffers the suggestion that the PRB may well have been ‘shaped by what they had observed over the previous ten years’.[61] I agree that, whether a latent or conscious rebellion, the Pre-Raphaelites were presumably no less affected by what had occurred immediately before their ‘arrival’ than anyone else is historically speaking; can one ever be immune? Pursuing this line of questioning, Errington positions the 1840s as being an important thematic space and examines various works from both the standpoint of how the works shaped critical framework and responses, and pictorially / thematically, how the works suggested much later Pre-Raphaelite work.

Punch, The “Milk” of Poor-Law Kindness (Jan-June, No.LXII, 1843), p47

Returning to Dickens, Errington describes him as not ‘the most sensitive of art critics’ and presents a rather simplistic picture of his capacity to recognise, respond, and critique art which pleased or dismayed him. Using Dickens’ beliefs and interests Errington proceeds to discuss Charles West Cope’s 1841 painting, Poor Law Guardians, Board Day Application for Bread.[62] This painting was received well, the Art Union described it in positive terms, and The Times praised Cope’s composition and gives a detailed description of the work.[63] The scene does not convey the true horror or distress which the women pleading for bread no doubt felt, and some of the Board members appear to be a little caricature. None the less, the work was a comprehensible and recognisable theme to its contemporary viewers. Despite a positive reception to the work, it remained unsold and Cope was extremely disappointed with this outcome. Errington sees this work as being possible because of the ‘Sketches by Boz’ (written by Dickens,) or at least as being in the manner of. Protest and anxiety about the amended Poor Law of 1834 had been escalating, and any applicant was now compelled to enter the workhouse. Errington then goes on to describe the ‘many sarcastic comparisons between the sins of poverty and those of crime’ by quoting a passage from The Times: ‘The New Poor Law, as everybody knows, is a measure of which it was the main design, and has been the main effect, to reduce the pressure of the poorer upon the richer classes’.[64] Cope’s opinion of his painting as being demonstrative of all these contentious debates and issues, is perhaps a little exaggerated but it is evident from Errington’s descriptions and research that Cope’s audience would no doubt have been in ‘a state of heightened receptivity’.[65] Errington then quotes a letter to The Times which illustrates perfectly the tragic dire circumstances faced by the poor; a woman whose three healthy children enter a workhouse and three of them die within a very short period of time.[66] It doesn’t bear thinking about. Two years on Punch produced a cartoon, The Milk of Poor Law Kindness where, interestingly, the artist has employed the two extremes of the angelic body: the angel and the devil. The message is clear, Englishness is not about Charity.

Whilst Errington’s reading of Cope’s work is as an extension of Dickens’s (via Boz) approach, she also uses it to convey a difference between Wilkie’s paintings, e.g. Distraining of Rent (1815, National Gallery, Scotland) which she discusses as a somewhat formulaic (nay proven) construction operating within the confines of the domestic: a rural tragedy. Unlike writers, painters were still harking back ‘to eighteenth century poetry’, and creating images that were ‘an idyll of rural innocence’: such paintings were useful as a panacea to the troubles of a London viewer. [67]

Image result for Distraining for Rent Wilkie, Distraining for Rent
Wilkie, Distraining of Rent (1815, National Gallery, Scotland)

Dickens writing (e.g. ‘Oliver Twist’) has a more biting, sarcastic tone, which he intended would ‘expose the inhumanity of the system’.[68] Dickens’ work outdistances Cope’s, and Errington gives further visual examples which have the same fate; Cope is a ‘weak echo’ of ‘Dickens’ murderous verbal attack’.[69]

Further commentary on Cope is made, via his 1841 project in The Etching Club (of which he was a founding member). The etchings Cope produced show much affinity with his painting in their exploration of the poor before the Board. An accompanying passage underlines Cope’s intended message, as does the print of the Good Samaritan which Cope includes above the board-room fireplace within the etching. Errington rather cleverly recognises these layers ‘could equally well have been put into his head by Dickens’ Oliver Twist, in which the hypocritical beadle, Bumble, designs a livery button for workhouse officials, imprinted with the same biblical lesson.’[70]

Biblical and theological iconography is more apparent in Cope’s Almsgiving (1839, V&A).[71] Errington describes the arrangement as having ‘something of the aura of a traditional altar piece’.

