Click here to return to main page

Objects as a measure of reflection on a Catholic past and the construction of self-identity

Unless noted, all objects described are loaned by Stonyhurst College, Lancashire

This exhibition focuses on Catholic preservation of textiles, paintings, books, sculpture, stained glass, and other works of art important to Catholic culture and worship, especially in England and the United States. When made, these objects were useful objects, demonstrating not only personal piety but also social status. Art was not separate from daily life and as such was deeply affected by politics. As Henry VIII strove to consolidate his position as head of the church as well as the state, he and his successors enforced rules to control, and frequently to suppress imagery and customs associated the past. Catholics during the era from 1538 (the order to disband monasteries and to enforce the King as head of the church) to 1829 (Catholic emancipation act) covertly preserved works of art - and even commissioned others. Many objects were removed to sites on the Continent for safekeeping.

The development of museums as public institutions in the 19th century restructured attitudes towards the past. What the English government had seen as seditious and/or blasphemous, could now become a object of aesthetic beauty, a model for contemporary craftsmanship, or a testimony to a patron's social position. The Gothic Revival also encouraged the reevaluation of this medieval art style once associated with superstitious practices and disloyalty. The display of these objects in contextualized settings will enable the viewer to understand their origins and use. Thus the varied life and "meanings" of a work of art can be explored.