Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries was marked by years of political and religious turmoil and change. From papal authority to royal supremacy, Reformation to Counter Reformation, and an endless series of persecutions followed by executions, England and its citizens endured division, freedom, and everything in between. And with such conflict among Christians, there was the perennial need to identify the “other.” Stereotypes of non-Christian groups surfaced in several media. Caricature-like depictions of Jews and Muslims became increasingly prominent among artists. William Shakespeare drew upon the religious unrest of this time period, and incorporated various religious indicators — from accurate portrayals to oversimplified ideas — into his plays, most notably Jewish stereotypes in his character Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Peruse a slideshow of various works created during the most tumultuous period in English religious history to discover where Shakespeare, and other artists, could have learned these cultural markers.
St. Didacus in prayer
Created by 16th century Antwerp artist Marten de Vos, this painting features St. Didacus praying to an image of Mary and Jesus above an altar. Known as Didacus of Alcalá, a renowned missionary, St. Didacus was later canonized after the Protestant Reformation.
Image: “St. Didacus in prayer” by Maerten de Vos (1591-1600). Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Passion of the Christ
This painting, by artist Hieronymus Bosch, not only illustrates the crucifixion of Jesus, but the common stereotype of Jewish facial features.
Image: “Passion of the Christ” by Hieronymus Bosch. (1515) Public Domain via Wiki Art
The Martyrdom of St. Barbara
In this painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Barbara is being executed by her father for converting to Christianity. Her father, a pagan, has stereotypical attributes, such as wielding a massive machete and brutally murdering his child.
Image: “The Martyrdom of St. Barbara” by Lucas Cranach the Elder (c 1510). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Public Domain via Wiki Art
Old St. Paul's Cathedral from the East
This engraving of St. Paul’s Cathedral of England was completed by Wenceslaus Hollar in 1652. It is argued that his engravings of Old St. Paul’s give a true general view of the church, although, because of his personal artistic flair, they are not entirely accurate.
Image: “Old St. Paul’s Cathedral from the East” by Wenceslaus Hollar (17th century). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Old St Paul’s (sermon at St Paul's Cross)
This oil painting, by John Gipkyn, was completed in 1616 and also depicts Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Similar to the previous artwork, Gipkyn does not remain faithful to the exact architecture of the building, but he does excellently represent the preeminence of the pulpit above the masses.
Image: “Old St Paul’s (sermon at St Paul’s Cross)” by John Gipkyn (161). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Lancelot Andrewes was an Anglican bishop and scholar during the reign of Elizabeth I and James I. His influence in English politics and religious matters was great, particularly in his advancement of the career and popularity of John Calvin. The image above is an engraving of Andrewes from the frontispiece of a 17th century book of sermons.
Image: “Lancelot Andrewes” (17th century). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons (uploader Dystopos).
Birth and Origin of the Pope
This anti-pope propaganda was one of a set commissioned by Martin Luther for his work, “Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil.” The caricature, illustrated by Lucas Cranach, depicts the Pope and Catholic cardinals coming into existence via the devil’s defecation.
Image: “Birth and Origin of the Pope” by Lucas Cranach (1545). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Thomas Cranmer's execution, John Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563)
Thomas Cranmer, a leader of the Protestant Reformation during King Henry VIII’s reign, was tried and executed as heretic during the reign of Henry’s daughter, Queen Mary I. He died a martyr for the Protestant faith and was immortalized in many religious texts.
Image: “Cranmer burning Foxe”. Ohio State University Libraries. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons (uploaded by Bkwillwm).
Bury Witch Trial Report (1664)
This frontispiece of a 1664 witch trial report highlights a series of executions in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England. One trial, lasting a single day, resulted in the execution of eighteen people.
Image: “Bury Witch Trial report 1664” by Edmund Patrick. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Map of Europe
Cartographer Martin Waldseemüller dedicated this map to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor of Spain. This map of Europe, though illustrated upside-down, clearly depicts Europe and highlights Italy, the epicenter of Roman Catholicism.
