Lost treasure

21 November 2013 | by Laura Gascoigne

Since the chronological rehang of Tate Britain’s collections in May, banners have gone up outside the gallery inviting passers-by to “Meet 500 years of British art”. To foreign visitors to London familiar only with Turner and Constable, British art may seem to have got off to a very slow start. For the first of those five centuries, when the Italians enjoyed the fruits of the Renaissance, the British subsisted on a meagre diet of stilted portraits painted by second-tier artists (Holbein excepted) from abroad. How could the nation that produced Shakespeare have been so visually illiterate? The simple one-word answer is iconoclasm. The Reformation came at a disastrous time for an island nation still catching up with artistic developments across the Channel. Over the centur

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