Classifying Taste

  • Maggie M. Williams
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


As the story goes, in the summer of 1850, an elaborately decorated brooch was found along a beach somewhere outside of Dublin.1 It was a small, circular object, measuring less than nine centimeters in diameter. Its round frame was pierced through the center with a triangle-headed pin. Made of gilt silver, the brooch’s surfaces were covered with dazzling panels of golden granulation and filigree. Colorful enamel bosses and glistening gemstones marked the joints between fields of intricate spirals and animal interlace. It was truly a magnificent discovery. An aura of mystery surrounded the brooch’s appearance, and it was quickly dated to the early Middle Ages (see figure 2.1). The fabulous piece remained in a private collection for nearly twenty years, where it became the model for replicas that were marketed and sold to elite members of Irish and British society.2


Rock Crystal Royal Irish Academy Decorative Motif Personal Adornment Irish Industry 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    The item was the so-called Tara Brooch. Bibliography on the brooch includes: Ian Finlay, Celtic Art; an Introduction (London: Faber, 1973), pp. 121–25Google Scholar
  2. Françoise Henry, Irish Art in the Early Christian Period, to 800 A.D. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965), pp. 118–119.Google Scholar
  3. Liam De Paor, “The Christian Triumph: The Golden Age”, in Treasures of Irish Art, 1500 B.C.—1500 A.D.: From the Collections of the National Museum of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College, Dublin, eds. G. Frank Mitchell and Lee Boltin (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art: A.A. Knopf, 1977), pp. 93–104Google Scholar
  4. A. T. Lucas, Treasures of Ireland: Irish Pagan & Early Christian Art (New York: Viking Press, 1974), pp. 87–93.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    See Michael Camille, “Domesticating the Dragon: The Rediscovery, Reproduction, and Re-Invention of Early Irish Metalwork”, in Imagining an Irish Past: The Celtic Revival, 1840–1940, ed. T. J. Edelstein (Chicago: David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, 1990), pp. 1–2Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Niamh Whitfield, “The Finding of the Tara Brooch”, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 104 (1974): 120–42.Google Scholar
  7. H. A. Wheeler, “The Tara Brooch: Where Was It Found?” Journal of the Louth Archaeological and Historical Society 12.2 (1950): 155–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 5.
    Henry J. Morris, “The Tara Brooch”, Journal of the Louth Archaeological and Historical Society 1.1 (1904): 21–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 7.
    Wilde’s work was published by E. C. R. Armstrong, “Catalogue of the Silver and Ecclesiastical Antiquities in the Collection of the Royal Irish Academy by the Late Sir William Wilde”, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 32C (1915), pp. 287–312. See also Minutes of the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 30 November 1874.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See Françoise Henry, Irish Art in the Early Christian Period (to 800 A.D.) (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965), p. 108Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    N. Whitfield, “The ‘Tara’ Brooch: An Irish Emblem of Status in Its European Context”, in From Ireland Coming: Irish Art from the Early Christian to the Late Gothic Period and Its European Context, ed. Colum Hourihane (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 211 [211–47].Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Giraldis Cambrensis, The History and Topography of Ireland, ed. and trans. John O’Meara (New York: Penguin Book, 1982), p. 84.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    In any social context, the garments that people wear constitute a nonverbal system of communication, serving as an immediate, visible, and performative language through which one publicly proclaims membership in a particular group, sometimes adding unique touches that represent individual personality traits or choices. See Malcolm Barnard, Fashion as Communication (New York: Routledge, 1996).Google Scholar
  14. Roland Barthes, “The Garment System”, in Elements of Semiology, trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), pp. 25–8.Google Scholar
  15. Malcolm Chapman, “‘Freezing the Frame’: Dress and Ethnicity in Brittany and Gaelic Scotland”, in Dress and Ethnicity, ed. Joanne B. Eicher (Oxford: Berg Publishers Limited, 1995), pp. 7–28.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    For early medieval Irish social systems, see Thomas N. Patterson, Cattle-Lords and Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Mary Deevy, Medieval Ring-Brooches in Ireland: A Study of Jewellery, Dress and Society (Dublin: Wordwell Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  18. Mairead Dunlevy, Dress in Ireland (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989).Google Scholar
  19. See D. M. Wilson, “The Treasure”, in St. Ninian’s Isle and Its Treasure, eds. A. Small, C. Thomas, and D. M. Wilson (Oxford: University Press, 1973), pp. 45–148.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Niamh Whitfield, “More Thoughts on the Wearing of Brooches in Early Medieval Ireland”, in Irish Art Historical Studies in Honour of Peter Harbison, ed. Colum Hourihane (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 70–108.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    Liam De Paor, Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), pp. 217–218Google Scholar
  22. in J. P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus: series Latina vol. 72 (Paris: Garnier Fratres, 1878), pp. 775–92.Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    See C. O’Rahilly, ed. and trans., Táin Bó Cúalnge from the Book of Leinster, Irish Texts Society 49 (Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies, 1967).Google Scholar
