The Devastation Of British Art



From the Dissolution of the monasteries to the Civil War, Diarmaid MacCulloch tells the dramatic story of iconoclasm and reformation in the English church.

A difficult and gradual process, the English Reformation eventually succeeded in denuding churches up and down the country of all their images - and (during the Civil War) even their organs. Word replaced image as the medium for worship. Looking at the white-washed churches of Wetherden and Bures in Suffolk, Diarmaid assesses the complex set of motivations which drove the iconoclasts to tear down statues, dismantle rood screens and smash stained glass. He examines the journal of William Dowsing, probably the most notorious iconoclast of the Civil War period, and other documents that shine a light on the complex motivations of Reformation iconoclasts.

Diarmaid's journey also takes him to Winchester Cathedral where the great rood screen was attacked (probably under Edward) and the stained glass later smashed by Cromwell's soldiers. Academic Philip Lindley and sculptor Richard Deacon help to explain the power of religious images and the corresponding fear they induced in iconoclasts.

Finally, the Reverend Canon Doctor Roland Riem of Winchester and artist Sophie Hacker talk about the place of images in today's churches and cathedrals. Diarmaid considers whether the fanaticism of the Reformation reformers bears any relation to the iconoclastic attacks we have witnessed in our own century. And Tabitha Barber, Tate Britain curator, reflects on the legacy of this iconoclastic movement: has the destructiveness of the Reformation made a lasting impact on the history of British Art?

First broadcast in October 2013.