Leading clergymen gathered around a table before an elaborately carved fireplace, a seated man at right turning to look at a monk standing, pointing at open bible in his hand, woman watching at right; after Elmore, cut from the Illustrated London News. 1849-1856 Wood-engraving

Chapter Four commences with the title Religious Controversy and a discussion on Elmore’s Religious Controversy in the time of Louis XIV (1856, British Museum). A sort of reconstituted version of Wilkie’s Village Politicians

Wilkie, Village Politicians (1806)

Historical knowledge is essential, as is an appreciation of the complexities of religious faith, when looking at religious works. It may seem an obvious statement but Errington reiterates at the start of Chapter Four because she is focussing upon Religious Controversy, such is the name of this chapter. She is also stressing the subtleties which can be found in works she analyses, e.g. Alfred Elmore, Religious Controversy in the time of Louis XIV (exhibited 1848 at the R.A.). It is easy to forget how markedly our responses change or soften over time; how, in Elmore’s case, reception of his work was driven with the full knowledge of the French Revolution still fresh in the minds of the English people. Elmore’s work shows a meeting of Catholic and Protestant people, brought together to debate the merits of each respective religion. Errington writes ‘The attractions offered by such a situation, unfamiliar, un-English, and unconcerned with either adventure or love, can only have been perceptible to a public itself deeply immersed in sectarian controversy’.[1]

At this point, Errington deftly mentions the Gorham Case, although it is a gentle wafting of the detail rather than a direct link. She says it is tempting to claim this picture as a thinly disguised representation of a modern event, but even she confesses that it is not likely.[2] There were artists who used modern day religious events for artistic inspiration in their contemporary form, e.g. George Harvey’s Quitting the Manse (1847), as opposed to cloaking them under historical representations. Errington described the 1840s as ‘the decade of religious neurosis [sic]’.[3]

Religious conscience seems to have been at the forefront of this period: whether one became saved, converted, or was subject to doubt. Poetry, novels, and art all reflected these concerns and debates (at this point Errington mentions Kingsley’s ‘Yeast’ once more). She surmises the major characters are ‘propelled almost entirely by the rise and fall of belief, attraction of repulsion towards Protestantism and Rome, or inability to come to terms with the Thirty Nine Articles’.[4] Religious art of this period is a continuation of these thematic interests / concerns, and using historical scenarios was a way of ensuring ‘the issues would be clearly grasped’ although I would suggest setting the scenes in times past also allows some of the antagonism to be taken out of the debate. Errington says pictures such as Elmore’s are virtually meaningless unless we are privy to the ‘points which they are intended to prove’.[5] In order to prove this point, Errington goes on to discuss Herbert’s 1840 works ‘in order to see how each one presents his case, and what his case actually amounts to’.

Before she does so, she contextualises Herbert’s work by quoting his reception. Even as late as 1886, Herbert was considered (denounced?) as an artist who ‘produced acres of his pallid purple canvases with wizened saints and virgins in attitudinising groups’ albeit the accusation was an unbalanced one. [6] Others perceived an embryonic Pre-Raphaelite style in Herbert’s The Youth of Our Lord (1847, City of London Corporation); this article’s language is of particular interest as it discusses the notion of the shadow as messenger. [7]

The Youth of Our Lord
Herbert, The Youth of Our Lord (1847, City of London Corporation)

Descriptions of Herbert as a person are rather appealing. Leslie recorded how his ‘hair was red, long and very smoothly brushed straight down: and he had quite a medieval look in both appearance and dress’.[8] Interestingly, Redgrave’s view was ‘I like him much, and could love him but for one or two faults, and for our difference in religion, which is against complete intimacy. The very earnestness of his attachment to the Romish faith makes him very eager that I should think with him…though I can only see in his miracles (God forgive me, if wrong) lying wonders, and I perceive how his imagination is acted upon rather than his reason’.[9]

