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Ford Madox Brown's Protestant medievalism: Chaucer and Wycliffe.

The appeal of the Middle Ages in the nineteenth century has countless manifestations and as many explanations. A simple view of Victorian medievalism as a nostalgic wish for "Merrie England" and escapism, hilariously challenged by Kingsley Amis in his academic novel Lucky Jim (1954), has generally been replaced with a widespread recognition of it as "a social language composed of myths, legends, rituals, and symbols that was appropriated by Victorians both to criticize and to affirm their own times" (Dellheim 39, cf. Yates 59-70). The Victorian age, at least outwardly, was profoundly religious, albeit science had raised questions. (1) Serious disputes about religion included the complex relation of religion and art, not least because Protestantism strongly supported national identity. Indeed the Catholic Emancipation Act, which removed most of the restrictions placed on Roman Catholics as part of the Reformation, was passed only in 1829. Thus a fundamental issue is why and how a strongly Protestant society could deploy language and symbols from the Catholic Middle Ages. Because literature is more likely than painting to be read for ambiguity, a more ready understanding of Protestant medievalism may come from a focus on visual representations of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400) and John Wycliffe (1328-1384) in historical painting, itself designed to glorify national achievement and a genre seriously rearticulated by the Victorians and often closely tied to literature.

Since sympathy with Victorian medievalism is at variance with high praise of treatment of contemporary subjects by Ford Madox Brown (1821-93), it is useful to introduce this discussion of his Chaucer and Wycliffe portraits with a few broad critical points. The end of the twentieth century has favored either the ignoring of history, or its deconstruction, or a political agenda that Brown's contemporary paintings advance. (2) Kenneth Bendiner's five chapters in The Art of Ford Madox Brown (1998), for example, are Archaism, Humor, Realism, Aestheticism, A Social Conscience. With each topic Bendiner shows a Whiggish progression toward the excellence of the later paintings in which "Brown's archaism ebbed as his realism grew"; he finds in the Chaucer painting "humor that gives a realist bent, undercutting the pomp or fantasy of the subjects" and discerns a "questioning" that is "fiercely critical" of the nationalism shown in his paintings. Bendiner notes how in Wycliffe Reading His Translation a "marginal note of incongruity" disturbs the ideal, and the Manchester murals show a "strong point of view at odds with the main subject," of which Wycliffe's Protestantism is a part (21, 59, 99, 31, 27). Another indication of changed responses is Terri Hardin's caption: "This painting reflects Brown's incipient socialism. Celebrated English reformer John Wycliffe was, through his beliefs and work, a champion of the people against the abuse of the church." The illustration lacks Brown's Gothic framework with the rondels of Catholicism and Protestantism (204).

While favoring social conscience, Bendiner acknowledges that Brown was "something of a nationalist" whose "attraction to themes from English literature and history persisted long after such widespread fads of the first half of the 19th century had faded. His entire career was devoted to British heroes, British history, British poetry, British theater, and British life" (98). As Lucy Feiden Rabin discerns, Brown's paintings provide an evolving concept of the hero:
 The simple correspondence Brown saw between contemporary human
 behavior and legendary events of the past led to a new image of the
 modern hero ... the slowly formed concept of the down-to-earth hero
 based on observations of living human beings ... periods, costumes,
 individualized ... created images of reality out of the eclectic
 formal elements of the painting, and the painting itself expressed
 the idea of the continuity of mankind's experience. The lesson for
 man in the contemporary world--and the moral validity of historical
 art was never in doubt--was that every man was a hero, no matter
 what his station. (204)

This interpretation reconciles early and late paintings, and it is nearer to my focus on Ford Madox Brown's vision of Chaucer as the Father of English Poetry and Wycliffe as the "Morning Star of the Reformation" and "Father of English Prose." From the Middle Ages these men emerge as ideals that fostered Victorian national, racial, and religious identity, embodied in the English language and historical personality. Like the medieval romances of chivalry, the paintings gave a wish fulfillment and some incentive to behave well; although rooted in nostalgia and never likely to be attained, such ideals are authentic. That the medieval past was perceived by Victorians not as ironic but as "realistic" and thus widely accepted, is evident in the popularity of historical novels that John Sutherland identifies as "the most numerous and least honoured of Victorian fictional genres" (297). The same is true of historical paintings, treasured for their usually idealized images of the past perceived through heroes. As late as 1896 a critic in Art Journal saw the people in historical paintings as "beautiful types of humanity ... undisturbed by any sordid emotions" and praised images that recognized "the importance of obeying the laws of self-repression laid down by good society" (Baldry 5). Richard Ormond, in the 1972 exhibition catalogue Daniel Maclise 1806-1870, offers a cogent and measured approach that reconciles conflicting interpretations:
 It is both a measure of the limitations of the popular Victorian
 view of history, as of its merits, that it should see the past
 primarily in human and narrative terms. While, on the one hand,
 this led to triviality, it also contributed to a vivid and
 immediate sense of things past. An objective view of history
 requires distance. The Victorians compensated for their lack of
 impartiality by the enthusiasm of their response. To them history
 was not dead but poignantly real, full of passion, drama and
 incident. Their ideas were often highly coloured, but they did
 endow the past with a flesh-and-blood reality, engaging in its
 very simplicity. (3)

It is worth repeating that Maclise's The Spirit of Chivalry was a key inspiration for Brown, whose paintings of Chaucer and Wycliffe are vibrant representations of English nationalism and Protestantism, both embodied in medievalism.

Very early in the Reformation a similar accommodation with the Middle Ages was made. Lucas Cranach the elder (1472-1553), one of the two greatest Reformation painter/ engravers, places both Martin Luther and himself at the Crucifixion in the central panel of his masterpiece, the Altar in St. Peter and Paul church in Weimar (1555). The painting's theme is the "redemption of human beings by Christian faith." Luther holds a book in his hand and points to the German words of the New Testament: "The blood of Jesus Christ cleans us from all sin" (I John 1:7), and the blood hits the white-bearded Cranach, linking the artist and religion. Luther's place in the development of the German language and his transformation of Christianity by making the Bible available in the vernacular parallel Wycliffe's anticipatory achievements in fourteenth-century England, which Brown's paintings so brilliantly present. Cranach's altarpiece retains aesthetic elements of medieval painting--even a tribute to donors. (The leader of the Protestant union, elector Johann Freidrich der Grossmutige with his wife, and opposite their three sons, are on the wings of the altarpiece.) Cranach's painting infuses the central event of the Crucifixion with Protestantism by centering on the heroic Luther and his contribution to the German language and religion. Brown's paintings of medievalism are not subjects from the Bible but events in the lives of Protestant English heroes of the Middle Ages, men whose development of the English language was crucial to breaking the hold of the Catholic church by the clergy and to the formation of national identity. (3)

In four historical paintings Ford Madox Brown represents Chaucer and Wycliffe, who are credited with the foundation of the English language, respectively poetry and prose, and anticipation of English Protestantism. In two paintings, Chaucer, the "Father of English Poetry," is the center of interest--The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry (1845) and Chaucer at the Court of Edward III (1851, 1867-68)--while in two others he is a witness to John Wycliffe, "Father of English Prose" and "The Morning Star of the Reformation"--Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt, in the Presence of Chaucer and Gower (1847-48, 1859-61) and Wycliffe on His Trial (1884-86), one of the Manchester Town Hall frescoes, Brown's last major commission. Chaucer's association with John of Gaunt was a notable aristocratic connection, as indicated by the title of William Godwin's much used and imitated biography, Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, The Early English Poetry: including Memoirs of His Near Friend and Kinsman, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster: with Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century (1803). The widely held view of religious Chaucer in the middle of the nineteenth century is as "a vigorous and bitter satirist of the Catholic Church, a close friend and follower of Wycliffe, a religious reformer" (Bonner 21). This Victorian estimate informs Brown's profound interpretation of Chaucer and Wycliffe, who are important figures in paintings that span the whole of his career. These four historical paintings represent a fascinating expression of the interplay between literature and art and religion within the context of nineteenth-century medievalism, of which a key element is nationalism that embraces the Middle Ages without repudiating the Reformation but actually affirming it.

