175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works || Weaving Heaven and Earth

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  • Irish Arts Review

    Weaving Heaven and EarthAuthor(s): Mire ByrneSource: Irish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works(2006), pp. 18-21Published by: Irish Arts ReviewStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25503512 .Accessed: 11/06/2014 08:53

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  • 'I'


    Weaving MAIRE BYRNE discusses the treasured 17th-century

    Since the purchase of Farmleigh by the Irish

    Government in 1999, the OPW has been the

    custodian of a rare set of 17th-century Italian

    embroidered wall hangings. Currently on loan

    from the Guinness family, the four panels form an inte

    gral part of the interior decoration in the dining room

    at Farmleigh. The iconography of the panels reveals that

    the panels were once part of two larger sets. Most inter

    estingly a matching panel exists in the collection of the

    State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

    Measuring approximately fourteen feet by nine feet,

    these large hangings portray mythological subjects.

    Each of the four panels depicts a god in a chariot viewed

    from a terrace through a decorative architectural

    framework. The terraces are populated with creatures

    that in some cases are associated with the god shown

    above. Three of the mythological figures are readily

    identifiable as the gods Venus, Jupiter and Saturn

    through a number of conventional attributes sourced in

    ancient classical literature and formally established in

    the writings of Cesare Ripa (cl 560-1625).

    Venus, goddess of love (Fig 5), is seated in a chariot

    drawn by a pair of doves. She carries the three golden

    apples awarded to her by Paris and a quiver of arrows, a

    reference to her son Cupid, a minor god of love. A pair

    of lovers forms a charming vignette on the rear of her car

    riage. On the terrace a rabbit and two pigeons symbolise

    fertility and love, characteristics associated with Venus.

    A youthful Jupiter stands in a chariot drawn by

    eagles (Fig 7). He carries a staff and thunderbolts,

    emblems of his supreme authority as god of gods. The

    hog on the left of the terrace refers to mythology sur

    rounding Jupiter who was suckled after birth by a sow,

    the sow and the hog becoming sacred to Jupiter there

    after. The creature on the right is most likely an ostrich

    although its association with Jupiter is uncertain (Fig 6).

    Saturn is depicted conventionally as a bearded elderly

    man in a chariot drawn by a pair of winged dragons. The

    scythe in his left hand refers to the mutilation of Uranus

    by his son Cronus, the Greek god identified with Saturn

    (Fig 2). The child in his right hand refers to the story of

    how Saturn/Cronus devoured his children in order to

    prevent them challenging his authority in the future.

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  • 175 OPW

    The Office of Public Works Oifig na nOibreacha Poibli

    Heaven and Earth Italian wall hangings currently on display in the dining room at Farmleigh

    The graphic signs or sigils that appear above the

    heads of the gods in the Venus, Jupiter and Saturn pan

    els are enormously significant. Those on the Venus and

    Jupiter panels are the conventional astrological sigils

    familiar to us in modern astrology and associated with

    the planets of the same name. The more obscure sigil

    accompanying Saturn has been traced in an alchemical

    text published in Nuremburg in 1701. It symbolises

    lead, the metal associated with Saturn.1 Since the

    Middle Ages astrology and alchemy were closely linked,

    and the sigils denoting the planets and their associated

    metals were interchangeable. The crossover between

    these disciplines explains the use of this particular sigil

    on the Saturn panel. Again the writings of Cesare Ripa

    are essential in interpreting meaning in the panels. His

    Iconolog?a of 1593, the illustrated version of which was

    published in 1603, quickly became the preferred icono

    graphical handbook for artists in the 17th century.

    Ripa requires that the correct astrological sigil be

    included in representations of the planetary gods. The

    appearance of these sigils on the embroideries confirms

    the subject matter of the panels as the Carri dei Sette

    Pianeti and suggests that the panels were part of a larg

    er set depicting the Triumphs of the Seven Planetary

    Gods -

    Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, Apollo

    (the sun) and Diana (the moon).