Herbert’s Sir Thomas More and his Daughter (1844, Tate) is described by Errington as being ‘flavoured by the moralities of Pugin’s Contrasts’ by which she means that Henry VIII should be considered as the despoiler of religious houses.[10] The figures seem to have been considered as both witnessing religious martyrdom and as a message of abstinence being conducive to the patient endurance of death, and both Thackeray and Redgrave responded well.[11]

John Rogers Herbert ‘Sir Thomas More and his Daughter’, 1844, exhibited 1844
Herbert, Sir Thomas More and his Daughter (1844, Tate)

None the less, as Herbert’s paintings became ever noticeably Catholic, so they gradually sank in public esteem.[12] More commanded a wide appeal, but he was significantly distanced from the issues of the day that contemporary spectators were not inflamed into debate by his appaearance: Sir Thomas More ‘was a general, not a sectarian hero’.[13]

Herbert’s Pope Gregory teaching the Boys to Sing (1845) elicited colder responses. Pope Gregory was exhibited alongside the rather wonderful portrait of Pugin, together an irrefutable confirmation of Catholic affiliation. Thackeray declared as much when he wrote the painting in ‘has operated to convert some imaginative minds from the new to the old faith’.[14] Errington does support Herbert’s depiction a little when she quotes Mrs Jameson who describes Pope Gregory’s health as being impaired and him being unable to rise from his couch.[15]

Herbert, Pope Gregory teaching the Boys to Sing (1845, Royal Academy)

The portrait for Pugin was perceived as having a ‘peculiar style’, ‘flat and stuff as possible’ not dissimilar to criticisms the Pre-Raphaelites would receive: the style of Herbert’s work was considered as ‘something austere and earnest’ and directly Romanist in origin.[16] Interestingly the critic in The Times remarks upon the open mouths of the figures, a trait which the Pre-Raphaelites often use (Millais’ Ophelia (1851 – 1852, Tate) being a case in point).

The peculiar style in both works was certainly medieval in origin, Errington suggests Herbert’s source was Della Robbia’s Cantoria (1431 – 1438, Florence) which is full of young singing (angels?) men. She also suggests that the figure of Pope Gregory comes from similar, suggesting one of the panels for the Duomo’s north sacristy doors which shows Pope Gregory with two angels.[17] Although Errington locates Della Robbia’s Cantoria as being a primary catalyst for Herbert’s inspiration, she does not dwell upon the role, the integration, or the assimilation of the angelic figures within the Cantoria. This omission seems somewhat curious when you consider Errington is analysing and discussing the assimilation of Catholic tendencies and artistic influences, yet despite this, she does not dwell on the symbolic iconography of Catholic fifteenth century art even though she acknowledges the colour and draughtsmanship as being ‘pure fifteenth century’.[18] Errington does provide a useful contextual piece of information when she says the nineteenth century’s use of the term ‘early’ was applied indiscriminately to all who preceded Raphael and Michelangelo. The fifteenth century was considered ‘pure, restrained and un-sensual in true early Christian fashion’ by mid-nineteenth century historians.[19] So Herbert’s creation denies chiaroscuro which, in terms of Herbert recreating a fifteenth century purity, was not yet invented. Returning to this period was, with hindsight, perhaps a natural point, for it undid, wiped clean all the debauchery of the sixteenth century art practice.[20] It appears singing and the concept of the antiphonary were key to elements of purity. I would argue that singing and the use of antiphons are a metaphor which can and should be applied to Pre-Raphaelite art. Singing angels are a recurring symbol in their art, and it is interesting that Errington’s focus upon Pope Gregory unveils much of the introduction of the angelic body via the Pope’s act of teaching boys to sing. This is prior to the work by Ford Madox Brown, The Seraph’s Watch (1847, Private Collection). As Errington says Herbert ‘is showing us the origins of one Christian art form – music – embodied in the terms of another – painting.’[21]

