Back to exhibition

Shakespeare Connected - The Material Faith of Shakespeare


Late medieval piety placed great emphasis on Saints as mediators between humans and God. They were a familiar and supportive presence in everyday life, providing a means through which people could seek divine protection or relief from illness and misfortune. Saints also provided examples of faith and fortitude in adversity, with graphic images of their martyrdoms painted on walls.

This carved wood sculpture of St John (SBT 1997-23) represents the type of sculpture that could be seen in every parish church on the eve of reformation, occupying ledges or in niches as a focus for devotion. It has lost its original painted surface, but originally it would have looked rich and realistic. It is the kind of image the Elizabethan Homily Against the Peril of Idolatry condemned as ‘one dumbe idoll or image standing by it selfe’.


Scroll down to continue.


While images involving holy figures and saints were no longer present in the environment Shakespeare knew, a wealth of new biblical imagery was depicted in decorative arts outside the church, proving models of faith taken from the Old Testament in particular.

This tapestry panel depicts a scene from the story of Susanna and the Elders. It shows Susanna, who has been falsely condemned of adultery, being led to her execution. She meets the boy Daniel who recognises her innocence and brings her accusers to justice. This is a comforting story of the triumph of righteousness over evil, which reminded viewers to trust in divine deliverance. The panel probably formed part of a set of cushion covers to be displayed together in the home.

SBT 1993-31/304b


Scroll down to continue.

Characters and stories from the Old Testament provided positive role models and warnings against sin. This brass dish has a scene of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, one of the most commonly depicted scenes from the Bible in a range of settings throughout Shakespeare’s lifetime. This type of dish was imported into England throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for display in the home.

SBT 1993-31/466


Click the arrow to the right of the main image to continue.