Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Archaeological Items of Irish origin at The Museum of Fine Art, Boston

I recently published a post on the Archaeological Items of Irish origin at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and wanted to follow it up with some posts on some other museums with both Irish material and an online catalogue, not to mention progressive view on the usage of their images. To this end, I’ve been perusing the collections of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and they’ve kindly granted me permission to use images of the four pieces they hold of ancient Irish origin. Four artefacts may not sound like much, but each one is a masterpiece that commands attention in its own right.

The pieces include a Middle Bronze Age ribbon torc from Innishowen, Co Donegal; two Late Bronze Age penannular armlets; and one Early Medieval shrine. The torc was discovered in 1882 by Rev. Dr. William Chadwick Neligan of Cork. This is, presumably, the same Rev. Mr. Neligan, Rector, Shandon Church, Cork City who sold the silver Rathcormac torc [here] in 1885. Nelligan sold the Innishowen torc to the Pitt Rivers collection. The two armlets were found together at Ballycotton, Co Cork in 1864 Pitt Rivers himself. From what I can gather from the provenances supplied by the MFA, these three pieces have stayed together since that time. They were sold by the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1936 through Irish antiquarian and collector, John Hunt, eventually being bought by newspaper magnate and compulsive shopper, William Randolph Hearst. The pieces subsequently passed to the, now defunct, Berry Hill Gallery in New York before being purchased by the MFA in 1950.

The Emly shrine is a rather different matter. The above pieces were collected, sold, and exported out of Ireland in the period before the formation of the modern Irish state and the introduction of the 1930 National Monuments Act. By contrast, the Emly shrine (named for William Monsell, 1st Baron Emly of Tervoe, Co Limerick) had been on loan to the National Museum of Ireland. It appears that when an offer to sell the piece to the national collections was refused, the shrine was removed from the museum and exported without a licence.

In his capacity of President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Seán P. Ó Ríordáin, spoke out about the export, noting that he was unaware that the shrine had left Ireland until its arrival in Boston was mentioned in an American Journal (Fanning 2010). In Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish legislature) General Richard Mulcahy, the minister for Education, was questioned by Donogh O'Malley on several topics about the shrine (here). These included asking for details on whether the owners sought a licence to export the piece and whether the National Museum was given the opportunity to purchase. Mulcahy replied that ‘There is no record of a licence for its export having been sought.’ and that ‘The price asked by the owner for the shrine was so unreasonably high that no firm offer to purchase it was made by the National Museum authorities.’ O’Malley twice described the shrine as a ‘national treasure’ and repeatedly pressed Mulcahy on the issue of the Export Licence who responded ‘It was illegal to export it. There was no licence asked for and no licence was issued’. Unfortunately, O’Malley didn’t appear to be particularly familiar with the shrine, describing it as a ‘massive piece of sculpture’ and being corrected by Mulcahy. Undeterred, he pressed Mulcahy further asking ‘How did the shrine get out of the country?’ to which the latter weakly answered ‘I have no idea.’ Mulcahy had previously stated that ‘I am satisfied that there is no action that I could usefully take in regard to the export of this shrine as apart from other considerations it is not clear against whom any action would lie.’ While it is clear that the matter was not pursued further (the shrine remains in Boston), it appears that the affair influenced the strengthened provisions of the 1954 Amendment to the National Monuments Act (Nafziger & Kirkwood Paterson 2014).


The following descriptions are all from the MFA's online database entries and are presented in accordance with their terms of use.

Spiral (ribbon) torque. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish Middle Bronze Age
about 1200–1000 B.C.

Description
Very thin metal, in some places double, tapering ends finished in solid quatrefoils and bent to clasp.

Provenance
1882, discovered at Innishowen, County Donegal, Ireland by Rev. Dr. William Chadwick Neligan, Cork; sold by Neligan to Augustus Henry Pitt Rivers (b. 1827 - d. 1900) and kept at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Farnham, England; 1936, sold by the Pitt Rivers Museum, through John Hunt (b. 1900 - d. 1976), Dublin and London, represented by Goldschmidt Galleries, New York, to William Randolph Hearst (b. 1863 - d. 1951), New York and Los Angeles [see note 1]; July 11, 1939, Hearst sale, Sotheby's, London, lot 363, bought in; 1941, sold by Hearst to Berry-Hill Gallery, New York; 1950, sold by Berry-Hill to the MFA for $500. (Accession Date: January 12, 1950)

Note
[1] The provenance information for MFA object nos. 50.8-50.10 was generously shared and clarified by Brian O'Connell, Shannon Heritage Trust (correspondence of August 13, 2008, in MFA curatorial file).

Credit Line
Gift of the Eire Society and Harriet Otis Cruft Fund

Dimensions
9.02 cm (3 9/16 in.)

Accession Number
50.10

Medium or Technique
Metal; gold


Penannular armlet. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish Late Bronze Age
about 800–750 B.C.