Errington writes fairly convincingly about the return to the ancient as being one driven by this desire for purity, she shows that Gregory was emblematic of this early celibate, priestly, missionary led figure of office. Gregory was the only Pope who held any authority in England post-Reformation. The very emblem of representation was a centre of contention for many areas during the Victorian times, not least the Church of England. It is this ‘return’ which eventually prompted Newman to convert to Catholicism. Essentially the most ancient was considered the most authoritative. The music or choral song which Herbert was depicting was in keeping with Pugin’s preference (Pugin detested the baroque styled music often found in mass). The importance of singing, choral music, and liturgical sound appears to have had not only aural importance but national significance. De Lisle claimed the revival of old monastic style song found in Rome was divine and that with our hearts beating ‘in unison with them, and loving them intensely, we shall not only have a Catholick, but an English motive, for praising the memory of England’s ‘blessed Apostle St. Gregory in Great!’’[22]

At this point, Errington introduces William Dyce again as a figure whose religious inclinations illuminate the ambiguity often found in people’s attitudes at this time. Whilst men often appeared forthright and even stalwart with their attitudes, some of the theological complexities were so complex that there seemed no irrefutable position. Dyce knew as well that the revival of Church Principles and Practice then taking place [e.g. Tractarianism] ‘was not as the Romans assumed, the faith and practice of Papal times, but that which had its existence in the Reformed Church of England’. Errington suggests this ‘gap’ or perhaps hole is why Dyce preferred the seventeenth century and not the fifteenth in matters of music and theology, whereas his artistic preference was for some two centuries prior. In pulling together these facts, quotes, attitudes, and images, Errington is seeking to make sense of the discrepancies between artistic and theological (even musical) interests.

The Illustrated News in 1846 declared ‘A recurrence of departed forms is the most hopeless of all retrocessions…The Puseyism of art is the complement of the Puseyism of theology, but it is the more utterly lifeless thing of the two’.[23]

When Herbert exhibited The Youth of Our Lord (1847, City of London Corporation) he was met with negative criticism of a style not dissimilar to Dickens’ attack on Millais (although less intense). Using authentic drawings from Nazareth Herbert had attempted to create a scene of expression, divine grace, and sincerity. It seems the setting, as with Millais’ scene was one of the trigger points for the criticism. Dürer’s work is a probably influence upon this choice (and may well have been for other Pre-Raphaelite works as well. We know Morris was a big collector of Dürer and we know Rossetti referred to his work e.g. La Bella Mano (1875, Delaware)). Errington mentions one particular image which is of note, a scene from Dürer’s Life of the Virgin which depicts the Holy Family and Joseph working on his carpentry aided by several child angels (which is how Errington refers to them) although she opts for a work published as a book illustration from the Carpenters’ Guildhall mural, which shows an older Christ and no angels. [24] Interestingly both this work and Herbert’s create a cross in the shape of discarded wood, a message of things to come which is not dissimilar to Hunt’s Shadow of Death (1870 – 1873, Manchester). Herbert’s work, like Hunt’s, becomes almost devotional in this aspect albeit Hunt’s is more proselytizing.

Herbert, Acquittal of the Seven Bishops (1844, Parliament)

At the same time as Herbert exhibited Sir Thomas More, he also exhibited Acquittal of the Seven Bishops (1844). It should be noted this was after his conversion to Catholicism. The Bishops were arraigned by order of the Catholic James II and released ‘to the accompaniment of the ‘No Popery’ riots; they stood for values in every respect the antithesis of those maintained by More’. Errington’s issue with this theme is that it leaves Herbert’s religious position unclear. Perhaps there is no private and personal correlation between religious theme and the private faith of the individual painter? It seems unwise to discount the relationship when much of it is commented upon by contemporary viewers and critics. In fact, ‘contemporary critics clearly did believe that religious affiliations manifested themselves in particular styles and subjects, nor did the occasional anomalies…discredit this as a general proposition’.[25] I concur with this, as it is self-evident when looking at certain artists that there choice of theme directly relates to their private faiths (I would strongly support such a reading of John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s work for example but I would not for Burne-Jones’). If Herbert’s choice of theme was a casual response or engagement, a mere utilisation of theme at will, then Thackeray’s reading of Herbert’s sincerity or The Times acknowledgement of his earnestness becomes a meaningless one.[26]

