Nora Epstein

BA (Hons) Brandeis University, MLIS University of Illinois, MLitt University of St. Andrews   


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Thesis title: Visual Commonplacing: The Transmission and Reception of Printed Devotional Images in Reformed England
Supervisor: Professor Andrew Pettegree and Dr Bridget Heal


The common thread running through my research is a curiosity about how the nebulous status of religious imagery during the long English Reformation impacted book culture. I am particularly interested in the intersections of material culture, print history, and the shaping of protestant identities.

My doctoral research focuses on the impact and popular reception of printed English devotional images. In trying to recover how devotional images were viewed, internalized, and used by early modern English people, I am adopting a framework first developed by textual critics —intertextuality— to analyze instances of image quotation. My project explores the transference of illustrations from one printed source to another, and also the numerous examples of domestic decorations that clearly borrowed their design from printed devotional works. An examination of the process of quoting devotional images within the semi-public space of the home will expand our understanding of the impact of print culture on the lives of its consumers. This process, with its atomization of books into isolated units to be used in another context, resembles the prescriptive practice of commonplacing. I am curious about how divorcing the image from its text alters its meaning and status. It seems clear that this practice has ties to self-fashioning, but it also changes how we conceive the viewing audience of English illustrated works, which are traditionally thought of as a luxury afforded to very few.