Description
Solid tapering curved bar with spreading concave discs at ends. Type 4 penannular according to E.C.R. Armstrong’s catalogue of the collection of the Royal Irish Academy.

This penannular ornament with trumpet-shaped terminals was a popular jewelry form in Bronze Age Ireland. It was used for torques, earrings, bracelets, rings, and dress fasteners, and most examples, including this one, were cast in high-karat gold without decoration.1 Research suggests the gold came from County Wicklow in eastern Ireland, dubbed the El Dorado of western Europe.2 Scholars hypothesize that these ornaments served as emblems of wealth, rank, and authority, and that they may have been deposited in caches as part of a community ritual or ceremony.
Yvonne J. Markowitz, “Irish Late Bronze Age” in Artful Adornments: Jewelry from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Yvonne J. Markowitz (Boston: MFA Publications, 2011), 54.

Provenance
May, 1864, discovered by Augustus Henry Pitt Rivers (b. 1827 - d. 1900) at Ballycotton, near Cloyne, County Cork, Ireland; taken to England and kept at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Farnham, England; 1936, sold by the Pitt Rivers Museum, through John Hunt (b. 1900 - d. 1976), Dublin and London, represented by Goldschmidt Galleries, New York, to William Randolph Hearst (b. 1863 - d. 1951), New York and Los Angeles [see note 1]; July 11, 1939, Hearst sale, Sotheby's, London, lot 362, bought in; 1941, sold by Hearst to Berry-Hill Gallery, New York; 1950, sold by Berry-Hill to the MFA for $500. (Accession Date: January 12, 1950)

Note
[1] The provenance information for MFA object nos. 50.8-50.10 was generously shared and clarified by Brian O'Connell, Shannon Heritage Trust (correspondence of August 13, 2008, in MFA curatorial file). Anthropologist Augustus Henry Pitt Rivers served in the British Army at Cork between 1862 and 1864.

Credit Line
Gift of the Eire Society and Harriet Otis Cruft Fund

Dimensions
Overall: 1.5 x 7 x 5.8 cm (9/16 x 2 3/4 x 2 5/16 in.)

Accession Number
50.8

Medium or Technique
Metal; gold


Penannular armlet. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish Late Bronze Age
about 800–750 B.C.

Description
Solid curved and angular bar, spreading at flat tips. Type 3 penannular according to E.C.R. Armstrong’s catalogue of the collection of the Royal Irish Academy.

Provenance
As 50.8 (above)

Credit Line
Gift of the Eire Society and Harriet Otis Cruft Fund

Dimensions
6.98 cm (2 3/4 in.)

Accession Number
50.9

Medium or Technique
Metal; gold


Reliquary casket ("Emly Shrine"). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish
Early medieval
late 7th–early 8th century

Description
Carved from a single block of wood, the body and lid have bronze moldings applied with small nails on the edges. Attached to the ridgepole of the sloped roof are bird’s-head terminals in green, yellow and red (now brown) enamel and a central boss-repeating the shape of the shrine- with a grid of yellow and green enamel. Only the front is decorated with thin strips of a lead-tin alloy hammered into a repetitive step pattern around central crosses engraved in the wood and with three medallions with yellow and green enamel arranged in a geometric pattern of concentric circles. There are two hinges on the back and an interior clasp on the front.

Made to hold the sacred relics of a saint (often parts of the saint’s body), Irish house-shaped reliquaries have been discovered as far away as Norway and Italy—carried there by Irish pilgrims or Viking raiders. This one, however, was found in Ireland and is named for its nineteenth century owner, Lord Emly of Limerick. It is quite tiny and was probably hung from the neck or shoulder of its owner as a source of protection and spiritual strength.

Provenance
By 1853, William Monsell (b. 1812 - d. 1894), 1st Baron Emly of Tervoe, Limerick County, Ireland [see note 1]; until 1952, by descent within the family; 1952, sold by Lord Emly (probably Edmond Alan Tremeur de Poher de la Poer-Monsell) to the MFA for $22,874. (Accession Date: October 9, 1952)

Note
[1] It was in his possession by 1853, when he lent it to the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

Credit Line
Theodora Wilbour Fund in memory of Charlotte Beebe Wilbour

Dimensions
9.2 x 4.1 x 10.5 cm (3 5/8 x 1 5/8 x 4 1/8 in.)

Accession Number
52.1396

Medium or Technique
Champlevé enamel on bronze over yew wood; gilt bronze moldings, inlay of lead-tin alloy



References


Nafziger, JAR & Kirkwood Paterson, R (Eds) 2014 Handbook on the Law of Cultural Heritage and International Trade

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Grenoble Archaeological Museum | Madonna & Child


The excavations at Saint-Laurent recovered substantial portions of a smashed terracotta statue of a Madonna and child. In archaeological terms, it’s not particularly old, only dating to around 1860 to 1880, but I’m simply taken by the post-excavation dedication to carefully putting as much as possible back together.