The Art Union thought the inconsistencies were significant and took to their criticism ‘with delight’.[27] Perhaps this work was born, not of faith, but of a commercial contract? Either way, the inconsistency or the threat of change (from one religion to another) was considered unsporting. This whole chapter, which Errington reminds us, is about a social expectation that artists would, on the whole, deliver a true account of their own beliefs via their chosen subject matter. Errington also draws parallels with Collinson who resigned from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood on the grounds of religious difference (he was a Catholic whereas the others were Anglican).

Preaching and Bible reading are the essence of Protestantism, as the sacrament of the mass is of Catholicism.[28] Holman Hunt’s Dr. Rochecliffe performing the Divine Service in the Cottage of Joceline Joliffe is the next work Errington turns her attention to (as she attempts to focus her discussion back onto the Pre-Raphaelites). This work, born of Dutch genre influences, is taken from Scott’s novel ‘Woodstock’ (1826). In the novel, the Reverend Rochecliffe is ‘one of the pillars of the High Church’ although the first chapter describes the church and the congregation as being in a state of decay. Hunt depicts Sir Henry Lee in a wicker arm chair with his daughter kneeling by his side as they listen to the evening service according to the Church of England.[29] ‘Hunt’s subject is peculiar in being High Anglican rather than overtly Protestant, yet painted in the style usually employed for Protestant subjects’.[30] The concern is about worship and how it should be performed and listened to, and Errington perceives this as being evidence of Hunt’s interest in religious problems (long before works such as The Scapegoat (1854 – 1856, Lady Lever)). Hunt reported his dislike with the beadledom prevalent in modern church services. For this, if no other reason, he was able to extend a moderate approval to the Oxford Movement’s Laudian attempts to restore a decent ceremonial and sanctity to the Anglican Church in external matters, ritual and furnishings.’[31] Hunt was not responding to Rome: an important distinction between his work and that of other Pre-Raphaelites. Hunt remained interested in the religious purpose of art, and the complexities of theology and how best art could serve the Church. Hunt sought to examinethe space art had formerly occupied in the worship of his own church. Dyce too contemplated the past shape of the Church of England and declared: ‘If at any time, the Church of England showed her true colours, it was in the age of James I & his son Charles the Martyr’. Dyce felt ‘The truth is, that most people have forgotten what the Reformed Church of England was in her prime’. What is odd, and what Errington deftly unveils is the artists’ interest in iconoclasm itself as a subject.

Millais’ The Disentombment of Queen Matilda (1849, Tate) is similar to a work the previous year by Falconer Poole, The Visitation and Surrender of Syon Nunnery, 1539 (1848, Bristol Museum). It is also feasible Collinson’s St. Elizabeth of Hungary was based upon Poole’s composition.[32]

The Visitation and Surrender of Syon Nunnery, 1539
Falconer Poole, The Visitation and Surrender of Syon Nunnery, 1539 (1848, Bristol Museum).

The figures are evidently ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but we cannot determine whether the work is about religious sacrilege or about the pillage of art treasures: Errington suggests the same is true of Millais’ drawing.[33] Interestingly, Errington suggests that by 1848, artists may well have been able to present inconsistencies on the wall of the Academy without being subject to the same criticism of inconsistency as Herbert was met with. She says the ‘Millais might well assume Romanist views along with a Gothic manner as a kind of temporary fancy dress, taking the hat that went with the jacket’.[34] It is a little hard to swallow this viewpoint, not least because it seems to undermine the very essence of Millais’ work. It is perhaps best to say Errington’s view point at least permits the possibility that private faith driven ownership was not the only inspiration. Millais may well have been experiencing the blur of religious boundaries, the growing wave of secularism (although I would still suggest the dates for Herbert’s inconsistency and Millais’ acceptability are so close as to render this argument useless in this particular case).

