When sacred objects were rejected during the Reformation, they were not always burned and broken but were sometimes given to children as toys. Play is typically seen as free and open, while iconoclasm, even to those who deem it necessary, is violent and disenchanting. What does it say about wider attitudes toward religious violence and children at play that these two seemingly different activities were sometimes one and the same? Drawing on a range of sixteenth-century artifacts, artworks, and texts, as well as on ancient and modern theories of iconoclasm and of play, Iconoclasm As Child's Play argues that the desire to shape and interpret the playing of children is an important cultural force. Formerly holy objects may have been handed over with an intent to debase them, but play has a tendency to create new meanings and stories that take on a life of their own. Joe Moshenska shows that this form of iconoclasm is not only a fascinating phenomenon in its own right; it has the potential to alter our understandings of the threshold between the religious and the secular, the forms and functions of play, and the nature of historical transformation and continuity.
About the author
Joe Moshenska is Associate Professor of English, University of Oxford, and Tutorial Fellow of University College.
"The face of our play has rarely looked so complex, so beautifully strange, as in Joe Moshenska's virtuosic study. With learning and wit, he probes play's power to make and unmake human thought, challenging any too-simple images of childish things."
—Kenneth Gross, University of Rochester
"This profoundly learned and beautifully written book is the best study of play since Huizinga's Homo Ludens and even surpasses that landmark work. Endlessly supple yet always sharp, it grows out of one historical epoch to range far afield, from antiquity to our contemporary moment."
—Gordon Teskey, Harvard University
"Analyzing the complex processes by which iconoclasts tactically repurposed holy relics as mere baubles, Moshenska reveals the surprisingly urgent cultural work accomplished by purportedly childish things. This startlingly original and refreshingly multidisciplinary book will change the way we look at toys, children, and religious images."
—Michael Schoenfeldt, University of Michigan