Iconoclasm is an interesting subject in the history of British art. We’ve all wandered through churchyards and seen a statue with its nose or limbs hacked off, and perhaps even wondered at who this person was who sought to disfigure a work of art in this way. There’s so much drama and passion in this protest. Unfortunately, none of this translates into the Tate’s dry exploration of the theme in Art Under Attack, Histories of British Iconoclasm, at Tate Britain until 5 Jan.
The show is divided into three sections: religion, politics and aesthetics. Religious intolerance and the sweeping reforms of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time is the most common period associated with iconoclasm, but in fact some of the most vicious acts were performed later, particularly during the reign of Edward 1. Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is the lacerated statue of Christ that was found in the Mercer’s Hall. By its very nature, though, there are usually only fragments left of what was destroyed, resulting in an academic treatise rather than a visual treat.