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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Julius Caesar and Religious Art
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0179  Wednesday, 15 March 2006

[1] 	From: 	Tom Bishop <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 14 Mar 2006 13:14:16 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0172 Julius Caesar and Religious Art

[2] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 15 Mar 2006 13:54:21 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0140 Julius Caesar and Religious Art

[3] 	From: 	David Evett <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 14 Mar 2006 15:51:15 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0159 Julius Caesar and Religious Art


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Tom Bishop <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 14 Mar 2006 13:14:16 -0500
Subject: 17.0172 Julius Caesar and Religious Art
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0172 Julius Caesar and Religious Art

For the record, there was one place in England Shakespeare might 
conceivably have seen a crucifix: in the Chapel Royal, assuming he ever 
got in, where the Queen commanded one be kept up, much to the dismay of 
her clergy. See Patrick Collinson's article on Elizabeth's religious 
preferences.

Tom

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 15 Mar 2006 13:54:21 +0000
Subject: 17.0140 Julius Caesar and Religious Art
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0140 Julius Caesar and Religious Art

To Jack Heller, Calpurnia's dream

 >"seems to parody the sacraments of both
 >baptism and the Eucharist, and it alludes as well to the
 >controversies over relics."

  Jack Heller, once again, is right on target.

Clearly the scene is designed to recall the sacramental sacrifice, as 
noted in earlier posts (SHK16.1693 and SHK16.1707). Caesar's spouting 
wounds may be seen as new gaping bleeding wombs (following Paster et 
al), offering an antibaptism of blood. Shakespeare uses Lavinia 
similarly in his earlier TITUS as a mutilated bleeding Tree of Life, so 
often associated with the crucified Christ. Other echoes include 
Mithras' sacrifice of the Bull (ritualized in the Taurabolium), spraying 
vivifying blood throughout the Cosmos, and the cannibal feast of 
hunter-assassins, incorporating within themselves the potent spirit of 
their prey.

Equally provocative is Decius' suckling prophecy: "from you great Rome 
shall suck/ Reviving blood..." Jesus was often pictured in medieval and 
Renaissance art as a nourishing maternal figure, his saving blood 
issuing forth from his wounds--his chest wound drawn at or near his 
nipple. Nearby are angels, maidens, or allegory figures (like Queen 
Charity) typically holding one or more chalices to collect the sacred 
blood. One 15th C. painting (THE SAVIOR) by Quirizio has Jesus 
withdrawing a wafer(!) from his wound for a praying supplicant. Also 
available are "double intercession" paintings where Jesus, offering his 
wound blood, is paired with his mother Mary, offering her bare breast to 
the viewer--again linking breast milk with Jesus' saving blood. Milk in 
fact was held to be a refined form of blood. Related is the pelican 
mother pecking her own breast to nourish her brood with her blood. 
(Queen Liz, wearing a pelican-pocked dress or pendant, often posed 
bare-breasted as self-sacrificing maiden Mother of the Nation.) Surely 
Shakespeare was familiar with such iconotypes from the pulpit and from 
his reading, if not from surviving original 2D or 3D images. Jack might 
check out Bynum's 1986 "The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages" in 
RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY, vol. 39, for details and pictures.

The suckling metaphor as antitype can, I believe, be extended even 
further. European witch hunters of the period were desperate to 
demonstrate corporeal interaction of humans with demons, thus validating 
the Christian creed by their inverse rule of contrariety: if the 
antiChristian Devil exists, so must the Christian God. On the Continent 
and in Scotland, the hunters sought such interaction using leading 
interrogation and, on occasion, torture to extract from the suspect 
witch a confession of carnal copulation with the demon. In England, 
however, where torture was banned, witch hunters usually looked for 
interaction in the form of the witch nursing her demonic familiars with 
blood from her teats. The hunters probed and fondled the suspect's body 
for cold insensitive spots reflecting supernumerary teats, the fount of 
unHoly blood. Caesar, with his newly incised supernumerary teats, may be 
similarly seen in this context--his "reviving blood" nourishing his own 
demonic Roman familiars (or pelican sons), en route to World Empire.

Hail Caesar! --- Wicked Witch of the West!

Joe Egert

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Evett <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 14 Mar 2006 15:51:15 -0500
Subject: 17.0159 Julius Caesar and Religious Art
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0159 Julius Caesar and Religious Art

 >I don't know the English Church well enough to make a
 >pronouncement, but weren't all the Friars and Holy Fathers
 >long gone as well?

The monasteries had been closed for 60 years. How this affects 
Shakespearean representation of friars and nuns (Rom., Jn., MM, etc.) is 
debatable (and debated, of course), to say not of religious iconography.

 >along with the Chandos thread we seem to be dealing with the state
 >of Art History in the time of Elizabeth. Who were the collectors,
 >Artists, Schools?  are there sources in this field? Vasari's descriptions
 >of his contemporaries for example provides descriptions of religious
 >iconography, but was this known and translated?