Brown's most compelling painting of the Middle Ages is Chaucer at the Court of Edward III (1851, 1867-68), but Chaucer also appears concurrently in Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt, in the Presence of Chaucer and Gower (1847-48, 1859-61). These two paintings marked the beginning of Brown's successful career and a Victorian tradition of Chaucer portraits. A final portrait of Chaucer is in Wycliffe on His Trial (1884-86), one of the Manchester frescoes, Brown's last major commission. Thus although Chaucer and Wycliffe run through the work of this pre Pre-Raphaelite painter, Wycliffe, frequently represented in engravings, became the dominant subject, a sign of Protestant medievalism that is the more emphatic because the last treatment is a mural in a public space available to all the community.

Brown began the first Chaucer, a major work on a grand scale (146 1/2 by 116 1/2 inches), in 1845 and exhibited it in 1851 at the Royal Academy, where it filled almost the whole side of the middle room. This was, of course, the year of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace with its splendid Medieval Court. Brown recorded his deep involvement when he observed that this painting "took up the better part of five years of my youth, from twenty-five to thirty." (4) After some retouching "to improve the solidity and truth of colour" he showed it in the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1855, and in 1857 received for it a 50 [pounds sterling] prize at Liverpool. The painting was Brown's first to be sold to a public collection, in 1876, for 500 [pounds sterling], after another retouching; it is still in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. A smaller replica of the picture, done 1856-67, is in the Tate Gallery, London. The documentation of the painter's creation of the scene and portrait is rich and especially full since he was given to much reworking.

From the beginning Brown acknowledged how important Chaucer was to him; appropriately the first entry of his Diary, 4 September 1847, describes the genesis of his great painting. Brown was already involved with the competition to decorate the newly rebuilt Palace of Westminster, with frescoes illustrating incidents from British history, or from the works of Shakespeare, Milton, or Spenser (not Chaucer). (5) He read Sir James Mackintosh's recent history of England in the British Museum in 1845 as he sought a general topic. From initial thoughts of "the first naval victory" or the "Origin of our native tongue" Brown had been inspired by Daniel Maclise's The Spirit of Chivalry (c.1845) for the Houses of Parliament to attempt "to handle more luxurient & attractive materials."
 In this mood, glancing over the pages of the above named history I
 fell upon a passage to this effect as near as I can remember "And it
 is scarcely to be wondered at, that English about this period
 should have become the judicial language of the country, ennobled as
 it had recently been by the genius of Geoffrey Chaucer." This at
 once fixed me, I immediately saw visions of Chaucer reading his
 poems to knights & Ladyes fair, to the king & court amid air & sun
 shine. (Surtees 1-2)

Although Chaucer was not one of the approved subjects for the Parliament murals, it was he who inspired Ford Madox Brown. Chaucer, who combined poetry and the English language with a perceived sympathy with Wycliffe and Lollardy was crucial for Brown, whose description of his first inspiration as a "vision" suggests religious experience.

The similarity between Brown's Chaucer and the frontispiece of the fifteenth-century Troilus and Criseyde manuscript, Corpus Christi MS 61, is obvious; but it is the more intriguing because Brown apparently never saw the manuscript (Treuherz 154-55,252 n9). (6) Thus his reading about Chaucer seems a moment of epiphany. The Diary records that his inspiration was literary and patriotic rather than pictorial and explains the genesis of the painting in great detail. When Brown arrived in Rome in 1845 he secured the life and works of Chaucer from the library of the English Academy:
 fortunately I found that the facts known respecting him perfectly
 admitted of the idea I had already conceived of the subject to wit,
 Chaucer reading his poems to Edward the 3rd & his court bringing
 in other noted characters such as the black Prince, etc. I
 immediately set to work & after many alterations & great labour I
 brought the Composition to its Present state. (Surtees 2) (7)

His original subject was to be the "seeds and fruits of the English language" a choice especially cogent for a man born and trained on the Continent and thus always perceived as somewhat "foreign" in England. Emulating a medieval form for religious painting, Brown first designed a triptych with Chaucer at the center and Wycliffe on one wing and someone else--Gower or John of Gaunt--on the other. The link between Chaucer and Wycliffe, both crucial writers, was thus in his mind from the start.

Next it became The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry to honor favorite poets, a painting aptly described as "an altarpiece to English literary heritage" (Allen and Fisher, 259). The signed oil on canvas painting is dated 1845, Rome, completed in Hampstead 1853. A pencil sketch made in Rome 1845 shows that this oil reverses the wings, and there are a few other changes in placing the figures. In the oil painting, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Figure 1), in the side compartments are the figures of Milton, Spenser, and Shakespeare, on the left; Byron, Pope, and Burns on the right; in the medallions above are heads of Goldsmith and Thompson. Names on the cartouches, held by the putti, are Campbell and Moore, Shelley and Keats, Chatterton and Kirke White, Coleridge and Wordsworth. The sleeping figures of a Saxon Bard and Norman Troubadour in the spandrels indicate the complexity of literary tradition inherited by Chaucer, each signing a different element of the language. There was no room for prose writers, and poetry became Brown's focus.


The original triptych is obviously a medieval design, emphasized by the Gothic Revival framing, inspired in Britain by the writings and work of Pugin. This architectural quality and division also show the influence of the Nazarenes and of early Italian Renaissance example. The poets in the two sides are ranged like saints against a flat gold background, and even hold emblems such as Shakespeare's masks; wheat grows about their feet and grape vines encircle the columns to illustrate the painting's theme. The putti below and classical medallions above show the impact of Italy on Brown's imagination, and there is something of Raphael's Stanze in the whole, although Maclise's Chivalry is evident in the painting's tiered effect, central massing, and luxuriance. Perhaps most compelling is the contrast between the central panel and the sides, one an outdoor and vibrant scene of a particular moment with a glimpse of landscape, the broader natural world, and the other a static formal, almost symbolic group, each poet with a laurel wreath instead of a saint's nimbus. Brown's efforts to achieve the effects of outdoor lighting are salient, a major influence in the development of nineteenth-century painting, while his subject matter embodies Victorian views of Chaucer. The three sections of this study for what was to become the great Chaucer justify Brown's claim in his Diary, 4 September 1847, that the work was "a love offering to my favorite poets." It is also an icon derived directly from medieval religious painting. Subsequently as he became more aware of reputations of various poets, much under the influence of Rossetti, himself a poet and very knowledgeable, Brown gave up the side compartments, but his view of Chaucer as the Father of English was unchanging.

The central section is much as in the final grand version, but there are significant changes. Here Chaucer is a major figure but at best equal in interest to his patron John of Gaunt, resplendent in armour and bold heraldic jupon, who was the richest and most powerful man in England. The linking of Chaucer and Gaunt, as earlier noted, is salient in William Godwin's Life of Chaucer (1803), which both included Memoirs of His New Friend and Kinsman, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and featured Gaunt's portrait. Edward III's court, the aged king with Alice Perrers at his side, and his son the Black Prince, obviously iii and embraced by his wife the Fair Maid of Kent, are seated nearest the two principal figures. In the lower portion among the several figures are a troubadour, with his lute, who looks up in admiration, and on the left a hooded man (Gower) points toward Chaucer. The young squire at the lower left is quite Chaucerian, enthralled by the lady; while the jester on the right, also rapt with admiration for the poet's reading, is Shakespearean, as Brown admitted. The water of the fountain at the center of the lower part also leads the eye upward; it is perhaps symbolic of knowledge--as well as an echo of Van Eyck's Ghent altarpiece or an image from a Nazarene painting already noted, Overbeck's Triumph of Religion (Parris 53). An adaptation of details from religious paintings also explains the lectern--an analog to Chaucer's use of the pulpit to read to Richard II's court in the medieval Corpus Christ MS 61--and details of costume clearly indicate Brown's concern for a modern medievalism. At this point the focus is upon the English literary tradition, to relate poetry and painting, not religion, and the context is chivalry.