Cope, Almsgiving (1839, V&A)

The work was exhibited with the accompanying quotation:’ ‘Reject not the affliction of the afflicted, neither turn away thy face from a poor man’. No source for the quotation is given, but it may be an adaptation from the Apocrypha, Book of Ecclesiasticus Chapter 4 verse 5: ‘Turn not away thine eyes from the needy, and give him none occasion to curse thee’.’[72] To determine the legacy of Raphael in the face of the mother figure is certainly a sound reading.[73] Errington doesn’t labour the point, but she does draw out Cope’s decision to include a biblical quotation on the frame, which is a Gothic one, replete with arch.

Errington also mentions an 1840 work by John Herbert, The Monastery in the Fourteenth Century, Board Hunters refreshed at St. Augustine’s Monastery Canterbury. Whilst Thackeray was less than kind to the work, it is interesting that Herbert sought for realistic biblical details, including a fragment of a building which was later incorporated into the St. Augustine’s College (which was not yet built in 1840). To my mind, this is certainly demonstrative of William Holman Hunt’s later pursuits for biblical realism, whether that was costume, architecture, landscape, or light.

Errington quotes Sir Charles Eastlake’s description of the monastery as it was during 1840, prior to the site’s restoration in 1872.[74] Eastlake’s passionate comparison between the past and the present, his sense of the outrage and injury done these sanctified buildings, recollected after an interval of twenty seven years, makes one wonder what Herbert must have felt, reconstructing the monastery’s splendour at the very moment of its worst squalor and degeneration.’[75] Crabbe Robinson recorded in his diary a short note which give an indication of Herbert’s opinion on the desecration of holy ground: ‘the Rom-Cath, painter and zealot only not a fanatic because he is too benevolent believes that misfortune befalls all who purchase Church property – there is something very delightful in his pious simplicity’.[76] We do know that Herbert converted to Catholicism by 1845, and seems to have done so through the association and influence of Pugin. Errington inclines toward a date of 1840 for his conversion (via evidence of Edward Walford) and I am inclined to find this date plausible as it offers explanation of Herbert’s interest in Gothic architecture and sympathy for what Errington describes as ‘the old religion’. [77]

Pugin was a staunch Catholic but also a savvy one, and he reprinted his ‘Contrasts’ one year after Herbert’s picture was shown. His perception of Charity seemed to push his view back toward Medieval ages, ‘before the loss of the truth faith with all its attendant ills’.[78] It is probably also worth reminding ourselves that John Henry Newman converted only a couple of years after this time (in 1845). In keeping with Cope’s view, Pugin felt that Union Workhouses were not an answer to poverty and in ‘Contrasts’ Pugin writes ‘suffice it to observe, that it was through their boundless charity and hospitality the poor were entirely maintained’.[79] Where monks (or others) performed acts of religious obligation, both the monk and the poor man were able to maintain dignity. For Pugin this seems central.

Disraeli’s 1845 novel ‘Sybil’ deals with similar themes, although whilst it expounds the doctrine of Young England, it is also mixed with a good deal of Pugin’s revivalist Catholicism. Thomas Carlyle’s 1843 ‘Past and Present’, is often quoted as being a major influence upon Disraeli although Errington recognises the two texts as being ‘utterly remote’ from each other. She goes so far as to say that Carlyle would not have countenanced the ‘Puginesqueries’ of Disraeli’s text, using adjectives such as a ‘rapturous’ and ‘picturesque’ etc to describe his writing whereas the ‘interlocking of the Pugin and Disraeli circle occurred via Disraeli’s friend, Lord John Manners.[80]

Errington’s brief discussion about Pugin, Disraeli, Cope etc., is all done to illustrate how charity and anxiety about the condition of the poor was ‘a feeling common to the group of Catholic friends from at least 1836 onwards’.[81]

Having positioned Disraeli’s circle on one side with Pugin’s, Errington concurs that it also interlocked with Faber and Newman, and the Oxford Movement. Manners and his friend Smythe (is this James Smythe the painter?) met Newman in 1838. ‘Whibley compared Young England to the Tractarian movement, traced the influence of Walter Scott upon both, and commented upon Young England’s pre-occupations with feudalism, holy-days, and monasticism.[82] Manners religious attitudes were not popular, and he came bottom of the poll for the Liverpool eat, and was greeted with howls of “Tractarianism!” and accused of Puseyism by the No-Popery faction.[83] Whilst Whibley’s book was aimed at discussing Manner’s political career, like Errington, I too, find it fascinating that he should turn to the Pre-Raphaelites when mentioning how Young England affected contemporary thoughts: ‘The Pre-Raphaelite movement, which for good or evil profoundly changed the current of British painting, would not have taken its backward course without the strengthening example of Oxford and Young England’.[84] The backward course, as Errington points out, is in keeping with Dickens’ derisive term ‘retrogressive principle’.

