The Scandal of Images:
Iconoclasm, Eroticism, and Painting in Early Modern English Drama
Author: Marquerite A. Tassi
The Scandal of Images: Iconoclasm, Eroticism, and Painting in Early Modern English Drama is an interdisciplinary study that brings to light the radical, inventive ways Elizabethan dramatists, such as Shakespeare, Marston, and Lyly, appropriated and transformed painting for the stage. Through close examination of an unusual group of early modern English plays, some virtually unknown in the scholarly or theatrical worlds, this book offers a unique analysis of painting properties, picture tropes, and painter characters in light of the Protestant “scandal” of images and antitheatricalism.
A central premise of this book is that Elizabethan drama was staged and experienced as a visual art, which led to its compromised status in an iconoclastic culture. In plays such as Campaspe, Antonio and Mellida, Arden of Faver-sham, and Timon of Athens, dramatists not only thematized cultural attitudes toward images, but also confronted another compromised visual art, painting, as a means to examine aesthetic, moral, and perceptual issues at stake in spectatorship. The iconophobia inspired by Protestant reformers caused images of all kinds to be viewed with discomfort and ambivalence by Elizabethans. Dramatists, therefore, could use painting to signify a range of forbidden, disturbing, and morally questionable experiences.
While idealistic representations of painters could be found in classical and continental Renaissance sources, in England the native painter was typically regarded with moral suspicion, class prejudice, and anxious fascination. English representations of painting and painters were often less than complimentary. Indeed, dramatists subjected painters and pictures to prejudicial treatment as a strategy to deflect criticism.
This book demonstrates the extent to which drama’s relationship to painting during the Elizabethan period reflected iconoclastic controversy and artistic competition. Not only were both arts achieving the greatest degree of native artistic excellence yet witnessed in England, but they were also in a state of transition, vying for social status and patronage, struggling against moral attacks based on iconoclasm and historic prejudices, and learning to cater to secular, rather than religious tastes and patrons. Because drama was the more popular and economically successful of the two arts, dramatists were in a position to exploit the painter’s vulnerable social and artistic status. This book proposes that dramatists engaged in a paragone (comparison and competition) with painting because its visual potency was widely acknowledged in the culture, either with fear or wonder. By appropriating painting as a trope and property, dramatists enriched their language, heightened the visual impact of the theatrical presentation, and directed the player’s performance. At the same time, they subtly deflected attacks against their art by highlighting the morally troubling aspects of painted images and image-making.
Jacket illustration: Jodocus a Winghe, Apelles malt Kampaspe , c. 1600. Kunsthistorisches Museum , Wien oder KHM, Wien