Promoting historic links between Oxford Brookes University and the Methodist Church through archives, artworks, publications and research.
25 years ago I first became interested in portraits and prints of John Wesley, of which there are an amazing variety and – over 200 years after his death – people are still painting ‘original’ pictures of him. How do you make sense of this phenomenon? Why did artists paint him, what did they ‘see’? How did people view the images, was it with respect or ridicule?
Those are some of the elementary questions behind a critical study (‘Image and identity: John Wesley’ is the provisional title) due for publication early 2017. At our Faculty research conference on 16 June (theme ‘Power, the Individual & Society’) I’ll be giving a paper looking at this.
Probably no single picture was more influential than an 1839 scene painting by the Newcastle artist Henry Perlee [‘Smuggler’] Parker dramatically depicting Wesley’s rescue as an infant from the fire which destroyed his boyhood home. ‘Is not this a brand plucked as from the burning’ became a verbal and visual motif and mantra for Wesley’s life.
The paper will examine the genesis and production of this and other pictures, setting them in the context of the art of early Victorian Britain, and their role in articulating contemporary religious mores. It will explore not only the power of the image for society at large as well as a religious denomination, but how that enhanced the reputation of a single individual.
Peter Forsaith is Research Fellow of the OCMCH. He will be presenting (…)