The British Printed Images to 1700 project has been funded to provide a searchable internet database of over 10,000 printed images from early modern Britain, the majority of which will come from the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. This massive assignment is directed by Professor Michael Hunter, who has organised two project conferences, the first of which was held this month. It was an international event, with a total of approximately eighty scholars, students, collectors and other interested people attending from Britain, Europe and the USA.
The two day event comprised of eleven papers, a demonstration of the trial interface, a visit to a special display of prints at the Department of Prints and Drawings at the BM, and a lively drinks reception. The papers addressed themes that included Hollar’s prospects of London, natural history, political satire, portraiture, religion and the Reformation, and title pages. The overall quality of the papers was impressive and there was a sense, both during the formal and informal parts of the conference, that a new and exciting area of study was unfolding.
The four papers that I feel deserve a specific mention are (1) Tara Hamling’s study of the relationship between published religious images and plasterwork, which showed what must be a direct influence i.e. prints were used as design templates for plasterwork in domestic interiors (2) Alistair Bellany’s work on George Villiers, the first duke of Buckingham, that will surely help to reassess this neglected Stuart favourite; his analysis of Buckingham’s self fashioning, and his anti-portrait seemed in some ways comparable to Peter Burke’s work on Louis XIV (3) Helen Pierce’s research into the animalisation of Roger L’Estrange, and the relationship of these images to the political and social tensions during and after the Popish Plot (4) Richard Williams’ analysis of censorship and self-censorship in late 16th-century English book illustrations, a careful piece that explained the difference between acceptable, ‘reformed’ images and Popish idolatry, and so offered a nuanced response to the idea that Protestantism was purely the religion of the word.
My only concern with the event was that a minority of speakers found it difficult to use the power point and slide projector facilities, which given the theme of the conference was surprising, and indicates that it is necessary to practice delivery beforehand. But this was a well planned event, and has helped to establish the BPI 1700 project, which is due to be completed by March 2009.