Provincial Artisan Networks and the Painter's Occupation

Robert Tittler, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

Making Art in Tudor Britain
Abstracts from Academic Workshops (2007-8)
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

My observations about this subject were largely formed by the research for my recent monograph, The Face of the City; Civic Portraiture and Civic Identity in Early Modern England (Manchester University Press, 2007) which dealt extensively with the provincial scene as well as the metropolitan. They suggest the following impressions.

Considerable continuity, and some discontinuity, pertained in the production of visual imagery before and after the Reformation. Such media and materials as funerary brasses, stained glass and manuscript illuminations waned in use; secular panel portraits blossomed anew, along with the innovatory use of canvas over panel. While most media remained active, subject matter changed with the times. Homes, civic buildings and other secular venues considerably replaced ecclesiastical premises as the most obvious venues for portrait display.

Considerable continuity appears in the work of craftsmen, though they will have adapted to the new demands of the post-Reformation era. Secular imagery, on such forms as wood carvings, glass paintings and panel paintings, substantially replaced religious imagery, though most techniques remained constant or developed (as with the use of canvas) without particular relation to religious change.

Occupational continuity also appears within successive generations of craftsmen working in particular media. The value of occupational capital invested in tools and premises supported this pattern. Mary Edmunds's 1970s work had shown this to be the case amongst foreign artists and artisans in London; the same seems to hold true for some native craftsmen families in provincial England, with examples provided from Chichester, Boston, Chester, Norwich, King's Lynn, etc.

In regard to training, apprenticeship within the traditional guild system pertained in many provincial centres as it did in London, though there seems relatively little cross-over between foreign and native masters and apprentices. The role of heraldic painting seems especially important in training and in attracting patronage. Herald painters and painter-stainers worked hand in hand and were often the same person. Training with heralds in heraldic painting also brought the aspiring secular painter into contact with the regional gentry community which was then served by both.

Finally, a diagram of the community of painters and their training in the city of Chester provided a case study of these observations. Heraldic painters proved especially important as a source of training and as an entree into regional circles of patronage for the painter-stainer or native portraitist. The herald painters Randle Holme, father and son, and their sundry apprentices like John Souch and Daniel King, amply demonstrate that symbiotic relationship.