In conceiving the Chaucer Brown soon moved from the triptych study to the single painting, a decision well explained by his comments in the Catalogue of his Picadilly Exhibition, 1865 that identify Chaucer as an embodiment of both the Middle Ages and timelessness, a Victorian view:
 The picture as it now stands might be termed the First, or First
 Fruits, of English Poetry. Chaucer, along with Dante, is one of the
 only two supremely great mediaeval poets who have come down to us,
 at least by name. But Chaucer is at the same time as much a perfect
 English poet--I am almost tempted to say a modern English poet--as
 any of the present day. Spelling, and a few of the minor
 proprieties apart, after a lapse of five hundred years, his
 delicate sense of naturalistic beauty and his practical turn of
 thought, quite at variance with the iron grasp of realism, the
 deep-toned passionate mysticism, and supersensual grace of the
 great Italians, comes home to us as naturally as the last volume we
 hail with delight from the press. (Ford 42)

Brown's juxtaposition of styles both between the sides and central panel and within the central pattern mirror this affinity between medieval and modern. It also illustrates the way in which he relates the traditional past to the revolutionary present, a painterly analog to ideas defined by Carlyle in Past and Present. (8) Brown's creation of a new style of historical painting relied upon Chaucer as the personality (a literary hero) who could come alive in a meeting of legendary and contemporary events. As Carlyle chose the Italian Dante to exemplify the "Hero as Poet" Brown chose the English Chaucer, each acclaimed as father of vernacular poetry for his nation and often linked in the nineteenth century.

Since Brown spent his youth in Belgium, he has an affinity with Chaucer's decision to move from French to English that somewhat explains his admiration and recognition of the medieval poet in the development of the English language. But there is a further affinity. Just as Chaucer's experience of Italy defined him as a poet, so Brown's time in Rome and conceiving of this painting while there were crucial to his becoming a painter. Having first received classical training in Belgium, he was vastly changed by the journey to Italy. He found in Holbein--whose works he stopped to see in Basle--a kindred spirit who was direct, sincere, and archaic and who started him on a new approach to the effects of light. Then in Rome Brown encountered the Italian masters; as he observed in his 1865 catalogue: "During my sojourn, Italian art made a deep, and as it proved, lasting impression on me; for I never afterwards returned to the sombre Rembrandtesque style I had formerly worked in" (Bennett 4). (9) Just as Italy opened the mind and heart of Chaucer, so Italian painting led Brown to break an orthodox inclination of color scheme and to find an absolutely realistic style. Without the time in Italy, he would have had less impetus to paint directly from nature out of doors--a broadening from the rigid criteria of studio light that required twice as much shadow as light--and to pursue realistic detail so relentlessly, as in the treatment of the fountain and lectern. These aesthetic choices reinforced the Italian religious sentiments and glorification of Italian poets that clearly inspired a desire for a similar English statement, one that ultimately became explicitly Protestant.

Brown's keen devotion to Chaucer in many ways parallels Rossetti's lifetime devotion and advocacy, even identification, with Dante. Paintings of medieval subjects, notably Arthurian and of Dante, were a major output of Pre-Raphaelite painters, unmatched for their dedication to creating both poetry and pictures and often to expressing religious sentiment. Their works are more popular than those of Brown, who saw himself as a precursor of the Brotherhood. Brown briefly gave Rossetti free tutelage, and became a lifelong friend, obvious in his grief over Rossetti's death and the design of his funeral monument. (10) In some ways Brown gained from being apart when critics censured the young revolutionaries. Rossetti's Italian temperament and qualities reinforced Brown's early inspiration in Rome. Most revealing is that Brown used his own face for Chaucer in an early water colour study (1848), now in the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery (Rabin Plate 50). But later, Rossetti became Brown's model for the Head of Chaucer, as a study of 1851, now in the William Morris House in Walthamstow, shows. His brother William Rossetti was the troubadour. Brown thus followed the Pre-Raphaelite practice of using friends as models; others were his wife, friends, and a few professionals, notably Maitland. (11)

Chaucer at the Court of Edward III is a prime example of the Artist-Antiquarian phase of historical painting, a time when painters relied heavily on the newly produced manuals of medieval costume such as Joseph Strutt's Complete View of the Dress and Habits of the People of England (1796-99) and The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1801), and Charles Alfred Stothard's The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain (1811-33) (Strong 59). Brown's Diary entry for October 6, 1847, records "went out to see after stufs & a pourtrait of Chaucer published by C. Knight, could get nothing tired & dejected" (Surtees 8-9). The image was probably the title page of J. Saunders, Cabinet Pictures of English Life: Chaucer (1845), which shows the poet's head and shoulders and the familiar hood. Saunders adapted engravings from Old England: A Pictorial Museum of Regal, Ecclesiastical, Municipal, Baronial, and Popular Antiquities (1845-46), a massive work by Charles Knight, a leading publisher, not least for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, one of several Victorian didactic and strongly Protestant organizations. (12)

Many of Brown's Diary entries note acquisition of materials, costumes, and adjustments made to create Victorian medievalism, neatly defined by Brown: "the world of our fathers with its 4 chief charackteristicts, Religion, Art, Chivalry & love." (13) As Victorian restoration and building of Gothic churches shows, the order is significant; however, the last three characteristics had great appeal. Victorians produced such events as the extraordinary Eglinton Tournament in Ayrshire in 1839 that created a market for medieval armour and attracted participants from around the world; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert chose to be painted by Sir Edwin Landseer as Queen Philippa and King Edward III for their Bal Costume in 1842; and the design and decoration of the new Houses of Parliament (1839-60), not to mention the Midland Grand Hotel, St. Pancras Railway Station (1868-74), were Gothic. "High Art and the Royal Academy," an article in Punch in 1848, captured contemporary reactions to medievalism when it identified styles in painting: "Medieval-Angelico-Pugin-Gothic, or Flat Style" versus "Fuseli-Michael Angelesque Style" (Bendiner 1).

Along with the artistic influences of Italy the medieval poet and Victorian painter express a concern, and detachment, about Fame. Brown--who was constantly at odds with the Royal Academy, not well treated by many critics, and so lacking in funds that he even tried to sell his work from a pushcart--observes of the Chaucer painting in the Diary entry for 4th September 1847:
 whether it may ever diserve the pains I am now taking about it
 remains to be seen, very likely it may only add one more to the
 many kicks I have already received from fortune, if so I am quite
 able to bear it & dispise her--of one thing she cannot rob me--the
 pleasure I have already extracted, distilled I may say from the
 very work itself; warned by bitter experience I have learned not to
 trust only to hope for my reward, nor consider my toil as a
 sacrifice, but to value the present, the pleasure that I have
 received & Daily yet receive from the marking out of a subject
 after mine own heart, a love offering to my favorite poets.
 (Surtees 2)

A critic writing in the Athenoeum, May 24, 1851, fulfilled Brown's apprehension, when after acknowledging "many passages of great excellence," he noted limitations:
 There is much learning displayed in the picture, but the lore is
 antiquarian rather than artistic. In producing this the diligence
 of the artist is displayed rather than in attending to such
 pictorial treatment as the picture demanded. If the theme did not
 supply situation or material for a severe presentment, there was at
 least enough in it to furnish a romantic if not a poetic
 combination. There is always great risk with a number of
 picturesque actors, clothed in variedly shaped and gaily coloured
 costumes, of their assuming the character of a tableau theatrique.
 It requires great earnestness of purpose and expression to avoid
 this. (Ford 76n)

This critic may have been simply avoiding high praise for a beginning painter, but the reaction came partially from Brown's association with the Pre-Raphaelite Brethren, who had published their principles the previous year and provoked so much resentment among the establishment that despaired of their bold innovations--and whose objections had not been heeded. (14) A letter of 1875 from Rossetti to Brown indicates an on-going fascination with Chaucer and a playful subversion. Rossetti cites a passage from Thomas Speght's "Chaucer's Life," prefixed to the 1598 black-letter edition, that placed Chaucer and Gower at the Inner Temple, where was seen a record of a fine of ten shillings laid on Chaucer. Rossetti finds here a dramatic subject, "I really think you ought to paint Chaucer beating a Franciscan friar in Fleet Street. I find the subject recommended to Haydon by C. Lamb" (Ford 305). Mid-nineteenth-century antiquarian knowledge of Chaucer did not always lead to simple pious readings; unexpected incongruity in the scene has comic potential. Moreover, the story is a reminder of corruption in the Catholic church in the Middle Ages and the need for reform that resulted in the Protestant Reformation that was revolutionary.