Image: “Carta itineraria europae 1520” by Martin Waldseemüller. Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck, Austria. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Ingoldsby legends. Merchant of Venice/"'Old Clo'!" [graphic] / AR.
This drawing of Shylock from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice comes from a 19th century book of illustrations. It remains true to the stereotypical Jewish representations in art, overemphasizing Shylock’s hooked nose and frugal nature.
Image: “Ingoldsby legends. Merchant of Venice/”‘Old Clo’!” [graphic] / AR.” by Arthur Rackham (1898?). CC BY-SA 4.0 via Folger Shakespeare Library
The Entrance Hall of the Regensburg Synagogue
Albrecht Altdorfer created this etching of the Regensburg synagogue mere days before it was destroyed and the Jewish population was expelled from Regensburg. Altdorfer was actually one of the chosen few who commanded the Jews to empty the synagogue and leave the city.
Image: “The Entrance Hall of the Regensburg Synagogue” by Albrecht Altdorfer. OASC via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jews from Worms
In this work by an unknown author, a couple from Worms, Germany wears obligatory yellow badges on their clothes. The man clutches a moneybag and bulbs of garlic, two icons use heavily in stereotypical representations of Jewish men.
Image: “Jews from Worms” by unknown. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
A late voyage to Constantinople…
This illustration from a book published in 1683 documents a Londoner’s travel to Constantinople and other Islamic lands. Like many portrayals of non-Christian people, Muslims too were stereotyped and caricatured.
Image: “A late voyage to Constantinople…” by Guillaume-Joseph Grelot. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Folger Shakespeare Library
Ismāʻīl, the Persian Ambassador of Ṭahmāsp, King of Persia
Ismāʻīl was a son of Shah Ṭahmāsp and a diplomatic representative to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I. He became the shah of Iran around 1576. Captured here by artist Melchior Lorck, Ismāʻīl is given dramatic facial features and a largely exaggerated turban.
Image: “Ismāʻīl, the Persian Ambassador of Ṭahmāsp, King of Persia” by Melchior Lorck (1557-1562). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Unus Americanus ex Virginia, aetat. 23 [graphic] / W. Hollar ad viuum delin. et fecit.
This etching shows a Munsee-Delaware Algonquian-speaking warrior called Jaques who was transported to Amsterdam from New Amsterdam in 1644. More stereotypical characteristics persist in works created by Christians, typically of those they would often consider to be pagans.
Image: “Unus Americanus ex Virginia, aetat. 23 [graphic] / W. Hollar ad viuum delin. et fecit.” by Wenceslaus Hollar. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Folger Shakespeare Library
Indianen, Erhard Reuwich, 1486 - 1488
This print, made in the late 15th century by Erhard Reuwich, depicts two men talking to each other. The inscription is in both Dutch and Latin, and describes the man on the left in the robes of a cleric and the man on the right in the secular garb of a judge. Both are referred to as Indian, a term also used to mislabel Ethiopians.
Image: “Indianen, Erhard Reuwich, 1486 – 1488” by Erhard Reuwich. Public Domain via Rijks Museum.
True religion explained, and defended against the archenemies thereof in these times. In six bookes. Written in Latine by Hugo Grotius, and now done in English for the common good.
As the title clearly states, this book was meant to explain the “true religion” and convert those who were Jewish, Muslim, or Pagan to Christianity. Upon close inspection, it is evident that the Christian is looking directly to the Heavens and is the only one receiving the light.
Image: “True religion explained, and defended against the archenemies thereof in these times. In six bookes. Written in Latine by Hugo Grotius, and now done in English for the common good.” by Hugo Grotius (1632). CC BY-SA 4.0 via Folger Shakespeare Library
Iudaes. Der Jüd.
In this 1568 woodcut, Jost Amman remains true to Jewish stereotypes by depicting the men with long beards and hooked noses.
Deutsche Fotothek. Saxon State Library / State and University Library Dresden (SLUB). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Featured Image: “Life of Martin Luther” by Breul, H. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons