Image, Identity and John Wesley: A Study in Portraiture, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Image, Identity and John Wesley

A Study in Portraiture, 1st Edition

By Peter S. Forsaith


210 pages | 47 Color Illus. | 41 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138207899
pub: 2017-08-21
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pub: 2017-08-18
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The face of John Wesley (1703–91), the Methodist leader, became one of the most familiar images in the English-speaking and transatlantic worlds through the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. After the dozen or so painted portraits made during his lifetime came numbers of posthumous portraits and moralising ‘scene paintings’, and hundreds of variations of prints. It was calculated that six million copies were produced of one print alone – an 1827 portrait by John Jackson R.A. as frontispiece for a hymn book.

Illustrated by nearly one hundred images, many in colour, with a comprehensive appendix listing known Wesley images, this book offers a much-needed comprehensive and critical survey of one of the most influential religious and public figures of eighteenth-century Britain. Besides chapters on portraits from the life and after, scene paintings and prints, it explores aspects of Wesley’s (and Methodism’s) attitudes to art, and the personality cult which gathered around Wesley as Methodism expanded globally. It will be of interest to art historians as a treatment of an individual sitter and subject, as well as to scholars engaged in Wesley and Methodist studies. It is also significant for the field of material studies, given the spread and use of the image, on artefacts as well as on paper.

Table of Contents


1 ‘A far greater Genius than Sir Joshua’: some issues and complexities around the portraiture

2 ‘This melancholy employment’: portraits from the life to 1780

3 ‘I yielded to importunity’: portraits from the life 1781-1791

4 Prints and posthumous portraits: spreading and selling the image

5 Scene paintings

6 Pottery and sculpture – a note

7 No striking likeness? Images and ambiguities

8 ‘The Pious Preacher’: satire

9 ‘Of pictures I do not pretend to be a judge’: John Wesley and art

10 Image, identity and institution: constructing a canon

11 Conclusions: visualising Mr. Wesley


Appendix A – Iconography of principal paintings of John Wesley, with selected prints

Appendix B – References in John Wesley’s Journal and diaries to portraits and painters

About the Author

Peter S. Forsaith is a historian of religion, culture and society in eighteenth-century Britain. He is Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, Oxford Brookes University, UK, and has written and lectured on many aspects of Methodist history. He gained his Ph.D. in 2003 for a scholarly edition of Rev. John Fletcher’s letters to Rev. Charles Wesley, later expanded and published as Unexampled Labours (2008).He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Image, Identity and John Wesley represents the fruit of more than twenty years of scholarly research by the author, who is recognised as a foremost expert on Wesley iconography.

About the Series

Routledge Methodist Studies Series

Editorial Board: Ted A. Campbell, David N. Hempton, Priscilla Pope-Levison, Martin Wellings and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker

Methodism remains one of the largest denominations in the USA and is growing in South America, Africa and Asia (especially in Korea and China). This series spans Methodist history and theology, exploring its success as a movement historically and in its global expansion. Books in the series will look particularly at features within Methodism which attract wide interest, including: the unique position of the Wesleys; the prominent role of women and minorities in Methodism; the interaction between Methodism and politics; the ‘Methodist conscience’ and its motivation for temperance and pacifist movements; the wide range of Pentecostal, holiness and evangelical movements; and the interaction of Methodism with different cultures.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / History / General
HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Christianity / Methodist