England v Europe in the 1580s
These pages represent my ongoing research project on the 1580s fresco cycle and altarpiece in the church of the Venerable English College in Rome, generously supported by the Paul Mellon Centre and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
While the original images no longer survive, with the exception of the altarpiece, versions of them were made into a book of engravings that was widely circulated. It defined, and arguably continues to define, English national identity, especially among Roman Catholics. But we know very little about the images and what they represent because they are pictures, not words.
In the current political context, how might 16th century paintings be relevant? Two versions of English-ness were at stake: one had the British Isles as a special land, separate from the Continent; the second saw Britain as just a small island off the north coast of something much bigger.
Who am I? I’m an art history professor teaching at the University of Edinburgh. I first went to Rome, and to the English College in 1989 and I’ve been fascinated ever since…