Dyce is the next artist discussed: a high churchman, sympathetic towards the Oxford Movement, experienced with both overtly Catholic and also Nazarene revivalist Art from his time in Rome. Dyce was commissioned by Pusey to produce a window based upon the theme of Charity, although we have no significant information on the window. Interestingly, Errington describes ‘the revival of stained glass was itself a particularly “Catholic” interest’, one which is later exemplified by the work of Burne-Jones (which is beyond the scope of Errington’s book). This paragaph is almost an aside in the book, although it is of interest, it is a shame Errington does not pursue Dyce in more detail.

In summary, Errington suggests there are two distinct views of poverty within the 1840s and both of these can be found in literature and in the visual arts. Dickens, like Cope, used religion as illustrative of brotherly love, as an exemplification of goodness. Cope referenced not just literature, but also sought to engage with the works of Wilkie, and also that of Dutch and Flemish genre scenes (not that Errington discusses this relationship in any great depth).

The medieval revivalist view, e.g. that held by Pugin, Herbert and the Young England followers, offered the medieval past as a moral exemplar to the present, but in the sincere belief that certain of its social arrangements might advantageously be substituted for the customs of the nineteenth century’.[85] Importantly, and in line with later research done by Dr. Joanna Meacock, Errington concludes the relief of poverty was linked by these men with Gothic architecture and with monasticism. Their admiration for the latter institution, and for the ideal of a saintly celibate life, forms a contrast to the family ideal of Cope and Dickens, while in painting, the taste of Pugin Herbert, and Dyce was likewise inclined towards the asceticism of early art rather than the naturalism of later’.[86] Exploring older subjects, adopting more sincere religious themes, and thinning out the line and shape of figures all led down an increasingly medieval looking path. These men were determined to ‘abandon the riotous Venetian subjects’ and to become more self-conscious, in their pursuit of a more moral art.

[1] Lindsay Errington, Social and Religious Themes in English Art 1840 – 1860 (London: Garland Publishing, 1984), p. 1

[2] Errington, p. 12

[3] Errington, p. 13

[4] Errington, p. 17

[5] Dickens, Charles, ‘Old Lamps for New Ones’, Household Words, Vol. 1 (15th June, 1850), pp.265 – 267

[6] Errington, p. 13

[7] Perugini article: ‘Charles Dickens as a Lover of Art and Artists, ‘Magazine of Art’, New Series No. 1, November 1902 – October 1903, p. 125

[8] Errington, p. 14

[9] Errington, p. 16 In her notes, Errington goes on to illuminate Dickens approach through referencing correspondence between Luke Fildes and Dickens.

[10] Errington, p. 16

[11] Errington, p. 17

[12] Errington, p. 18

[13] Errington, p. 19

[14] Errington, p. 20

[15] New Life and Old Learning, Household Words, Saturday, May 4th, 1850, pp. 130 – 132

[16] Thackeray, William Makepeace, The Paris Sketchbook (London: Smith Elder And Co., 1870) p. 75

[17] Yeast, Fraser’s Magazine, July – December 1848, p. 289

[18] Errington, p. 24

[19] Errington, p. 26

[20] Errington, p26

Dickens, Pictures from Italy (London: Gadshill, 1898)

[21] Errington, p. 27

[22] Errington, p. 27

[23] Errington, p. 28

Art Journal, 1851, p. 185

[24] The Times, Thursday, May 9th, p. 5

[25] The Ecclesiologist, New Series Vol. VIII, 1850, pp. 45 – 47

[26] Wilkie, letter of November 20th, 1826, quoted in Cunningham, The Life of Sir David Wilkie Vol. II (London: John Murray, 1843), p. 376

[27] Ruskin, Works Vol. VIII, (The Seven Lamps of Architecture), p. 42, footnote.

