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The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing$
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J. B. Bullen

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780198128885

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198128885.001.0001

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The Renaissance as Revived Paganism A. W. Pugin

The Renaissance as Revived Paganism A. W. Pugin

5 The Renaissance as Revived Paganism A. W. Pugin
The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing


Oxford University Press

Augustus Welby Pugin’s book Contrasts was one of the most famous and controversial contributions to the English Gothic Revival. It was a highly combative work because it viewed architecture and architectural history from a Catholic viewpoint at a time when Catholicism, in England, was felt to be a growing threat to the Protestant establishment. It made unwelcome assumptions about the connection between Catholicism and social values. Contrasts appeared in two editions, one in 1836, the other in 1842; perhaps the most interesting difference between them is Pugin’s ‘discovery’ of the Renaissance. The first edition of Contrasts places the responsibility for the depraved state of nineteenth-century English society and English architecture firmly at the door of Protestantism, and it dates that decay from the English Reformation. Pugin’s denunciation of the Reformation in England drew on an established tradition which combined nostalgia for the Middle Ages with contemporary reforming zeal. For Pugin, ‘the renaissance’ is associated with modernism, and by implication with egotism. It suggests not only the rebirth of paganism, but the rebirth of the self and contrasts with the conformity of ‘faith’ and ‘devotion’.

Keywords:   Augustus Welby Pugin, England, Contrasts, architecture, Catholicism, Protestantism, paganism, history, Renaissance, egotism

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