The Bold Adventure of All: Reconstructing the Place of Portraits in Interregnum England

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In terms of art production and patronage, a long-held line of thought established at the Restoration cast the 1650s as the dull decade of seventeenth-century England, with a glittering Caroline court replaced by the austere rule of Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan-dominated government. This turn of authority was enough to lay the visual arts, in the words of John Evelyn published in 1662, firmly “in the dust”, and this sentiment threaded persistently through the subsequent historiography of the period. But were the 1650s really such a creative low point for artists, patrons, and audiences? This article contributes to recent and emerging research into the art of the Interregnum, which challenges that perspective, through an examination of the prevalent genre of portraiture during this decade. Taking the observations of James Fraser, a Scottish visitor to London, as its starting point, it considers a series of encounters with printed, painted, and sculpted portraits by a range of viewers with different political and religious inclinations. The broader cultural contexts into which these artworks were placed, both in London and beyond, are acknowledged, with artists and writers shaping the ways in which pictorial likenesses were encountered and understood. Far from incidental, portraits continued to play an important role as markers of identity and status, and as objects of aesthetic interest and appeal, during the 1650s.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
JournalBritish Art Studies
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

I am grateful to the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, for providing funding which enabled my initial research for this article. Many thanks must also go to the audiences at research papers delivered at the Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen, for their constructive feedback on earlier versions of this article, and suggestions on all things Interregnum.


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