Although his activity as a private collector has been documented, the extent to which William Ewart Gladstone's interest in art was implicated in his thought on church and state has been overlooked. Previously unnoticed memoranda and correspondence of the 1830s and 1840s with the French art historian and Roman Catholic thinker, François Rio, demonstrate a fascination with religious painting of early Renaissance Italy, of the sort which only came to be appreciated in Britain many years later. For Rio, however, introducing Gladstone to ‘Christian art’ was as much about encouraging Gladstone in his hopes of reuniting the Protestant and Catholic churches as it was about reforming his taste. The manuscripts considered here show Gladstone to have viewed art history in terms of a struggle between sanctity and sensuality, visualized in terms both of the individual as well as of nationalities. In so far as the young Conservative politician formulated this history in tandem with his theory of the religious personality of the state, a study of his model of Christian art's development affords a new path into an old debate: did Gladstone betray the principles of his first book, The state in its relations with the church (1838) in his subsequent political evolution into Liberal statesman?
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