    The link between the iconography of the Farmleigh

    panels and Ripa's Iconolog?a is even more apparent in

    the identification of the goddess in the fourth panel

    (Fig 1). A bejewelled black female, wearing a headdress

    formed from the trunk of an elephant, rides in a char

    iot drawn by a pair of lions. She holds a cornucopia in

    her right hand and a scorpion in her left. A snake curls

    out from behind her right arm. This goddess reflects

    all of the elements prescribed in Ripa's own woodcut

    for a personification of Africa, as one of the Four Parts

    of the World. It seems that the Africa panel was origi

    nally part of another set depicting the Four Parts of the

    World, a popular theme in late 17th-century art.

    The Farmleigh panels were purchased at auction in

    April 1874 by Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927), 1st

    Earl of Iveagh. This sale at Christie, Manson ck Woods

    in London consisted of an important collection of

    decorative objects from the Madrid palaces of the

    Marquis Jos? de Salamanca y Mayol (1811-1883). A

    noted businessman and politician, Salamanca had pur

    chased the Palacio de Vista Alegre on the outskirts of

    Madrid from the Spanish royal family in 1859. Maria

    Cristina of the Two Sicilies (1806-1878) constructed

    this palace in 1833 when she became Queen Regent

    after the death of her husband King Ferdinand VII

    (1784-1833) of Spain. A cloth label, found at Farmleigh in 1999, records information provided by the 1st Lady

    Iveagh, Adelaide Maria Guinness (1844-1916), con

    cerning the embroidered panels. It notes that they came

    from the collection of Queen Maria Cristina of Spain

    at the Palacio de Vista Alegre, Madrid. This suggests

    that the embroideries were in the royal collection when

    Salamanca purchased the palace in 1859. By the end of

    the 1860s severe financial difficulties led to the sale of

    Salamanca's extensive art collections that included, as

    well as the Farmleigh embroideries, five of the six paint

    ings from the series of The Prodigal Son by Murillo

    (1618-1682) now in the National Gallery of Ireland.2

    The catalogue for the Salamanca sale in 1874 in

    London records that Edward Cecil paid a total of 289

    guineas for the panels which he sent to be hung in

    Farmleigh around 1880.3 The sale catalogue also

    included a further panel in the planetary set, described

    as depicting Apollo in a chariot drawn by four horses.

    This panel was purchased under the name of

    'Armytage' for seventy-six guineas. It is not known

    whether the Apollo panel is extant, however, its exis

    tence in 1874 again indicates that the Apollo, Venus,

    1 Africa

    2 Saturn

    3 Farmleigh

    All photos of the

    Farmleigh Embroideries by Gillian Buckley




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  • Farmleigh Gallery The opening of Farmleigh Gallery by the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie

    Ahern, TD, in September 2005 marked a significant stage in

    the development of the estate's facilities and contribution to the

    cultural life of Dublin and Ireland. The existence of the gallery

    supplements the substantial art collection in Farmleigh House

    itself, which is drawn from the OPW Government Art Collection,

    Guinness family artworks, and loans from other art institutions

    including the National Gallery of Ireland.

    Originally functioning as the estate's cow sheds, the gallery build

    ing has been transformed by Gerry Cahili Architects and the OPW so

    that it meets international standards as an exhibition space. As a

    result, its programme has been opened up to attracting significant

    exhibitions for the future. Furthermore, Farmleigh's role in providing a

    residence for visiting heads of state, together with this new gallery

    space, creates an opportunity for bringing a public dimension to these

    visits by displaying exhibitions related to the

    state visitors and their country of origin.

    Exhibitions this year will range from craft

    and furniture design to contemporary drawing

    and painting exhibitions. 'To Hold' is the sec

    ond exhibition of the year running until 11

    June. Peter Ting, homeware designer for Asprey,

    London, curates an international cast of sixteen

    highly respected and collected ceramics makers

    in a premiere show. As the title suggests, the works represented are

    a wide-range of vessels that are associated with containing, carrying,

    and holding. Not to be missed is the 'Curator's Walk Through Talk'

    on Saturday 10 June at 12pm and again at 3pm.

