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The Chelsea Pietà

Martin, Matthew (2013) The Chelsea Pietà. In: Fire and Form - The Influence of the Baroque on English Ceramics, July 2012, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


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A small number of porcelain sculptures on religious subjects are known from eighteenth-century England. These have long puzzled commentators. Why were sculptures employing Counter-reformation imagery being produced in Protestant England? This thesis attempts to answer this question through a detailed examination of the contexts of production and consumption of the Pietà figure group modelled by the Fleming Joseph Willems and manufactured by the Chelsea porcelain factory. Long assumed to have been a Huguenot enterprise, it is shown that the Chelsea factory included artists and craftsmen of various confessional allegiances amongst its personnel. Although the Reformation had seen occasional bursts of iconoclasm in England, by the eighteenth-century English Protestant elites had developed strategies to allow them to engage with Counter-reformation art in the interests of the accrual of cultural prestige. Some images, however, continued to present difficulties, especially when they assumed sculptural form, and as a subject, the Pietà must be numbered amongst this latter group. A close iconographic analysis of Willems’ Pietà reveals the compositional and symbolic complexity of this work and suggests that this porcelain sculpture was intended to serve as a Catholic devotional image. Despite caricatures of their descent into provincial isolation, many of England’s Catholic gentry families were fully engaged in the cultural life of eighteenth-century England and many were active as collectors and patrons of art and luxury commodities. It is argued that patronage for these porcelain devotional sculptures is to be sought amongst members of England’s recusant elite.

Item Type: Conference Papers (Paper)
Repository Version: Published Version
Keywords: Eighteenth-century England, porcelain, devotional sculpture, Recusant culture
Fields of Research: 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1901 Art Theory and Criticism > 190102 Art History
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210305 British History
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology
Type of Activity: Pure Basic Research
Subjects: C - Church History
A - Humanities, general
College/Association with University of Divinity: YTU: Yarra Theological Union
Depositing User: Dr Matthew Martin
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2016 02:57
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2017 08:30
URI: http://repository.divinity.edu.au/id/eprint/2101

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