A Protestant Allegory

Girolamo da Treviso (c.1497-1544)

A Protestant Allegory

c.1538-44

Oil on panel

68 x 84.4 cm

In the Royal Collection by 1547


The subject refers to the English Reformation, formally marked by the Act of Supremacy of 1534, whereby Henry VIII broke away from the Church of Rome and was established as the head of the Church of England. This painting was in the collection of Henry VIII who owned at least two other anti-papal pictures. The composition depicts a pope sprawling on the ground, flanked by two female figures representing avarice and hypocrisy, all of who are being stoned by the four evangelists. On the ground in front of these figures are a cardinal’s hat and a document with four seals. The city in the left in the distance may be Jerusalem. Above the city is a burning candle, which contrasts with another in the immediate foreground that has been extinguished by a cooking pan. These candles have been interpreted as symbolising the true light of the Gospels and the false doctrine of Rome. Historically, the pope should be Paul III, but the depicted likeness is closer to Julius II. A specific identification may not have been intended.

The painting has been executed in grisaille (tones of grey) with highlights in gold. The composition bears a striking resemblance to three identical woodcuts illustrating scenes of stoning in the Coverdale Bible of 1535, the first Bible to be issued in English. The artist came to England sometime in 1538 and died in the siege of Boulogne in 1544, where he was serving as a military engineer. The picture is not listed in the royal inventory of 1542 and may therefore be dated between 1542 and the artist’s death.

RCIN 405748