[28] Ralph. N. Wornum, ‘Romanism and Protestantism in their relation to painting’, The Art Journal, No. 12 (1st May, 1850) (pp.133 – 136) p. 135

[29] Errington, p. 32

[30] Augustus Pugin, Contrasts (1841) p. 16

[31] Pugin, Contrasts, p. 16

[32] William Michael Rossetti’s Fine Art, Chiefly Contemporary: Notices Re-Printed with Revisions (London: Macmillan, 1867)

[33] Charles Kingsley, My Winter-Garden, first published Fraser’s Magazine, January 1858, reprinted in Miscellanies op. cit. pp. 152 – 153

[34] Charles Kingsley, My Winter-Garden, first published Fraser’s Magazine, January 1858, reprinted in Miscellanies op. cit. pp. 152 – 153

[35] Errington, p. 36

[36] William Dyce, Introductory Lecture delivered at King’s College (London, May, 1844) Tate Archives.

[37] William Dyce, Introductory Lecture delivered at King’s College (London, May, 1844) Tate Archives.

[38] Accessed 15:58 20/04/15

[39] William Dyce, Introductory Lecture delivered at King’s College (London, May, 1844) Tate Archives.

[40] Lord Lindsay, Sketches of the History of Christian Art. (London: John Murray, 1847), p. 149

Errington, p. 41

It is of note that fresco was becoming of more and more interest during this period, in part because of the 1843 fresco competition.

[41] Errington, p. 41

[42] Errington, p .41

[43] Errington, p .42

[44] Errington, p. 43

[45] Browning, ‘Fra Filippo Lippi’ (1855)

[46] Errington, p. 44

[47] Browning, ‘Fra Filippo Lippi’ (1855)

[48] William Bell Scott, Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott Vol. 1 (London: James R. Osgood, 1892), p. 188 – 190

This seems an unlikely scenario, as Rossetti was raised as an Anglo-Catholic, and his Godfather was Mr. Charles Lyell, father of the famous geologist, Sir Charles Lyell.

[49] William Bell Scott, Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott Vol. 1 (London: James R. Osgood, 1892), p. 29

[50] William Bell Scott, Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott Vol. 1 (London: James R. Osgood, 1892), p245-246

[51] Art Journal, June 1st, (1815), p. 153

[52] Errington, p. 49

[53] Errington, p. 50 See Household Words (November 23rd, 1850)

[54] Errington, p. 53

[55] Reverend Young, Pre-Raffaellitism (London: 1857)

[56] Errington, p. 53

[57] Errington, p. 54

[58] Pugin, The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (London: J. Weale, 1841)

[59] Errington, p. 55

[60] Errington, p. 56

[61] Errington, p. 56

[62] I believe this painting to be in a private collection.

[63] Art Union, 1841, p. 78

The Times, May 4th, 1841, p. 5

[64] Errington, p. 59

The Times, May 24th, 1841, p. 4

[65] Errington, p. 60

[66] The Times, May 8th, 1841, p. 8

[67] Errington, p. 63

[68] Errington, p. 66

[69] Errington, p. 68

[70] Errington, p. 71

[71] Royal Academy exhibition, No. 204

[72] Accessed 11:22 20/04/2015

[73] The V&A also suggest that it is feasible Cope saw Raphael’s sketch for the Sistine Chapel, ‘The Healing of the Lame Man at the Gates of the Temple’, which was then in the Royal Collection (and has, since 1865, been on loan to the V&A). See here for further details: Accessed 11:22 20/04/2015

[74] Sir Charles Eastlake, History of the Gothic Revival in England (London: 1872), p. 225

[75] Errington, p. 76

[76] Entry for July 10th, 1859, in the MSS Diaries of Crabbe Robinson, DR. Gordon Williams Library, London

[77] Errington, p. 77 )See Edward Walford, M.A., Old and New London Vol. 5 (London: 1897), p. 477

[78] Errington, p. 78

[79] Augustus Pugin, Contrasts, (1836), p. 7

[80] The text is actually based upon the real life Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle, who was a close friend of Pugin’s and the founder of the first Cistercian monastery since the Reformation. See Errington, p. 82 and 83

[81] Errington, p. 83

[82] Charles Whibley, Lord John Manners and his Friends Vol. I (London: 1925), p. 286

[83] Errington, p. 84

[84] Whibley, Lord John Manners and his Friends Vol. I, p. 130 – 131

[85] Errington, p. 87

[86] Errington, p. 87