The title given for the Exhibition was: Geoffrey Chaucer reading the "Legend of Custance" to Edward III and his court at the palace of Sheen, on the anniversary of the Black Prince's forty-fifth birthday. (15) The most helpful way to read the painting (Figure 2) is through Ford Madox Brown's precise explanation of the complex subject that he presented:
 Chaucer is supposed to be reading these pathetic lines from the
 'Legend of Custance':--

 Hire litel child lay weping on hire arm,
 And kneling pitously to him she said,
 Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee no harm.
 With that hire coverchief of hire hed she braid
 And over his litel eyen she it laid,
 And in hire arme she lulleth it ful fast,
 And unto the heven hire eyen up she cast.

 Edward III is now old, Philippa being dead; the Black Prince is
 supposed to be in his last illness. John of Gaunt, who was
 Chaucer's patron, is represented in full armour, to indicate that
 active measures now devolve upon him. Pages holding his shield,
 &c., wait for him, his horse, likewise in the yard beneath. Edward
 the Black Prince, now in his fortieth year, emaciated by sickness,
 leans on the lap of his wife Joanna, surnamed the Fair Maid of
 Kent. There had been much opposition to their union, but the Prince
 ultimately had his own way.

 To the right of the old king is Alice Perrers, a cause of
 scandal to the Court, such as, repeating itself at intervals in
 history with remarkable similarity from David downwards, seems to
 argue that the untimely death of a hero may not be altogether so
 deplorable an event.

 Seated beneath are various personages suited to the time and
 place. A troubadour from the South of France, half-jealous, half in
 awestruck admiration; a cardinal priest on good terms with the
 ladies, a jester forgetting his part in rapt attention to the poet.
 This character, I regret to say, is less mediaeval than
 Shakespearian. Two dilettante courtiers [are] learnedly
 criticising, the one in the hood is meant for Gower. Lastly, a
 youthful squire of the kind described by Chaucer as never sleeping
 at night, 'more than doth the nightingale,' so much is he always
 in love.

 Sitting on the ground being common in these days, rushes used to
 be strewn to prevent the gentlemen from spoiling their fine

 This picture is the first in which I endeavoured to carry out
 the notion, long before conceived, of treating the light and shade
 absolutely as it exists at any one moment instead of approximately
 or in generalized style. Sunlight, not too bright, such as is
 pleasant to sit in out-of-doors, is here depicted. The figures in
 the spandrils of the arch symbolize the overthrow through Chaucer
 of the Saxon bard and the Norman troubadour. (Ford 71-72)


Brown's description makes obvious that he viewed his painting as storytelling, with details of characters--and some moral judgment about the behavior of individuals from history. He notes Chaucer's relationships with persons at the court, including Gower, whom Brown places beside Chaucer in the Wycliffe paintings. Retellings of Chaucer similarly emphasize story, and sometimes pilgrim character, over themes and technique. The figure of Chaucer is at the center and highest (albeit aligned with his patron), a composition that follows that of what has been called the "German," Cartoon, or Architectural style that balances figures well within the Gothic arch with the hero at the center and in the highest place. (16) It was easy to deploy such formal characteristics of Nazarene "Catholic Art," which was a protest against the contemporary lack of religion in art and artists, and against national schools, the manifestation of a longing for a medieval past perceived as more spiritual and harmonious, a view that supports Victorian high idealism (Ford 43-45). And Brown avoided the denominational issue when he referred to his first two major works (Chaucer and Wycliffe) as "Early Christian style. Both owed much to the German Nazarenes in their balanced and formalized compositions" (Bennett 4). Brown's depiction of sunlight is innovative, capturing the brilliance and intensity of a fine English summer day; it also suits his symbolism by making Chaucer an image of illumination, the Father of English Poetry outshining the Saxon bard and Norman troubadour by forging an English language that is recognizably modern.

Victorian paintings frequently are glossed by quotations on the frames, so that Brown's decision to identify the passage being read is not atypical, but there are special implications. (17) Not only is the book The Canterbury Tales, but specifically the Man of Law's Tale, that is best understood as a religious romance (1992 Richmond 96-99). Constance's story tells of the transmission of Christianity from the Middle East to Northumbria and includes religious differences and bigotry as well as saintly behavior and conversion. Cogently the Man of Law's Prologue identifies the linguistic role of Chaucer's writings as "in swich Englissh as he kan / Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man" (II.49-50). Significantly, the theme of Christian conversion in the Man of Law's Tale is related to linguistic development. When King Alla calls for a sworn oath from Constance's accuser, it is upon a "Britoun book, written with Evaungiles" (II.666), the Gospels. Further, a divine voice declares the slander against one who is guiltless, "the doughter of hooly chirche" (II.675).

The stanza quoted by Brown is widely identified as Chaucer's most memorable scene of pathos, the feeling between mother and child. The painter thus underscores the Victorian ideal of woman as mother, a judgment reinforced in the many retellings of The Canterbury Tales, typically children's collections which favor the Man of Law's Tale, second only to the Knight's Tale and to the Clerk's Tale of patient Griselda. (18) Constance and Griselda, archetypes of constancy and humble obedience, offer a counter-argument to the Pre-Raphaelite vision of female stunners who elicited intense reactions of desire but also fear. Victorians greatly admired Chaucer's models of noble women, particularly in the Legend of Good Women, to which Chaucer's Prologue to the Man of Law's Tale gives special attention. Ruskin's enthusiasm for the Legend of Good Women made it a favorite subject for domestic decoration, evident from many commissions of the subject by Morris and Burne-Jones. Moreover, Ruskin's Modern Painters (1843-60) influenced the way in which Brown formed his artistic vision and style. One characterization of Protestantism emphasizes an increased role for women, especially their becoming literate, since the reading of the Bible was primary. Constance, the agent of conversion, is a woman, and Victorians could recognize an analog to women who were active missionaries in the Empire. They were also the main candidates in English studies that developed as a "civilising subject"; for the new exams for the English school at Oxford, sixty-nine students were women and eighteen were men (Baldick 69).

Closely related to Chaucer at the Court of Edward III is Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt, in the Presence of Chaucer and Gower (The First Translation of the Bible into English), begun in November 1847 and finished April 1848 (Figure 3). The subject of Wycliffe's translation of the Bible, an obvious point for Protestant medievalism, was thus one that Brown could complete more readily than Chaucer at court, even though he had begun to paint that subject earlier in The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry. Measuring 47 by 60 1/2 inches, it is now in the Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford. That the two paintings were done concurrently signifies Brown's association of the two fourteenth-century men; an entry in his Diary for November 29, 1847 records: "Thought of what I should do. Thought of a subject as I went along. Wycliff reading his translation of the bible to John of Gaunt, Chaucer & Gower present--arranged it in my mind, called on Lucy, saw Martin, in a precious stew about the free Exhibition. Dined, came home Made a slight sketch of it (3 hours work)" (Surtees 17). The next day he went to the British Museum and saw John Lewis's An Account of Dr Wiclif (1728) and Robert Southey's two-volume Book of the Church (1824). He returned on December 1 and read William Godwin's two-volume Life of Geoffrey Chaucer including memories of John of Gaunt (1803). Brown followed these accounts in linking together Chaucer, Wycliffe, and Gower; his emphasis is dual: the English language (poetry and prose) and Protestantism.


