Ford Madox Brown’s oil on canvas painting, “The First Translation of the Bible into English”, portrays John Wycliffe reading his translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. In the presence of Chaucer and Gower, Wycliffe reads from his manuscript while pointing at a page spread open before him. The Duke is shown listening intently to this important work that would influence English society for centuries.
Aside from celebrating the dawn of the English Reformation through this historic event, Brown exhibits his interest in neomedievalism and nature. The light coming from an arched window casts a warm glow upon the scene, highlighting textures and colors with beautiful precision. This effect heightens the spiritual tone of the painting.
Wycliffe translated almost certainly personally translated the four gospels and possibly even the entire New Testament. His work paved an essential step towards democratizing access to one’s own interpretation of holy scripture in medieval Europe. By translating religious texts into everyday language that common people could understand without mediation by church authorities or Latin scholars, Wycliffe opened doorways to alternative beliefs beyond establishment teachings.