    The summer months will see exhibitions from the Irish State Art

    Collection (16 June - 9 July), coinciding with the launch of the OPW

    art catalogue Art in State Buildings 1995 - 2005 , Contemporary

    Croatian Drawing (14 July -

    August), and the RDS National Crafts

    Competition - Winners Exhibition (24 August

    - 24 September). The

    last quarter of the year heralds a showcase of contemporary furniture

    design from the G M IT Letterfrack Furniture College entitled 'Furnishing

    the Details' (5 October - 5 November), followed by an ethereal show

    by Japanese artist Makiko Nakamura as an homage to Samuel Beckett

    (10 November - 10 December). A display of Beckett material will be

    shown simultaneously in the Guinness Library at Farmleigh, marking

    the centenary of his birth. As a fitting conclusion to the 2006

    programme, Farmleigh Gallery will play host to the first ever 100 Cribs

    Ireland Exhibition, organised by Veritas and sponsored by the Naughton

    Foundation. Students at primary, secondary, and third-level will com

    pete to make the top 100 designs to be shown at the gallery. The four

    best designs will also participate in the Mostra 100 Presepi 2006 (The

    Annual International Crib Competition) in Rome. This exhibition will be

    open over the Christmas and New Year period, until 7 January 2007.

    For further information please visit www.farmleighgallery.ie or pick up a

    copy of our Exhibitions 2006 programme at the gallery.

    Farmleigh Gallery is open during exhibitions from

    Thursdays to Sundays and Bank Holidays, 10.00am to

    5.30pm. Last admittance to the Estate is at 4.45pm;

    gates close 6pm. Entrance is free of charge. W


    The Farmleigh panels with their intriguing provenance are part of a rare surviving heritage of 17th century Italian pictorial embroidered wall hangings

    Jupiter and Saturn panels were indeed once part of a

    complete set of seven panels.

    This theory is supported by the presence of anoth

    er panel matching those at Farmleigh which is now in

    the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St

    Petersburg.4 This panel depicts Mercury who is por

    trayed riding in a chariot drawn by a pair of storks

    while the conventional astrological sigil for Mercury

    appears above his head. Having now accounted for five

    of the seven planetary gods it seems safe to conclude

    that the original set must also have included the

    Triumphs of Mars and Diana. The panels are embroi

    dered in silk floss on linen in a needlepainting style.

    Needlepainting or acupitura is a technique whereby the

    entire ground fabric is covered with stitches. It

    attempts to emulate painting so as to produce in thread

    ^^^^ all the shading subtleties of the

    ^^^^^^^k ^^^^ painter's brush. In Italy in

    M^^^^^^^^B|^^^V the 17th-century the needle

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ painting style was used on

    ^^^H^^HI^^^ large-scale pictorial hangings

    ^K^K such as those at Farmleigh.

    ^^^r^ Naples was one of the main centres of

    m production. It is therefore probable

    2 0 I


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  • nflHHHHHHHHHIHHIHHHi that the Farmleigh panels originated in Naples, birth

    place of Queen Maria Cristina. A set of five 17th-cen

    tury Italian embroidered hangings at the Victoria and

    Albert Museum, London are technically and stylisti

    cally close to the Farmleigh panels and depict scenes

    from the story of Rinaldo and Armida. They were

    acquired by the V ck A in Naples in the 19th century.5 Various stitches are used most effectively in the pan

    els. Laidwork is employed extensively on the main back

    ground area around the figures, the architectural ele

    ments, the terrace, and the floral design on the

    pedestals. Couching outlines architectural details and

    long-and-short stitch achieves subtle effects of shading

    in the figures, animals and chariots. Other stitches

    used include tiny French knots used singly as fruit on

    the trees or in clusters to achieve a textured effect as on

    the trees in the Saturn panel.

    Colour in the panels has been severely affected by

    over three centuries of exposure to natural and artificial

    light and the polychrome silks are considerably faded

    leaving the colour palate dominated by beige tones.

    Embroidery as a surface technique is more vulnerable to

    wear and tear than tapestry and evidence of such damage

    is present on all of the Farmleigh panels. Nonetheless the

    needlepainting style remains impressive. Undoubtedly

    the Farmleigh panels with their intriguing provenance

    are indeed part of a rare surviving heritage of 17th

    century Italian pictorial embroidered wall hangings.


