Art and Devotion in Late Medieval Ireland

Article excerpt

Art and Devotion in Late Medieval Ireland. Edited by Rachel Moss, Colman 6 Clabaigh, O.S.B., and Salvador Ryan. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. 2006. Pp. xxii, 234. euro55.00.)

The later Middle Ages in Ireland were described by the late Robin Flower as the "Franciscan centuries," a fitting comment given that there were over a hundred Franciscan houses in the country (far more than in England) and, as this book makes clear, popular devotion was to a large degree shaped by the teaching of the friars. This era of Irish art and religious history has attracted little attention from scholars outside the country, the visual culture of the time not infrequently dismissed as peripheral or debased. Even that doyen of Irish art, Francoise Henry, resorted to the word "brutal" (on no less than two occasions) when describing illuminations in one sixteenth-century manuscript. But despite a lack of artistic sophistication, surviving images have much to tell us about the nature of Irish spirituality, a key question being the extent to which devotional practice in Ireland folio wed that elsewhere.

This volume consists of ten essays by scholars drawn from a variety of disciplines-art history, archaeology, history, and conservation-the first time that such a multi-disciplinary approach has been adopted in the context of late Gothic Ireland. Most of the papers were presented at a conference held at Glenstal Abbey in September 2004 (the location no doubt explains the inclusion of the Catherine Yvard's study of the Glenstal Book of Hours, an English manuscript that otherwise does not fit within the Irish theme). Although "late medieval" is never explicitly defined, it is clear that many of the authors accept that medieval practices flourished at least until the Great Rebellion in 1641, something that emerges clearly from the essay on Marian imagery by Clodagh Tait.

The volume opens with an outstanding contribution from Salvador Ryan, who examines a private "book of piety" commissioned in 1513 by a Gaelic noblewoman, Maire Ni Mhaille. …


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