Image result for Collinson, St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1848 - 1850)
Collinson, St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1848 – 1850)

Interestingly though, St. Elizabeth does unravel many of the arguments of how to worship and what is appropriate when worshipping. Typically the Thirty Nine Articles would answer any such questions but Newman’s interpretation added a Catholic flavour to this problem. Errington asks: When St. Elizabeth took off her crown and kissed the crucified feet, was she worshipping the image? Kingsley would have said yes, Pusey, no.[35]

‘Not images but the worship of images was forbidden’[36]. This problem was so awkward ‘that even Dyce, who was anxious to demonstrate that the true spirit of Anglicanism was encouraging to the arts, could get no further’.[37] It is this confusion which Dyce saw as being responsible for the Church refusing to allow art to possess ‘the kind of share they formerly possessed in the offices of religion’.[38]

Errington concludes that two styles co-existed during the 1840s, one more naturalistic in presentation and one associated with missal art. The cleavage between one and the other occurred at the turn of the fifteenth century: Raphael himself was partitioned between the two contending parties.

Protestant art was not supposed to be devotional and yet at times in the 1840s it started to encroach upon that territory. Errington concludes ‘that it is easy to see how Protestantism could have been associated with progress’ and this is in keeping with the earlier conclusions she made about Dickens etc. The 1840s was the start of a merging of religious signals and boundaries: the painter’s view point began to be less transparent (or less ‘reliable’ as Errington says) and it is not possible to discuss sincerity or belief in relation to Millais’ Queen of Matilda quite as we do in relation to Herbert’s Pope Gregory.

Having spent some pages establishing this framework, Errington’s final (and rather disappointing) sentence in this chapter says that ‘it will become necessary to abandon the categories established in this chapter, and to investigate each picture on its own terms’.[39] As an aside, I cannot help thinking that one should never end a chapter in a manner that effectively tells the reader they have just wasted their time.

[1] Errington, p. 137

[2] Errington, p. 138

[3] Errington, p. 138

[4] Errington, p. 139

[5] Errington, p. 139

[6] Anon, ‘The Retirement of Mr. Herbert’, The Saturday Review (August 7th, 1886), pp. 192

[7] Illustrated News (May 21st, 1881)

[8] George Dunlop Leslie, The Inner Life of the Royal Academy (London: John Murray, 1914), p. 150

[9] F.M. Redgrave, Richard Redgrave A Memoir Compiled from his Diary (London: Cassell & Co., 1891), p. 67

[10] Errington, p. 141

[11] Errington, see p. 143 and p. 144 for more extensive quotes.

[12] Errington, p. 145

[13] Errington, p. 145

[14] Thackeray, ‘May Gambols’, Fraser’s Magazine (June 1844) pp. 708- 709

[15] Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art, Vol 1. (London: Longman and Green’s, 1870) p. 300 – 310 – Errington’s footnote appears to be wrong, although Jameson does imply that Pope Gregory was weak and failing in health.

[16] The Times (May 14th, 1845)

[17] Errington, p. 148

[18] Errington, p. 148

[19] Errington, p. 149

[20] Errington, p. 149

[21] Errington, p. 150

[22] De Lisle, Little Gradual or Chorister’s Companion (London: James Toovey, 1847) dedicatory preface.

[23] The Illustrated News in 1846

[24] Errington, p. 156

[25] Errington, p. 164

[26] Errington, p. 164

[27] Errington, p. 164

[28] Errington, p. 168

[29] Scott, Woodstock (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1862) Chapter XIII

[30] Errington, p. 172

[31] Errington, p. 172

[32] Errington, p. 174

[33] Errington, p. 175

[34] Errington, p. 175

[35] Errington, p. 177

[36] Pusey, Letter to the Bishop of London (London: 1851), p. 147

[37] Errington, p. 177

[38] Dyce, William, Essay: On Ecclesiastical Architecture A Defence of Anglican Usage (1841)

[39] Errington, p. 179