Victorians who admired Chaucer's aristocratic and royal connections also emphasized his incipient Protestantism. Brown makes the latter point obvious by the figures of the Catholic and Protestant faiths in the rondels, images that were originally anti-Catholic and that he revised to mitigate controversy. Nevertheless, the Bible on the lectern is placed upside down, a setting aside to contrast with Wycliffe's new English translation at the center of the painting. Chaucer and Gower, poets and members of Gaunt's entourage, are present at a great and seminal moment for both the English language and Protestantism. Their prestige enhances Wycliffe's significance. Brown also consulted Pugin's recent Gothic Furniture in the Style of the 15th Century (1835) on December 3, and used a model on December 17 to begin the figures whose importance he wanted to represent.

The page's load of four large volumes signs the reading of both Chaucer and Brown. The books, like those on Gower's tomb at Southwark, are inscribed with titles: "CONFESSIO AMANTIS" and "Troilus and Creseide." The latter gives a place to Chaucer's other great work, extending awareness beyond the reference to The Canterbury Tales in Brown's great Chaucer, which was put aside while he produced Wycliffe in time to exhibit; love and chivalric romance also reinforce the interests of the court. Entries for early January 1848 record work on the design, followed by efforts with the figures, copying feet and legs of Maitland, who provided Gower's head, his own hands for Gower and then for Wycliffe, and his head for Chaucer (later he used D. Hewlett, a sculptor, for the head and then "Old Coulton"), and a great satisfaction in getting Chaucer's gown right (a premier coup) so that he did not expect to retouch. The figure of Chaucer obviously follows Hoccleve's portrait miniature, which had been published in various volumes, such as Shaw's Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages (1843), while the figure of Gower is modeled on his medieval funeral sculpture in Southwark. Wycliffe looks like a familiar portrait engraving, but Brown adds striking details with his full figure. The Reformer's large white beard and hair suggest wisdom and lack fashionable styling, as does his modest skullcap; and he is barefoot, a sign of humility that contrasts sharply with the richness of Gaunt's situation (or even Chaucer's and Gower's) and an image of simple religious devotion, the underlying argument for reform. Somewhat suggesting the wings of a triptych, the rondels are set in an architectural framework that resembles church furniture, especially items designed by Pugin. In Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt, in the Presence of Chaucer and Gower (The First Translation of the Bible into English), then, Brown is largely creating medieval images, albeit he introduces blue sky and a small landscape. Critical responses were mixed and express tensions about historical accuracy, both in style and subject matter.

The composition is more austere, with "its static symmetrical composition ... and lighter tonality" (Bennett 14). A reviewer in the Athenaeum, September 9, 1848, saw fit "to excuse in some degree a very badly contrived situation, in which the painter has supposed Wickliffe reading his translation of the Scriptures to his protector John of Gaunt, in the presence of Chaucer and Gower and his retainers"; but, finding merit in the manner rather than the matter of the picture, he predicted its success. Clearly not everyone accepted Brown's vision of Protestant medievalism in the affinity of Wycliffe and Chaucer and Gower. However, the reviewer offers a final suggestion for a work that he thought should be a fresco: that "the artist, in revision of his work, will be induced to make some abatements of punctilious accuracy in the costumes--unfitted to the severity of historical treatment--in certain particulars which are the accidents of a bygone time, and when so much insisted on, subject their author to the imputation of pedantry" (Ford 50n). For the lectern and canopied Gothic chair Brown could have drawn upon Henry Shaw's Specimens of Ancient Furniture drawn from existing authorities (1836), the first handy reference devoted entirely to this subject (Strong 64-65). One remembers Brown's confession that in Chaucer his jester was Shakespearean! The painter, then, sought historical accuracy but did not forego his personal inclination to make a point, as in the heroic dominance of Wycliffe, an emblem of Protestantism, who stands high above the seated Gaunt and is also taller than Chaucer and Gower.

Placing Chaucer and Gower with Wycliffe marks both Gaunt's patronage and Victorian literary history that singled out Wycliffe's prose as a parallel to Chaucer's poetry, but it is also a comment on contemporary religious concerns. The rondel representations of Catholicism and Protestantism have a textuality of current religious arguments. Many were being revisited through the Oxford Movement's reconsideration of the Church of England that looked back to the Middle Ages, especially for aesthetics in architecture and church furniture, most notably defined and realized through the work of Pugin. (19) The widespread Gothic Revival in architecture suggests greater unanimity than divergent attitudes toward its use by Anglicans, High Anglicans, and Catholics support. The Oxford Movement was initiated in 1833 and became most unsettling when John Henry Newman became a Roman Catholic in 1845, a reversal from the triumph of the Protestant Reformation, just before Brown began the painting. His Diary entry for 28 February 1848 describes his early composition for "the Romish faith, a figure holding a chained up bible and a torch--with a hood like the penitents at catholic funerals showing only the eyes, with burning fagots and a weel of torture for accessories" (Surtees 32). Although less aggressive, his final figure is still unattractive, in shadow and looking down. Catholicism's bible is chained, while a sweet-faced Protestantism holds her bible open. (20) The painting, Brown's strongest Protestant work, was published as a wood-engraving in the People's Journal with the judgment that he had "secured himself imperishable fame in this selection of a subject" (Parris 56). The second owner of the painting, T.E. Plint of Leeds, who bought it in 1859, agreed. He wanted a retouching of the original, but wrote Brown, "the subject is a noble one" (Parris 57). There is little doubt that Brown concurred.

While he devoted himself to modern subjects, informed by current severe social problems, during his central years, Brown also reiterated his enthusiasm for Wycliffe and Chaucer. In his last major commission, of 1878, the twelve frescoes for Manchester Town Hall, Brown returned to subjects from earlier history, with a kind of Carlylean "Past and Present" in his subject matter. (21) The first five picture events from the Roman establishment to the fourteenth-century, while the others illustrate events of modern commerce and industry. Two are from the fourteenth century. Number four, The Establishment of the Flemish Weavers in Manchester, A.D. 1363, shows Philippa of Hainault, Queen of Edward III, with her ladies, "in the woods, maying, according to the Old English custom ... habited in 'Lincoln green' for the occasion" This expands Brown's modest treatment of the outdoors in Chaucer at the Court of Edward III Brown's Exhibition note makes the Chaucer connection explicit: "The season chosen is spring, still the finest part of the year in Lancashire, at which season Chaucer tells us the English people delighted 'to gon on pilgrimages'" (Ford 353). More telling is the fact that Chaucer is physically present in Number Five, The Trial of Wycliffe, A.D. 1377, which most agree is the greatest of the twelve frescoes.

A version in oil, now in the Glasgow Museum (Figure 4), shows the splendor of color as well as Brown's bold composition with a dramatic confrontation that is very different from the static formal placements of Chaucer at the Court of Edward III and Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible. Yet Brown's devotion to the planter of "The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry" has not wavered. Here is no tableau theatrique, or at least it is a dramatic confrontation that outshines the luxurious costumes. John of Gaunt's drawn sword avows his threat to Courtney, Bishop of London, as does the anxiety of Gaunt's second wife Constance, a Princess of Spain, who "is plucking her spouse back by his mantle, as though in fear he might in his excitement do some injury to the prelate." Brown's Exhibition description indicates that the real point seemed to be the dispute between baron and prelate, and he chose the moment at which the trial ceased: when John of Gaunt threatened "to pull him [the bishop] out of the church by the hair of his head." The trial, which took place in Old St. Paul's before the Convocation, was against "The Morning Star of the Reformation," who was "an innovator and thinker of great originality," a great scholar, and "Master of Balliol College, Oxford.... much employed by Edward III and his Parliaments, delegated as Royal Commissioner, first to the Pope at Avignon, and again to the Peace Conferences at Bruges." Brown's description summarizes Wycliffe's achievements, and his portrait is full-faced, a head higher than the other figures and substantially larger. The painted episode is a moment of threat, but also of triumph, for the argument is a vindication of the Englishman who early initiated Protestantism. (22) Wycliffe stands calmly with hands crossed on his breast, in sharp contrast to the agitation of others. "In the background Chaucer, the Duke's other protege is seen taking notes on his tablets" (Ford 373-74). In many ways this is the most Chaucerian of Brown's three representations of Chaucer--not the poet presenting his work, or the companion of Gower with book and pen in hand before the patron to whom Wycliffe presents his monument of the English language, but the modest observer in the background who notes all that is happening around him so that he can tell tales: "He semeth elvyssh by his countenaunce" (VII, 703). Moreover, he is one among a crowd of participants gathered for a singular moment in the history of English Protestantism, the defense of a theologian by a noble prince, just as the German elector subsequently protected Luther.


