Anne DILLON. Michelangelo and the English Martyrs. Burlington, NJ: Ashgate, 2012. Pp. 315. $134.95. ISBN: 978-0-7546-64475. Reviewed by Shannon SCHREIN, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560
A large and graphically rendered broadsheet, produced in Rome in May 1555, is the focus of Anne Dillon’s detailed study. The one page martyrology features the Carthusian martyrs executed during the reign of Henry VIII. The English Charterhouses of London, Axeholme, Beauvale and Sheen were the target of Henry’s butchery for their refusal to accept him as head of the Church in England during the 1530s. The broadsheet gives as account in images and words of the brutal torture and death of eighteen Carthusian monks. The broadsheet (The Martydom of the Carthusian Fathers), was produced in response to Cardinal Reginald Pole’s investigation of the executions following Mary Tudor’s ascension to the throne and the end of the schism caused by Henry VIII. Cardinal Pole, the archbishop of Canterbury, was the architect of Mary Tudor’s Counter Reformation. Dillon identifies the broadsheet as a kind of “time-capsule” which allows the viewer to see and to understand the theological, social, political, scientific and artistic influences reflected in the subject matter.
Following her detailed study of the broadsheet’s script and images, Dillon argues that Gaspar Becerra, a Spanish-born artist commissioned by Cardinal Juan Álverz, drew the broadsheet. It was created within Michelangelo’s circle of intimate friends. This leads Dillon to her most significant conclusion that the broadsheet is not merely a stylistically, typical piece of Catholic propaganda produced during the Reformation, but an astonishing work of art dominated by Italy’s most celebrated Renaissance artist, Michelangelo Buonarotti. The broadsheet’s artist is deeply influenced by Michelangelo’s work and borrows directly from two in particular, The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter.
Anne Dillon’s remarkable research uncovers the multilayered message of the broadsheet, exposing the historical, theological, cultural and artistic influences. The book is exquisitely produced, incorporating more than one hundred art plates for study and reflection. This outstanding historical investigation painstakingly considers every element of the broadsheet itself and all that contributed to its meaning, its message and its lasting effect. Anne Dillon is a member of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter.