A book that converted…


As part of the work of putting together the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition, I got to return to a question that has fascinated me for a long time: women’s reading in the early modern period. Though moralists fulminated against the perils of women’s reading, and warned that it was likely to lead to all sorts of venereal vices, there is good evidence to show that women read widely, and that they enjoyed devotional and religious literature alongside a wide range of fictions, poetry, and other writings. Continue reading


Two Pilgrims

Saint James the Pilgrim by Juan de Juanes. Oil on board, from the church of the Convent of Corona de Jesús de los Religiosos Recoletos de San Francisco, Valencia. Museum of Santiago and the Pilgrimages, Santiago de Compostela.

The medieval ideal of a Christian life — that of a traveller who existed in the world without becoming a part of it, a viator or pilgrim whose thoughts and actions were constantly directed towards the afterlife — remained an essential part of the theological and cultural heritage of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and was one of many archetypes used to characterize or narrate the spiritual progress of converts. Continue reading

Cultural Encounters: Jesus and Jerusalem in the Mughal Court

Mughal Painting from the Royal Court, c. 1600

Searching the V&A catalogue, I stumbled across this fabulous image. It is a characteristically refined and naturalistic painting done by an unknown artist at the Mughal royal court, probably between 1600 and 1610. The Mughal Empire stretched across most of present-day India and Pakistan, where it consolidated the presence of Islam, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture into South Asia. Continue reading

Staging Conversion in the New World

The conquering of the Mexican mainland by Hernán Cortés was accompanied by a systematic programme of conversion of the native peoples undertaken by the Catholic Church. This began in 1524 with the arrival of 12 Franciscan friars who self-concsciously styled themselves as the descendants of Christ’s 12 apostles. The theatrical nature of their efforts to convert the Aztecs began with Cortés’ initial greeting upon their arrival in Tenochtitlán (Mexico City). He kneeled to kiss their hands and garments, immediately signalling his subservience to the friars, a powerful image for the native peoples who had ascribed to Cortés the role of Quetzalcoátl, the feathered serpent god who had a close association with the Aztec priesthood.  Continue reading