In this composition there is a bold line of figures in conflict across the painting, a point highlighted by the vibrant red costumes of three of the larger figures and the realistic details of John of Gaunt's threatening gesture and his anxious wife's plucking at his garment to restrain him. As in Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible, the Reformer's simple black attire contrasts with colorful rich and worldly dress. Brown again gives the highest position to Wycliffe, who is faced by the Archbishop, somewhat reduced by the weight of his ecclesiastical chair, and static by comparison with the vigorous Gaunt. Nevertheless, Brown's use of white (here a dominant feature, not just a major innovation in preparing his canvases) at the center of the painting draws the eye with equal persuasiveness, and Chaucer sits at this table. Moreover, Gaunt's raised hand, while it threatens the churchman, brings the eye to the poet. Chaucer's attire remains as in other portraits, obviously derived from medieval representations, and again a close parallel to Wycliffe's somber dress. Although a small figure, Chaucer is not a mere background detail. The Father of English Poetry is rightly recording a defense of the Father of English Prose and of the Reformation. Here Brown has redeployed the Chaucerian persona of pilgrim/poet/narrator--a modest figure present and commenting upon events--that so appealed to an interest in personality that led Victorians to describe and evaluate Chaucer's character and to interpret his physiognomy. Nevertheless, Wycliffe is the dominant embodiment of the English language, the prose that both enabled widespread reading of the Bible to make it the most significant text in English and fundamental in the development of Protestantism.

Brown's several representations of the association of Chaucer and Wycliffe in the presence of the most powerful man in fourteenth-century England are a singular contribution to Victorian medievalism, patriotism, and Protestantism. His unusual vision combines the English language, both poetry and prose, with the fervor of Reformers who anticipated the establishment of English Protestantism. As early as 1570, the Protestant martyrologist John Foxe in Actes and Monumentes provided a rationale for admiring Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet of Catholic England. Foxe lists Chaucer, and Gower, among "a multitude ... of faithful witnesses, in the time of Ioh. Wickleffe" (I, 341) and later declares that Chaucer's works were printed in one volume and known to all, a phenomenon that he regards as a great "meruell" since
 the Bishoppes condemnyng and abolishyng al maner of Englishe
 bookes and treatises, which myght bryng the people to any light of
 knowledge, did yet authorise the woorkes of Chaucer to remayne
 still & to be occupied: Who (no doubt) saw in Religion as much
 almost, as euen we do now, and vttereth in hys workes no lesse, and
 semeth to bee a right Wicleuian, or els was neuer any, and that all
 his workes almost, if they be throughly aduised, will testifie.
 (II, 965)

Strength and influence come from writing in the vernacular, as Wycliffe and Luther proved. The resulting accessibility was crucial in forging nationalism, for both England and Germany, and in a shift of authority in religion. John Foxe cites works no longer attributed to Chaucer--The Testament of Love, Jack Upland, The Ploughman's Tale (23)--to make a case for Protestantism and accepts a report that "by readyng of Chausers workes, they were brought to the true knowledge of Religion" (II, 965-66). Modern scholarship may be uneasy with reliance on such doubtful authority; but Foxe's Book of Martyrs, like the Bible, was a book of great influence and inspiration in spreading Protestantism, as Jacobus de Voraigne's The Golden Legend had been for medieval Catholicism.

A typically British view is that their strength is language and literature, not visual arts. This may well stem from the wholesale destruction of Catholic images by Protestants during the Reformation, a defining of sensibility that is tied to the forming of a strongly Protestant English national identity. (24) Mrs. Anna Jameson's Sacred and Legendary Art (1842, pub. 1848), a large study exactly contemporary with Brown's first paintings of Chaucer and Wycliffe, confronted the issues boldly. She begins with an acknowledgment that picture galleries and engravings from throughout Europe, notably Paris, Munich, or Berlin,
 represent incidents and characters taken from the once popular
 legends of the Catholic Church. This form of "Hero-Worship" has
 become since the Reformation, strange to us,--and as far removed
 from our sympathies and associations as if it were antecedent to
 the fall of Babylon and related to the religion of Zoroaster,
 instead of being left but two or three centuries behind us and
 closely connected with the faith of our forefathers and the
 history of civilization and Christianity. (I, 1)

The allusion to Carlyle allies Mrs. Jameson with his Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841). In spite of this significant advantage more was needed to justify admiration of the Middle Ages, as Mrs. Jameson's comparison of Catholicism to a remote Middle Eastern religion indicates. Thus she personalized her English situation by defining her own English Protestantism in the larger context of European Christianity:
 Our puritanical ancestors chopped off the heads of Madonnas and
 Saints, and paid vagabonds to smash the storied windows of our
 cathedrals;--now are these rejected and outraged shapes of beauty
 coming back to us, or are we not rather going back to them? As a
 Protestant, I might fear lest in doing so we confound the eternal
 spirit of Christianity with the mutable forms in which it has
 deigned to speak to the hearts of men, forms which must of
 necessity vary with the degree of social civilization, and bear
 the impress of the feelings and fashions of the age which produced
 them; ... [she urges comprehension and respect of images] if we do
 not allow them to fetter us, but trust in the progressive spirit of
 Christianity to furnish us with new impersonations of the good, new
 combinations of the beautiful. I hate the destructive as I revere
 the progressive spirit. (I, 8)

Albeit with more emphasis upon aesthetics than religion, this Whiggish view of history, a confident belief in progress, assimilates the past without threat. In some ways, Mrs. Jameson's "Sacred and Legendary Art" could be another title for historical painting. Even the ardently Protestant Charles Kingsley averred that "ante-Raphaellic" artists are good because they are latently Protestant. Similarly, Tractarians found evidence of their own Catholicity and of nationalism in the medieval church, surmising that providentially this English church was free of Roman faults (Morris 136, 207).

While the High Church Revival that emerged with the Oxford Movement appealed to some, many Victorians reacted against signs of Roman Catholicism. (25) Hunt, in articles first written for Contemporary Review in 1886-87 and subsequently published as Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1905), claimed that he had urged the name "Pre-Raphaelite" instead of Rossetti's proposed "Early Christian," used by the Nazarenes, to avoid a suggestion of Roman Catholicism (Parris 11). And P.T. Forsyth claimed a Victorian achievement: "No Protestant artist has done for Christianity, what Mr. Hunt has done--shown it is not necessary for an artist, who is Christian, to be Catholic" (169). (26) The issue is both racial and national: "These artists discarded the Latin, the Catholic, idea that art was simply to please and secure the soul; and they infused the Teutonic, the Protestant, idea of instruction or the certifying of the soul" (188). Religious concerns, then, not just a case for English poetry and prose, explain why Brown linked Chaucer and Wycliffe: through medievalism his historical paintings affirm nationalism and Protestantism. (27)

In 1868 the Victorians added a stained glass window above Chaucer's Tomb in Westminster Abbey--a place of worship and the site of major public events like coronations, marriages, funerals, and monuments. J.G. Waller's design of this Chaucer Memorial included details from his poetry, heraldry, and portraits of closely related persons. The upper medallions were: John Wycliffe, Ralph Strode, Edward III, Chaucer (at the center), Phillippa Chaucer, John Gower, John of Gaunt (Allen and Fisher 271). Thus the memorial window, destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940, corresponded to figures in Brown's paintings, except for "philosophical Strode," to whom Chaucer dedicated Troilus and Criseyde (V.1857). Both paintings and stained glass were part of Victorian Protestant Medievalism and expressions of English nationalism. Lucas Cranach in early sixteenth-century Germany painted himself, the artist, with Martin Luther, theologian and reformer, to align current Reformation theology and art with the Crucifixion. The portraits of supporters on the side panels, a continuity with donors, aristocratic and clerical, in medieval paintings, avow political support. Ford Madox Brown's paintings of Geoffrey Chaucer with John Wycliffe with John of Gaunt express Victorian medievalism; he used friends and models for the portraits, but the figures are from the Middle Ages, presented with attention to accurate historical situation and costume. Brown's paintings thus elide much that was worrying, for their fusion of contemporary with medieval indicates a continuity of Protestantism in England, embodied in the ablest developers of the English language.


