A Protestant Allegory: Killing the Pope

A Protestant Allegory

The subject refers to the English Reformation, formally sanctioned by the Act of Supremacy of 1534, whereby Henry VIII broke away from the Church of Rome and was established as head of the Church of England. The painting was in the collection of Henry VIII who owned at least two other anti-papal pictures. The composition comprises a pope sprawling on the ground, flanked by two female figures representing avarice and hypocrisy, all of whom are being stoned by the four evangelists. On the ground in front of these figures are a cardinal's hat and a document with four seals (probably a Papal Bull). The city in the distance on the left may be Jerusalem. Above the city is a burning candle, which contrasts with another in the immediate foreground that has been extinguished by a cooking pan. These candles have been interpreted as symbolising respectively the true light of the Gospels and the false doctrine of Rome. Historically, the pope should be Paul III (1534-49), but the depicted likeness is closer to Julius II (1503-13). A specific identification may not have been intended.

The painting has been executed in grisaille with highlights in gold. The composition bears a striking resemblance to three identical woodcuts illustrating scenes of stoning in the Coverdale Bible of 1535 (Leviticus XXIV, Numbers XV, and Joshua VII), the first bible to be issued in English. The tenor of the propagandist element in this picture is more commonly found in contemporary book illustrations. The pose of Saint Matthew resembles that of a figure in The Stoning of Saint Stephen (Genoa, San Stefano), an altarpiece of about 1521-23 by Giulio Romano, with whom Girolamo da Treviso may have worked when he was still in Italy.


Popular Posts