Visual commonplacing : the transmission and reception of printed devotional images in Reformed England
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This thesis introduces the framework of ‘visual commonplacing’ as a way of analysing the repeating illustrations printed in early modern English books and ephemera. This research focuses on religious relief-cut images printed in the post-Reformation Tudor years and the printers, publishers and readers who copied and reused illustrations. By situating this practice within material, print and religious history we discover that copying was not uninspired or derivative but functioned within a wider memory culture, where imitation was a function of invention. Moreover, in a period marked by flashpoints of iconoclasm, repeating a religious image already circulating in state-authorised print was a prudent choice for book producers. This study begins by exploring the economic motivations for recycling images and traces the most highly copied illustrations of the period from the earliest days of the Reformation to the end of the Tudor period. The next chapter examines the alteration of woodcuts in the print shop, showing how blocks were not fixed, but mutable surfaces where images could be reused while replacing aspects of the iconography no longer acceptable in the current climate. Moving away from workshop practices, the third chapter unpacks how repeating images served the mnemonic aims of the book, by building specific meaning and associations through repetition. This is followed by an investigation into how publishers exploited the echo chamber of early modern print to circulate polemic images, furthering divisive religious strategies. Finally, we consider how readers used the images printed in their books and broadsides in their own visual commonplacing, by examining manuscript and embroidered copies and illustrations cut from one work and repurposed in another. This thesis challenges past critiques that derided copying by centring recycling on agents, detailing the creative and cognitive flexibility exhibited by visual commonplacers.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2027-02-27
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Restricted until 27th February 2027
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