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Holy Names College


An earlier version of a portion of this article was presented at the International Chaucer Conference in Boulder, Colorado, July 2002.

(1) The Enlightenment that defined the eighteenth century is essentially anti-Christian, not least because of advances in physical science by men like Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Nevertheless, John Locke (1632-1704), although he emphasized rationalism, urged a need for faith that many perceived to be the defining force of the Middle Ages, an era concurrently being recovered by antiquarians. Medievalism is essentially conservative. Romantic medievalism, which sought a sense of stability in society and a more satisfying conception of life, looked to the faith and philosophy of the Middle Ages, characterized by Alice Chandler as a quest. Given the prejudices of the time, the faith was not modern Roman Catholicism but an over-simplified idealization that emphasized a nationalist quality and thus suggested possible reconciliation. For the Victorians, deeply unsettled by Darwinism, religious medievalism was not just nostalgia or escapism, but a serious attitude, although less frequently discussed and difficult to define, "ambiguity, duality, equivocality, and confusion inhering in virtually every manifestation" (Morris 228).

Just as Germany had been the origin of sixteenth-century Protestantism, in several ways German Romanticism was an early model for Romantic and Victorian medievalism (Forster-Hahn et al. 24-27, 40-41, 78-79, 82-85). Goethe's excitement in proclaiming the "Gothic" of Strasbourg Cathedral to be "German architecture," in an anonymously published essay in 1792, found many sympathetic reactions, especially with the humiliations and anxieties of the Napoleonic Wars. Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) painted Romantic canvases like Medieval City on a River and Gothic Church on a Rock by the Sea. He balanced such medievalism with a classical subject, Greek City by the Sea; all were painted in 1815.

(2) Work, now in the Manchester City Art Gallery, is probably most highly esteemed. It was Brown's featured painting in a recent exhibition to illustrate the topics of Patronage and the Industrial Environment (MacKenzie 202-05). Also much commented upon is The Last of England (1852-55), inspired by the departure of a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood for Australia because he could not earn a living as an artist; Brown used himself and his wife as models for the figures.

(3) Brown depicted biblical subject matter in other works, most notably Jesus Washing Peter's Feet (1851-56), now in the Tate Gallery, London, which has been described as a prime illustration of "Muscular Christianity," notable for its realism (Barringer 114-16, Girouard 129-44). Christ is an exemplar of "manliness," immediately intelligible to the working classes and part of a Christian Socialism that found inspiration in Carlyle and in the urging of physical fitness by Charles Kingsley (1819-75), chaplain and a favorite preacher of Queen Victoria, and a vigorous opponent of John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-90). As a writer of tracts and popular novelist--forcefully putting the Protestant side against Catholics with blood-thirsty adventures in the upheavals of the sixteenth century in Westward Ho! (1855) or urging a return to a heroic "berserker" spirit to revitalize English character in Hereward the Wake (1866)--Kingsley was widely read. Again Brown's affinity to the advocacy of Protestantism is noteworthy. Often strapped financially, he produced some works of church decoration for Morris and Company; designs for stained glass windows at St. John Church, Knaresborough, Yorkshire; a Crucifixion for the east window at St. Martin's, Scarborough; and panels for the pulpit, a Pre-Raphaelite gem, that included panels by Morris and Rossetti.

(4) In a letter to the Curator of the Sydney Art Gallery Brown wrote in distress when he thought the painting lost in a fire; his reactions were "immediate revulsion" and then "inevitable resolution to paint the work over again" (Ford 359).

(5) Prince Albert's Teutonic heritage strongly influenced the competition for murals to decorate the Houses of Parliament: pictures of Arthur parallel the Nibelungenlied frescoes in Munich's Residenz (1845-47) by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, a leading Nazarene. (The Wagnerian frescoes by several artists in Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle, painted in the 1880s, are a later celebration of national identity.) Since Italy was the place for the classical heritage, the site for grand tours and study, a group of young artists from the north went to Rome, first Franz Pforr (1788-1812) and Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869) from Vienna, and later Peter Cornelius (1783-1867) and Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) from Germany. As a Brotherhood of Saint Luke (patron of artists), they lived a devout life in a disused monastery (available because of Napoleon's occupation), with communal monastic rules, although creating art rather than prayer was the main activity. Each had hours of quiet work in a cell, daily chores, evening gatherings in the refectory for work with a model and reading, and some daytime excursions to paint landscape. The young men dressed in biblical clothes and wore their hair long, which led to their being called "Nazarenes," an early mark of eccentricity that changed to admiration with commissions and skilled work. One interest of the group was painting frescoes; their first joint commission was a fresco for the Palazzo Zuccari, the Roman residence of the Prussian Consul General. The subject was Joseph, and several biblical scenes are now in Berlin. By combining a devotion to Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) with enthusiasm for Italian art, especially Raphael (1483-1520), the Nazarenes had a German Protestant authority for religious painting closer to the Italian masters than either harsh German late medieval painters or the aggressively Protestant Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), friend of Luther. Overbeck converted to Catholicism in 1813, a partial explanation of a commitment to reviving religious painting, exemplified in his The Triumph of Religion in the Arts (1832-40), now in Frankfurt; it is more Italian than Dureresque. British painters, especially Brown, who met Overbeck and Cornelius in 1845 in Rome, were among those who found inspiration in the attempts of the Nazarenes to define an aesthetic and achieve a medieval simplicity that would assuage contemporary chaos. For Brown this was attempted in paintings that define a Protestant medievalism by singling out language and literature in the English heritage. Cornelius was a consultant about working in fresco for the Parliament decoration. Fragments of Brown's charcoal drawing of The Body of Harold Brought before William the Conqueror (1843), the South London Art Gallery, are reproduced in Barringer 29. The subject poignantly marks the last English king.

(6) Brown did see Samuel West's Chaucer at the Court of Edward III (1847), which may have been the intermediary source, but it is known only from the description in H.G. Clarke's exhibition catalogue.

(7) Brown's spelling and punctuation and capitalization are often erratic.

(8) Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) deeply influenced many Victorians, not least Ford Madox Brown, who emulated his concepts in Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841); Brown painted Carlyle's portrait and treated him as a hero in his most famous painting Work (1852-65), an image of labor, both richly allegorical and with contemporary references. Initially Carlyle, reared as a Scottish Calvinist and briefly a student for the ministry, discerned the greatness of medieval Christianity in spite of Protestant and rationalist propaganda; but he then self-consciously rejected the Middle Ages in Past and Present (1843), although he sustained an admiration for the age's spirituality. In this he anticipates John Ruskin's recognition, in "Classicalism, Medievalism, and Modernism" (1853), that Medievalism confessed the Christ denied by Modernism, which is a familiar challenge of the present (Morris 200-04).

(9) Ford concludes his biography of his grandfather with an evaluative chapter on the evolution of the painter's work, 403-23.

(10) In the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood there were five painters--William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, James Collinson, and Frederick Stephens; a sculptor, Thomas Woolner; and a writer William Michael Rossetti, brother of Dante. Two excellent introductions are the 1984 exhibition catalogue The Pre-Raphaelites, edited by Leslie Parris, and Gaunt's early social history of the movement. The former contains brief biographies, full descriptions of the pictures, and critical analyses by a team of specialists: Mary Bennett, author of the catalogue for the 1964 exhibition at the Walker Art Galley, Liverpool, wrote entries for Brown, while Alan Bowness provided the general Introduction. The Tate exhibition shows rich developments of style, and distinguishes both likeness and difference. Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98) marks the end as Brown marks the beginning of the Pre-Raphaelites. Burne-Jones left Oxford to study with Rossetti, although briefly, for he observed, "I didn't imagine I liked painting until I saw Fra Angelico and Rossetti." Burne-Jones decided along with William Morris (1824-1896) after their first visit to France to withdraw from study for the ministry and take up a "life of art" (Dean 3), further examples of Victorians turning to art after leaving formal religion.

