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Lindsay, Alexander Crawford

    Full Name: Lindsay, Alexander Crawford

    Other Names:

    • Earl of Crawford

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1812

    Date Died: 1880

    Place Born: Muncaster Castle, Cumberland, England, UK

    Place Died: Florence, Tuscany, Italy

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Christianity and theology


    Historian and theologian; wrote Sketches of the History of Christian Art. Lindsay was the eldest son of James Crawford and Maria Margaret Francis Pennington. He was educated at Eton where he early on began collecting books. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, with an M. A. in 1833. In 1834 Lindsay inherited a small fortune which allowed him travel widely in Europe and the Mediterranean beginning in 1836, viewing art and gathering observations for his theories of art and Christian history. His 1841-1842 travels with his cousin the artist (and later founder of the Grosvenor Gallery, London) Coutts Lindsay produced drawings and observations for his book. On a trip between Rome and Assisi, he chanced to read De la poésie chrétienne (1836) by Alexis-François Rio, a volume owned by the French sculptor, Félicie de Fauveau. She introduced Lindsay to the spiritual reception of the arts, the école Mystique, whom the two saw particularly in the work of Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes at San Gimignano. Lindsay was also a serious researcher in genealogy. He assisted with his father’s litigation on claim to the title to the earldom of Crawford in 1845, granted to him in 1848. He married Margaret Lindsay in 1846. That year, too, Lindsay published his Progression by Antagonism, an outline of what he saw as the dialectic of sense, intellect, and spirit, as a justification of the study of non-Christian art (e.g., ancient Egypt and classical Rome). Much of this was drawn from the writing of the German mystical writers, including Friedrich Schiller, Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling, August Wilhelm Schlegel and Friedrich von Schlegel. Lindsay urged his British readers to begin a new age of Christian art, akin to what the Nazarines had begun. In 1847 Lindsay published his Sketches of the History of Christian Art, a work derided by John Ruskin, yet one setting out the tenets of19th-century British taste, laying the groundwork for the art histories of Charles Lock Eastlake, Ruskin, Francis T. Palgrave and others. The work demonstrates his knowledge of medieval Romance literature and the Catalogus sanctorum of Petrus de Natalibus, a Venetian hagiography from the late 14th century. Lindsay, like Rio, focused on the religious highly spiritual art of 14th and 15th century, including Nicolo Pisano, Giotto, Duccio, Orcagna, and Fra Angelico. In 1856 he met the Florentine dealer and artist William Blundell Spence, who steered his tastes toward discriminate art collecting. These included Guido Reni’s Flight into Egypt (now Bradford, Cartwright Hall). More spectacular purchases came between 1864 and 1875, including Domenico Veneziano’s (attr.) Virgin and Child Enthroned (now London, National Gallery), a large altarpiece believed at the time to have been Giovanni della Robbia, and Luca Signorelli’s altarpiece “Madonna and Child with Saints” (now National Gallery of Art, Washgington, D. C.). In 1879, because of poor health, Lindsay visited Egypt. The following year he moved to Florence where he died. A year after interment in the family crypt at Dunecht, Aberdeenshire, his tomb was broken into and his body stolen. The body was was re-interred in 1882. His considerable library, which included the Mazarin Bible, a 1402 Biblia Latina and other first editions, took ten days to auction by Sothebys in 1887. His grandson, David Alexander Edward Lindsay, was an historian of Italian Renaissance sculpture.Lindsay’s Sketches of the History of Christian Art looked at the whole of Christian production, from the Byzantine era to the French Revolution. It was a fusion of historical narrative with metaphysical interpretation arranged on a system of analogies drawn from Christian dogma (Steegman). Lindsay divided Christian art into five periods. The first period grouped the early Florentines, Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli as “semi- Byzantines.” He chided artists of the northern renaissance as having sunk into “mere imitation of nature.” The second period was from the middle to the end of the fifteenth century. Period three included Michelangelo and Raphael. Period four extended from the Council of Trent to the French Revolution. His final period was from the Revolution to his present time, 1847, a time Lindsay saw a full of revivals. The book was reviewed at length in the Quarterly Review for June anonymously by Ruskin. Ruskin had already developed an anti-high renaissance, anti-Roman Catholic stance toward art. Ruskin deprecated Lindsay’s appreciation of Fra Angelico (then relatively unknown) and Lindsay’s system of evaluation described as “Spirit, Intellect and Sense.” Lindsay was among the earliest champion’s of the so-called Italian Primitives and can been seen as the precursor to the aesthetics of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which Ruskin would shortly thereafter champion and the study of iconography, best represented by Anna Jameson.

    Selected Bibliography

    Sketches of the History of Christian Art. 3 vols. London: J. Murray, 1847, 2nd ed. 2 vols. London: J. Murray, 1882.


    Steegman, John. “Lord Lindsay’s History of Christian Art.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 10 (1947): 123-131; Dictionary of National Biography 11: 1164-5; Lightbown, Ronald W. “The Inspiration of Christian Art.” in Macready, Sarah, and Thompson, F. H., eds., Influences on Victorian Art and Architecture. London: Society of Antiquaries/Thames and Hudson, 1985; Brigstocke, Hugh. “Alexander Lindsay.” Oxford Companion to World Art; Brigstocke, Hugh. Lord Lindsay and James Dennistoun: Two Scottish Art Historians and Collectors of Early Italian Art. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1976.


    "Lindsay, Alexander Crawford." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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