The Broad and Narrow Way; printed by Headly Brothers; published by Gawin Kirkham by Unknown, after Schacher

Unknown, after Schacher

The Broad and Narrow Way; printed by Headly Brothers; published by Gawin Kirkham, 1883, Colour lithograph, 470 x 372 mm, The British Museum, London, 1999,0425.13, © The Trustees of the British Museum / Art Resource, NY

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Welcome to Perdition

Commentary by

Although the immediate source of Gawin Kirkham’s The Broad and Narrow Way is Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13–14), this print is a visual panoply of biblical exegesis on the subject of the proper route to salvation. Originally made in Germany, the preacher Kirkham had it reproduced with English text to accompany a sermon, and the picture found widespread appeal among Victorian evangelicals.

The print is indebted to the traditions of didactic and exegetical print culture that flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries following the emergence of the Protestant Reformation, particularly in the Netherlands with publishers like Hieronymus Cock and Johannes Wierix. It offers didactic complexity through a profusion of narrative incidents accompanied by biblical passages. At the same time, there is clear, visual legibility in the stark division between the ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ paths. The former, the more densely populated, abounds with sensual worldly pleasures. The latter is accessible only through an inconspicuous doorway, which leads to a more isolated and challenging journey. In both form and content, the print is likely to have been indebted to contemporaneous illustrations for John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a seventeenth-century Christian allegory that was immensely popular in Victorian England.

The Petrine Epistles are specifically referred to several times in the print––for example, Peter’s description of false prophets as waterless springs (2 Peter 2:17) is visualized as an empty fountain just beyond the wide and welcoming entrance to the broad path. More important, however, is the extent to which the print dovetails with the overarching content, tone, and progression of 2 Peter, which is primarily aimed at providing guidance for righteous behaviour and the consequences of a life of sin.

The dating and authorship of the letter has long been subject to scrutiny, particularly considering its similarities to the letter of Jude and the stylistic departure from 1 Peter. Assuming that it was most likely to have been written within a century of Jesus’s death, 2 Peter speaks to the manner in which the Christian Church’s early adherents anticipated the certainty of divine judgement as interpreted through Old Testament prophecies and the words of Christ. The Kirkham print continues that tradition using the visual trappings of Victorian life.

 

References

Massing, Jean Michel. ‘The Broad and Narrow Way from German Pietists to English Open-Air Preachers’, Print Quarterly, 5.3: 258–67