Chapter 10 “Do It Well and Thoroughly, for It Will Be Shown to Important People”: Art in the English Dominican Province, ca.1221–ca.1540

In: A Companion to the English Dominican Province  
Alexander Collins
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This chapter provides an overview of the English Dominican province’s engagement with art from their arrival in 1221, until the Reformation in the sixteenth century that ended the official presence of the order. In the first section, associations of the order with wealth and luxury are explored through a close reading of Piers the Plowman's Crede, which features a luxurious friary often thought to refer to London Blackfriars. This is contrasted with the development of attitudes to visual culture in Dominican rules through the period.

Subsequently, Dominican art is conceptualised through the visual objects used, made for or owned by the friars, presenting the evidence for what visual culture was owned by English friaries and the individual members of the order. How did these fulfil the requirements of its brothers and sisters, as well as the communities they served? Objects examined include extant altarpieces from the province, such as the Battel Hall Retable and Thornham Parva Retable, as well as the Holkam Picture Book (London, BL Add. 47682), in which a Dominican friar is illuminated giving instructions to an artist to ‘do it well and thoroughly, for it will be shown to important people’. Works later possibly owned by brothers, such as the De Brailes Hours (London, British Library Add. 49999), are also examined in this context.

The final section of the chapter considers the career of John Siferwas O.P., a friar of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, who was an illuminator mainly active in south-west England. He illuminated two manuscripts of a massive scale, the Sherborne Missal (London, BL Add. 74236) and the Lovell Lectionary (London, BL Harley 7266). Made for Benedictine and lay patrons, respectively, they nevertheless contain prominent images of the friar – do they reveal therefore the visual concerns and devotions of a medieval English Dominican?

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