'A Special Place at a Special Time': Françoise Henry's Diaries on Inishkea North (Ireland)

By Hernández, Ana | Journal of Art Historiography, December 2012 | Go to article overview

'A Special Place at a Special Time': Françoise Henry's Diaries on Inishkea North (Ireland)


Hernández, Ana, Journal of Art Historiography


? special place at a special time': Françoise Henry's diaries on Inishkea North (Ireland) Review of: Janet T. Marquardt (ed.), Françoise Henry in Co. Mayo. The Inishkea Journals, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012, 176 pp., 14 col. plates, 83 b. & w. illus., £35.00 hdbk, £17.50 pbk. ISBN 987-1-84682-324-4 / 978-1-84682-374-9.

This volume compiles the texts of Françoise Henry's (1902-1982) hand-written notebooks, which the book's editor, Janet T. Marquardt, found by chance at the Royal Irish Academy in 2010. A French art historian and archaeologist who specialized in early medieval Ireland, Henry recorded in diaries her experiences while excavating in the remote island of Inishkea North in 1937 and 1938. It is to the publication's credit that that the discoverer of such a treasure was Marquardt, an authority on medieval historiography.1 She was, as she explains in the introduction, immediately impressed by the quality of Henry's descriptions, which inspired her to publish the notebooks, along with her diaries from 1946 and 1950, with the help of Huw Duffy who translated the text into English, and Barbara Wright who has also published the original French text.2 The result is a fascinating book that relates Françoise Henry's astute impressions of what surrounded her in that corner of the world, the rural landscape, and people who inhabited it.

The publication speaks to the growing interest in the study of women's roles in the development of art history as a discipline, which has seen a significant rise in recent years linked to increased awareness of female participation in the making of material culture, whether as patrons or as artists. This tendency was already evident with the publication of Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979, edited by Claire Richter and Adele M. Holcomb in 1981 and has steadily continued and increased since then.3 Lately, further analysis of the contributions of other observers of art, such as the nineteenth-century tourists and antiquarians or more modern archaeologists, have joined those studies of art historians in this restoration of female academics. Together, this research has expanded our understanding of how women participated in the making, use and study of material culture. New volumes have brought to light the investigations of these pioneering women, as they are often suitably described, or illustrated their extraordinary lives. The most instructive of these publications, however, are those that divulge the women's own writings, often in the form of personal diaries or travel notes that reveal inner thoughts and struggles faced through the investigating process, as is the case here. The experiences of those specializing in the art of the early Middle Ages seem to elicit a particular appeal because they often required researchers to travel to remote, foreign areas to access their objects, thus leaving them displaced from what they knew and confronted with strange situations. Their accounts therefore usually represent a combination of judgements emerging from their academic background, together with personal impressions of the landscape and society, narrations of daily events and compilations of folklore. This type of content is especially evident in personal notebooks, such as these by Françoise Henry or, for example, those written by the American photographer Ruth Matilda Anderson (1893-1983) during her trip to Galicia (north-west Spain) which have only recently come to light.4 Their amalgam of intimate and analytical stances can be seen in many erudite and well-known publications from the beginning of the twentieth century, including The Way of Saint James written by Georgiana Goddard King (1871-1939),5 who did not just record her theories around the buildings she studied but recounted her experiences so that the books could even work as a travel guide. Françoise Henry's situation resembles those of the aforementioned Americans, who transcribed their observations as they travelled through a remote corner of Spain, in that her notebooks convey the impressions of an urban woman working in the distant and isolated community of Co. …

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