Iconoclasm

censorship, destruction and reuse in the European Middle Ages
Exhibition image

The term iconoclasm, which literally means "image breaking", describes a recurring impulse to shift, control, or eradicate the significance that communities project onto predominantly figurative images through a process of intentional damage, or even wholesale destruction. It manifests most commonly during moments of religious, political, or social unrest, when groups come together to change the status quo. Two such periods in European history have most forcefully shaped how the objects included in our new exhibition on this theme survive today: the Reformation of the 16th century (which arose from what were perceived as the abuses of the Catholic Church), and the widespread process of secularization, confiscation, and destruction of Church property that took place during the 18th and 19th centuries (including the French Revolution). Alongside these movements, which led to the frenetic and zealous erasure of vast numbers of images and objects associated with institutions of power, medieval art has also suffered from opportunistic dismemberment, as well as from alteration and reuse. So while many of the works of art included in this exhibition display the unmistakable marks of the iconoclast's axe - a form of medieval cancel culture - others have survived by dint of being cut up and reappropriated as masonry when tastes changed and their materials grew more difficult or costly to source. 

Iconoclasm, which runs at the gallery from 3rd November to 2nd December, looks at the many ways in which it is possible to read damage on historic objects, and seeks to tease out the stories of a collection of vivid, miraculous survivals united by their fragmentation. In doing so, we hope to demonstrate that the importance and beauty of these objects survive despite - or even because of - their partial erasure. Bearing the scars of violence and attempted destruction, they together trace some of the many ways in which Europeans across history have sought to silence images during the centuries since their creation.

Sam Fogg, London
3 November - 2 December 2022
Join us for the exhibition opening on Nov. 3, between 6 - 8 pm

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Sam Fogg
Art of the Middle Ages