The icon police were pretty thorough; very few public religious images 
(in places like churches and guildhalls) survived to be seen after the 
mid-1540s, though modern restoration has brought a fair amount of wall 
painting out from under the whitewash. A certain amount of carving and 
glass survived the first iconoclastic spasm under Edward, but none of 
that, I think, would have included the image of Christ's blood pouring 
out of multiple wounds to multiple recipients. The implication is that 
if medieval or early Renaissance religious images were to be seen in 
England they were in private hands. In the absence of surviving 
paintings or hard data about paintings now lost (inventories, etc.) we 
suppose that most of them would have been illuminations in manuscripts 
and illustrations in books rather than easel paintings. Such books and 
manuscripts were not to be bought on the open market; if Shakespeare saw 
them, it was in somebody else's library. That he traveled on the 
Continent and so had a chance to see stuff in Catholic Europe is a 
convenient way to account for some of the references in the plays, but I 
have seen no published argument that persuades me he ever left Albion's 
isle.

A few great families retained their allegiance to the old faith, and 
presumably hung on to some of their stuff; of these the Howards were the 
most important, and one of them, Thomas, 21st  Earl of Arundel 
(1585-1646), is sometimes called the first great English art collector. 
But since he was 14 years old when JC was probably first performed he 
was just forming his own taste--and since he's famous for gathering High 
Renaissance items (the portrait by Daniel Mytens in the NPG shows a rank 
of classical statues in the background) it seems unlikely that he would 
have sent his buyers to look for the more lurid type of late medieval 
painting.

Virtually all the significant visual artists working in England in the 
last two decades of the 16th century were Protestant immigrants from 
France and the Low Countries; some of them doubtless had some 
acquaintance with pre-Reformation images. A few native artists were 
beginning to emerge. Like other crafters, artists were trained as 
apprentices to the point where they could set up on their own; there 
were no "Schools." Almost all late Elizabethan easel paintings were 
portraits.

There is an intriguing allegorical painting (pl. 31 in my book) which 
testifies that pre-Reformation iconographic practices survived into the 
second half of the century-- last time I checked (1988 or thereabouts) 
it was provisionally dated c. 1580. It shows a middle-aged Everyman in 
Roman attire assailed on all four sides by the world, the flesh, the 
devil, and death; he casts his eyes aloft through a region of clouds 
where a guardian angel offers encouragement and protection toward 
heaven, where Christ, holding his cross with his left hand like a staff, 
seems also to cheer him up and on. The picture's English labels and 
mottoes, and a long contemptus mundi statement at the bottom, also in 
English, clearly indicate that it was painted for an English patron. It 
lacks the blood, wounds, and overall Gothic extravagance of a lot of 
late medieval pictures of martyrs and sacrifice, however--no saints, and 
though Christ is semi-nude (only a rather full loin-cloth), and the 
devil is mooning the spectator (and showing off a fine serpentine tail), 
Lady Flesh is fully clothed in an elaborate Elizabethan court gown with 
fine puffy sleeves and a lot of gold and pearls.

The closest you can come to a compact survey of early modern English art 
is Eric Mercer, *English Art 1553-1625.* The standard guides to Tudor 
and Stuart painting are by David Piper, *Painting in England, 
1500-1880*, and Ellis Waterhouse, *Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790. 
For connections with literature, there is my own book, *Literature and 
the Visual Arts in Tudor England*. See also John B. Bender, *Spenser and 
Literary Pictorialism*; John Buxton, *Elizabethan Taste*; Roland Mushat 
Frye, "Ways of Seeing in Shakespearean Drama and Elizabethan Painting, 
*SQ* 31.3, 1980, 323-42; Ernest B. Gilman, *Iconoclasm and Poetry in the 
English Reformation*; William Hecksher, "Shakespeare in his Relationship 
to the Visual Arts," *RORD* 13-14, 1970-71, 5-71; A. M. Hind, Margery 
Corbett, and Michael Norton, *Engraving in England in the Sixteenth and 
Seventeenth Centuries; John Dixon Hunt, "The Visual Arts in 
Shakespeare's Work," in John H. Andrews, ed., *William Shakespeare: His 
World, His Work, His Influence*, 2.425-31; James Lees-Milne, *Tudor 
Renaissance*;  James V. Mirollo, *Mannerism and Renaissance Poetry*; 
Nikolaus Pevsner, *The Englishness of English Art*, John Phillips, *The 
Reformation of Images: Destruction of Art in England, 1537-1660*; Sir 
Roy Strong, *The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England, 1540-1641*.

 >"seems to parody the sacraments of both
 >baptism and the Eucharist, and it alludes as well to the
 >controversies over relics."

I see no reason to take this as parody or to suppose that Shakespeare 
had a theological quarrel uppermost in his mind at this point in the 
play. As Joseph Egert indicates, the sustaining power of Christ's blood 
was an absolutely central proposition of Christianity in both Catholic 
and Protestant forms ("See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the 
firmament; One drop would save me!"), and there were in the culture 
various other images of authoritative or nurturing figures feeding their 
dependents with their own blood. It seems to me, however,  impossible at 
this date to demonstrate with any assurance that Shakespeare had direct 
experience of any particular work, or to distinguish between eye-witness 
experience (e.g., of an execution), and things encountered in 
conversation, books, or works of art. In Calpurnia's dream as in many 
other elaborate Shakespearean images, I am persuaded, we get a 
distillation of some number of experiences whose particularities are 
beyond recovery.

David Evett

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