Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm is the first exhibition to explore the history of physical attacks on art in Britain from the 16th century to the present day. Iconoclasm describes the deliberate breaking of images. The show explores 500 years of assaults on art and includes paintings, sculpture and archival material. It examines how and why icons, symbols and monuments have been attacked for religious, political or aesthetic motives. Many of the best examples of medieval sculpture in the country feature in the exhibition. All are remarkable survivors of the Reformation, when it is thought that over 90 per cent of medieval sculpture was lost. For example the Statue of the Dead Christ c.1500-20 was discovered in 1954 at Mercers’ Hall beneath the chapel floor and is on loan for the first time, as well as a book of hours from British Library, defaced by state-sanctioned religious reformers. These works are accompanied by vivid accounts of the destructive actions of Puritan iconoclasts.
Other Highlights include Thomas Johnson’s Interior of Canterbury Cathedral 1657– the only painting documenting Puritan iconoclasm in England – exhibited for the first time alongside stained glass removed from the windows of the cathedral.
Allen Jone's Chair 1969 is on display, as well as evidence of statues destroyed in Ireland during the 20th century. John Singer Sargent's Henry James 1913, slashed at the Royal Academy in 1914 is also on view.
In addition, the show considers artists such as Gustav Metzger, Yoko Ono and Jake and Dinos Chapman, who have used destruction as a creative force.
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