Sharpe 2000

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Sharpe, Kevin. Remapping Early Modern England: The Culture of Seventeenth-Century Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.

"The most commodified (and increasingly democratied) of artistic genres were engravings and woodcuts. Until very recently historians of early modern England effectively ignored the woodcut as a text of popular culture. For Germany, Robert Scribner argued persuasively the importance for ‘simple folk’ of woodcut images which appropriated Catholic iconography and re-deployed it for Luteran messages. Now research on England — by Tessa Watt and Margaret Aston — has shown the fruits of such investigations for an understanding of English popular piety and Protestant polemic. For, though England did not develop a significant woodcut industry in the sixteenth century, English publishers, like John Day, employed foreign craftsmen and the numbers of woodcut illustrations, though not large, increased. As Tessa Watt has [31] demonstrated, illustrations were a vital medium of popular religious books but were also displayed on walls in homes and alehouses, along with more secular representation illustrating ballads, tales, scandals or freaks of nature. The image, as well as orality, shaped the consciousness of the illiterate, and helped to condition for the literate ways of reading, as well as seeing, ways of conceptualizing morality. We are only just beginning to investigate the importance of such images for an understanding of popular politics. Watt quite reasonably excludes engravings from her study of cheap print on grounds of cost, but in doing so reminds us of how little we know about copperplate engraving and its market in 16th and 17th century England. And scholarly neglect here has led to serious misconceptions as well as ignorance. For even when they were quite expensive, engravings disseminated copies of portraits of monarch and ministers, by the likes of Holbein and Van Dyck, far beyond the aristocratic elites who saw them at Whitehall or afforded a canvas for their country home. By the late 16th century, there was a growing market in England for engraved portraits of royalty, courtiers, bishops and men of learning, which may have reflected a broader participation in debate about politics. During the early 17c the range of subjected engraved grew so that, by the 1630s, numerous print sellers were in business, as the developed artistic tastes of Prince Henry and King Charles also spawned a small industry of copies by engravers such as Henry Holland and William Faithorne. The man who dramatically responded to and revolutionized that market was Peter Stent. As the civil war further stimulated demand for some representations of actors newly emerged on the political stage or slain in battle, Stent turned from a high quality, small stock to a large list of cheaply executed engravings intended for ‘the aspiring lower and middle classes’, who could afford a few pence or a shilling. As a consequence from the 1640s, thousands of Van Dycks of Charles I, images of Cavaliers and Parliamentarians, plates of Elizabethans and Jacobeans, maps and views, religious prints and satires hung ramed or unmounted in merchants’ homes across [33] England. With the return from exile in the 1650s of Faithorne and Wenceslaus HOllar, the English engraving industry received further impetus and by the Restoration the collecting of engravings, as standardization of material form indicates, had become something of a fashion.” (29-33; plates interleaved)
“as the purchasing subject desired to acquire and possess some representation of the figures of authority, in government, church and society, so those figures were placed, alongside other images and texts, in a domestic gallery ordered by the ordinary householder. As with expanding literacy, the wider market for engravings democratized a reading of what had once been icons, mysterious images hung only in quasi-sacred spaces, removed from vulgar eyes.” (33)