(11) A Diary entry for 16 August 1854, identifies the models: "Emma [Brown's second wife] sat for the Princess which was done in two sittings of two hours each. Gabriel Rossetti sat for Chaucer beginning at 11 at night, he sitting up beside me on the scaffolding scetching while I worked. We finished about four in the morning & the head was never subsequently touched. His brother William was the troubadour. Elliot [Elliott] a pupil of Lucy's, the cardinal. John Marshall of University Hospital was the Jester. Miss Gregson since Mrs. Lee [a model] was the fair princess behind the Black Prince. Her friend Miss Byne sat for the dark one but much altered. The scoundrel & afterwards thief Maitland then under Marshalls hands for an operation, sat for the Black prince. The fine woman below looking round was a portrait of Julia Wild celebrated as model & prostitute also for black eyes, the boys were mostly portraits, but the other heads Ideal chiefly" (Surtees 74).

(12) The SDUK was founded in 1827 by Henry Brougham, who became Lord Chancellor in the Whig government of 1830 that zealously sought reform. Charles Knight followed the SDUK'S Library of Useful Knowledge with a Library of Entertaining Knowledge with interests from vegetables to the Elgin Marbles (Feather 163).

(13) The reference, from Brown's Diary, 27 January 1856, is to Rossetti's painting of a lady and knight praying before an altar (Surtees 163).

(14) The artists who identified themselves as Pre-Raphaelites, in September 1848, sought a revolution whose "underlying purpose ... was the reform of the European tradition of historical picture-making" in a year of revolutions across Europe. William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82) compiled a "List of Immortals" that "revealed vast visions of beauty to mankind" and favored literature (Whitely 6). In the first level is Christ, and in the second Shakespeare and Job. At the third level Leonardo da Vinci is the only painter among several writers--Dante, Chaucer, Keats, Shelley, Landor, Thackeray, Homer. Fra Angelico and Raphael are in the fourth division; but painters--Hogarth, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Poussin, Michelangelo, and Wilkie--predominate only in the lowest class. Linking literature and painting is a salient quality of the Pre-Raphaelites. Thus it is not surprising that in supporting Hunt, John Ruskin in a letter to The Times, 25 May 1854, claimed "tragical" qualities to defend him from being considered "common, modern, vulgar ... Painting taking its proper place beside literature" (Parris 19). Not until the census of 1861 was painting listed as a profession. Ruskin's Modern Painters, the first volume published in 1843, urged imitation of nature and greatly influenced the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Morris, Burne-Jones, and Hunt. Reactions to medieval (Catholic) art are not monolithic, as a single example well illustrates. Gothic Revival architecture appears ubiquitous; however, while many Anglicans promoted the work of the Catholic Augustus Welby N. Pugin (1812-52), Cardinal Newman rejected this religious medievalism and chose a baroque style for the Brompton Oratory in London.

(15) Quoted from Algernon Graves's The Royal Academy of Arts (1905-06), a complete dictionary of exhibitors (Strong 158).

(16) Brown's article on historical painting, published in the Pre-Raphaelite manifesto, Germ in 1859, describes the intellectual process of considering the picture in the mind: "giving the most prominent places to the most important actors, and carefully rejecting incident that cannot be expressed in pantomimic art without the aid of text," which is the second step following preliminary research to determine the psychological and physical characteristics of the subject (Rabin 171, citing W.M. Rossetti, Works [1901], II, 70).

(17) Usually the text and subject of the painting are explicitly tied. But sometimes the quotation is a gloss, as for Arthur Hughes's picture of Victorian lovers, The Long Engagement (c. 1854-59), now in the Birmingham Museum and Gallery, which was exhibited with Chaucer's lines from Troilus and Criseyde, "For how myght ever sweetnesse hav be known / To hym that never tasted Bitternesse?"--an example of linguistic medievalism and Victorian interest in Chaucer's poetry.

(18) See Richmond, Chaucer as Children's Literature, Table I.

(19) Atterbury and Wainwright's Catalogue for the 1994 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a comprehensive study, while Yates offers a brief introduction (59-70).

(20) Bendiner identifies Brown's work as "staunchly" and "fervently," but "short-lived" Protestant (103-104), while Hopper puts the painting in the context of "a romanticised view of the Middle Ages [that] inspired the artists associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" (98). The full title, given in Cartwright Hall Art Gallery and Its Collections Catalogue, is The First Translation of the Bible into English: Wycliffe Reading his Translation of the New Testament to his Protector, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in the Presence of Chaucer and Gower, his Retainers. This catalogue has color reproductions of both the painting, which was "brightened" at the request of the purchaser in 1859-61, and a small first sketch (18 X 25 cm), 1847, oil on panel (22).

(21) For a sympathetic analysis of the role of the middle class in major industrial cities of northern England, see Wolff and Arscott. Whiteley describes a similar role played by Thomas Combe, whose fortune came from printing in Oxford, when he fostered the work of the Pre-Raphaelites (24-25).

(22) See Dahmus, William Courtenay and The Prosecution of John Wyclif

(23) Scholarly work--notably the first modern edition of Chaucer, by Rev. Walter W. Skeat, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 7 vols.--was only beginning to evolve in the nineteenth-century, so that many Victorians accepted apocryphal attributions. The Clarendon Press did not begin publishing Skeat's edition, prepared for the Chaucer Society, until 1894-97. This "Oxford Chaucer" settled many issues about the texts: vol. 7 contains the apocrypha. William Morris used Skeat's edition for his Kelmscott Chaucer, illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones, and published in 1896.

(24) Recent exhibits of visual art express current interest: the Reformation section of a new presentation of British art at the Victoria and Albert Museum reflects something of current Revisionist Reformation history, notable in the work of Duffy and Haigh.

(25) The lack of early success by Pre-Raphaelites in their attempt to revive religious art, as had the Nazarenes, was in part a reaction against elements that were too Roman Catholic, such as the Mariolatry in Rossetti's The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1849-50). The very successful John Everett Millais was criticized for perceived Roman Catholic subject matter in The Carpenter's Shop (1849-50), while his A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge (1851-52) was enormously popular with its anti-Catholic implications (Parris 99). When Charles Allston Collins's Convent Thoughts (1850-51) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, Ruskin praised the precision of the painting of flowers but "distanced himself from the potential Roman Catholic religious connotations of an image of a nun" (Barringer 61). James Collinson is a complex example. He converted to Roman Catholicism, renounced this faith to become engaged to Christina Rossetti, broke the engagement, and then in 1850 resigned from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in a belief that it was incompatible with Roman Catholicism. Brown's comment, in 1865, about his Oure Ladye of Good Children (1847-61) reflects the problems for the artist in a time of religious high sentiments: "It was neither Romish nor Tractarian, nor Christian Art ... in intention: about all these I knew and cared little, it was merely fanciful ... if imitative of Italian Art in certain respects" (Parris 240).

(26) Of all the Pre-Raphaelites Hunt was the proclaimed and acclaimed painter of religion, both for his most famous The Light of the World (1851-53), in Keble College, Oxford, and for The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1854-55), in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and The Scapegoat (1854-55), in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside. His subject was Christ, and these attempts at portrayal ranged from simple allegory to historical authenticity, to typological symbolism. All served his Evangelical Christianity. Brown's paintings are less overtly religious, for they combine patriotism with religion by celebrating literary English Protestantism, incipient in the fourteenth century.

(27) Modern Chaucerians tend to caution, or deny a close association between Chaucer and Wycliffe. See Georgianna, Knapp, and Kamowski. Hudson, a leading Wycliffe scholar, finds Chaucer's Parson an exemplar of Wycliffe's ideals. Terry Jones provocatively urges closer ties and dire consequences.
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Author:Richmond, Velma Bourgeois
Publication:Christianity and Literature
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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