    Mary Heffernan

    Mary Heffernan joined the OPW in 1985 and has been general

    manager at Farmleigh since 2001. She was born in Clonmel, Co

    Tipperary in 1967, and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with a

    BA in Economics in 1989. She has been a member of the OPW's Art

    Management Group since 1992. In 1995 she completed a Diploma

    in Art History at TCD, and is currently completing an

    MA in the History of Design and Applied Arts at the

    National College of Art and Design. This course has

    been of enormous benefit in relation to the program

    ming of exhibitions for Farmleigh Gallery.

    Mary Heffernan has also managed various con

    struction projects for national institutions, including

    the National Museum, the National Library and

    IMMA. Similarly, she has been project manager for

    various public art projects, including the 1798 Memorial Park on the

    Liffey Quays, the memorial monument Tulach a' tSoiais in Co

    Wexford, and Rowan Gillespie's Famine Figures in the docklands.

    She says: 'it is a privilege to be involved in projects that create

    opportunities for the broadest possible audiences to engage with art

    of the highest standard by living artists.'

    Mary Heffernan organised the first six of the OPW's touring

    exhibitions, and was project manager for various OPW publications

    including Building for Government ano the Art of the State catalogues.

    As Project Manager for the Farmleigh Refurbishment Project

    2000-2001, and General Manager since 2001, Mary Heffernan has

    had a long and close association with this property. Farmleigh is

    unusual in being used for state occasions, and also open to the

    public, as she explains: This means that the standard is unusually

    high, but the result can also be enjoyed by the public. We started with

    family days, which were great, but since the opening of Farmleigh

    Gallery, we are getting a much younger visitor profile. As well as being

    a very exciting new development, this also meets the OPW's goal of

    Farmleigh being a cultural resource for ail ages in the community. A

    lot of our job is about injecting new life into old buildings, and I hope

    that the way forward will be to look at how the public have responded

    to the programmes at Farmleigh, and use that feedback in other prop

    erties. We are also delighted that Farmleigh is already proving itself to

    be a model for the use of heritage buildings and their relevance to a

    contemporary audience, as the trend of Farmers' Markets, concerts

    and lectures take off all over the country.'

    Maire Byrne completed her dissertation on the Farmleigh panels as part of a master's degree in Art History at UCD in 2003. She has

    since been commissioned by the OPW to undertake further

    research on the panels.

    1 Sommerhoff, J C, Lexicon Pharmaceutico

    Chymicum, Nuremburg, 1701, p.288. 2 Mulcahy, R, Spanish Paintings in the

    National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1988,

    p.47. The Earl of Dudley bought five of

    the Prodigal Son series at the Salamanca

    sale of 1867. He then acquired the sixth

    painting from Pope Pius IX in exchange

    for a Fra Ang?lico, a Bonifacio and 2,000

    gold napoleons. In 1896 Dudley sold the

    six Morillos to the first Alfred Beit whose

    son donated this magnificent collection

    totheNGI in 1987.

    3 Catalogue for this sale courtesy of

    Jeremy Rex-Parkes, archivist at

    Christie's, London.

    4 Verkhovskaia, A S, West-European

    Embroidery of the XII-XIX centuries in

    the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad, 1961, p.116.

    5 The author acknowledges the assistance

    of Claire Browne, assistant curator, Textiles and Dress, Victoria and Albert


    4 Farmleigh Gallery

    5 Venus

    6 Jupiter Detail

    showing the hybrid creature

    7 Jupiter


    2 1

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    Article Contentsp. [18]p. 19p. 20p. 21

    Issue Table of ContentsIrish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works (2006), pp. 1-48Front MatterForeword [p. 1-1]OPW 175th Anniversary Edition [p. 2-2]The OPW a History of Service [pp. 3-5]Art of the State: Inheritance, Development, Legacy [pp. 6-11]Building for the Nation: Architectural Services at the OPW [pp. 12-17]Weaving Heaven and Earth [pp. 18-21]Preserving the Past [pp. 22-25]A Glittering Legacy [pp. 26-29]Conservation at OPW: Policy, Protection, Partnership [pp. 30-33]Cultural Collaborations [pp. 34-39]Engineering Success [pp. 40-41]Kilmainham Gaol: Confronting Change [pp. 42-45]Future Challenges for the Opw [pp. 46-48]Back Matter


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