A special exhibition of sculpture from the twelfth to the sixteenth century will open at Tate Britain on 20 September. Image and Idol is the result of a unique collaboration between medieval historian Phillip Lindley and artist Richard Deacon.
The display is a groundbreaking move for Tate, which has hitherto taken the Reformation in England, in the mid-sixteenth century, as the starting point for its collection and displays. Image and Idol acknowledges the richness and power of visual culture prior to that date and provides a beautiful and revelatory complement to Tate Britain's newly re-housed permanent collection.
The works in the exhibition have been borrowed predominantly from churches and cathedrals across England and Wales. For the last eighteen months, the curators have been researching and selecting a group of works for display, making field trips across the country to uncover the hidden treasures of our medieval past. Each has brought their own distinct perspectives to these extraordinary works, which once inspired passionate devotion or intense disapproval, even physical violence. In a departure from the conventions of museum display, Deacon has designed the installation of these works. The unique presentation will enhance the stylistic and thematic diversity of the selection.
A centrepiece will be the extraordinary Tree of Jesse, the largest and most impressive example of wooden sculpture surviving from the fifteenth century.
This carved oak figure has been acclaimed as one of the finest medieval sculptures in the world but before now has never been seen outside its home, St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny.
Image and Idol will introduce a number of key historical themes in British art from the Romanesque style to the Reformation; in particular, it highlights the international context for British art and the cataclysmic effects of the Reformation, in which much religious sculpture was destroyed. The inclusion of Pietro Torrigiano's little known Effigy of Dr Yonge, from the Chancery Lane Library (the former Public Records Office) at King's College London, acknowledges the impact of the Italian renaissance and the emergence of ambitious new categories of secular imagery.
An illustrated catalogue is now available with essays by Richard Deacon and Phillip Lindley (64pp, £12.99).
Tate thanks The Daniel Katz Gallery for supporting the conservation of the Sir Thomas Andrew's monument, Holy Trinity Church, Charwelton, which will be included in the exhibition.