  24. F. Shaw, S.J., “Irish Dress in Pre-Norman Times”, in Old Irish and Highland Dress, 2nd ed., ed.H.F. McClintock (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, 1950), pp. 12–13.Google Scholar
  25. 27.
    Roger Stalley, Irish High Crosses (Dublin: Eason & Son, Ltd., 1991), p. 2.Google Scholar
  26. 28.
    The inscription reads: OR DO MUIREDACH LAS NDERN(A)D (I) CROS(SA) [Prayer for Muiredach who had the cross erected]. The annals refer to two individuals named Muiredach, both of whom were abbots at Monasterboice: the first, Muireadhach mac Flaind, held his post from 837 to 846, and the second, Muireadhach mac Domhnaill, from ca. 887 to 922. The latter was simultaneously abbot-elect of the prominent monastery at Armagh, as well as high steward of the Uí Néill family. As a result of his political affiliations, this second Muiredach has generally been associated with the cross’ inscription, providing a date for the cross of ca. 922–23. The style of the cross’ carvings is also comparable to those on the Cross of the Scriptures and other examples that are generally dated to around the same time, such as the Durrow and Kells monuments. See Peter Harbison, The High Crosses of Ireland: An Iconographical and Photographic Survey, 3 vols. (Bonn: R. Habelt, 1992), 1:364Google Scholar
  27. Helen M. Roe, Monasterboice and Its Monuments (Dundalk, Ireland: County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society, 1981), p. 9.Google Scholar
  28. 29.
    The word truibhas or triús appears to be derived from the Old French trebus, which is also the origin of the English word “trousers”. See Shaw, “Irish Dress in Pre-Norman Times”, pp. 16–17. J. C. Walker used the term “cota” to describe a shirt that fell to the loins, probably the so-called jacket. See Joseph C. Walker, An Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish (Dublin: J. Christie, 1818), p. 9. Figures wearing this type of costume also appear in the Book of Kells, Dublin, Ireland, Trinity College Dublin MS1, fols. 200r and 130r, and on the twelfth-century Agadoe Crozier.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    See Kuno Meyer, Contributions to Irish Lexicography (London: D. Nutt, 1906).Google Scholar
  30. see Heinrich Zimmer, Zeitscrift für verglichende Sprachforschung 30 (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1888).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    This scene is commonly identified as either the Arrest of Christ or the Ecce Rex Iudaeorum or Second Mocking of Christ, in which Jesus is dressed in mock-royal robes. Some have suggested that it may represent an ecclesiastic attacked by two armed men, St. Columcille being arrested and exiled, or Norsemen attacking the abbot of a local community. It is tempting to believe that the images depict historical figures, for that would easily explain the inclusion of familiar Irish costume. If that is the case, then the image represents a high-ranking Irishman—possibly an ecclesiastic— being attacked by lower-class lay warriors. For more on the iconography of this scene, see Harbison, The High Crosses of Ireland, 1:143. A. K. Porter, The Crosses and Culture of Ireland (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931), p. 42.Google Scholar
  32. E. H. L. Sexton, A Descriptive and Bibliographical List of Irish Figure Sculptures of the Early Christian Period (Portland, ME: The Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1947), p. 232.Google Scholar
  33. 32.
    George Petrie, “On an Ancient Brooch Found Near Drogheda”, paper presented at the Royal Irish Academy, 30 November 1850.Google Scholar
  34. See William Stokes, The Life and Labours in Art and Archaeology of George Petrie (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1868), p. 438.Google Scholar
  35. See Mrs. G. Orpen, Stories about Famous Precious Stones (Boston: D. Lothrop Company, 1890), pp. 256–60.Google Scholar
  36. 33.
    Henry O’Neill, The Fine Arts and Civilization of Ancient Ireland, Illustrated with Chromo and Other Lithographs, and Several Woodcut (Dublin: George Herbert, 1863), p. 50.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    John Sproule, ed., The Resources and Manufacturing Industry of Ireland as Illustrated by the Exhibition of 1853 (Dublin: John Sproule, 1853), p. 389.Google Scholar
  38. 42.
    Kathleen Biddick, The Shock of Medievalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), p. 21.Google Scholar
  39. see Judith Halberstam, Skin Shows (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), p. 141.Google Scholar
  40. 44.
    see Nicola Gordon Bowe, “Two Early Twentieth-Century Irish Arts and Crafts Workshops in Context: An Túr Gloine and the Dun Emer Guild and Industries”, Journal of Design History 2.3 (1989): 193–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Paul Larmour, The Arts & Crafts Movement in Ireland (Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  42. Gillian Naylor, The Arts and Crafts Movement: A Study of Its Sources, Ideals, and Influence on Design Theory (Cambridge: MIT Press, ca. 1971).Google Scholar
  43. 45.
    Morris was also connected to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters whose work frequently recreates medieval themes. For an interesting discussion of Morris’s connection to the PRB, see Elizabeth K. Helsinger, Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  44. 47.
    Barbara Morris, Victorian Embroidery: An Authoritative Guide (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1962), pp. 118–20.Google Scholar
  45. 48.
    Ishbel’s correspondence is quoted by her daughter, Marjorie Pentland, in A Bonnie Fechter: The Life of Ishbel Marjoribanks Marchioness of Aberdeen & Temair, G.B.E., LL.D., J.P. 1857 to 1939 (London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1952), p. 56.Google Scholar
  46. 51.
    On Ladies Londonderry and Dudley, see Elizabeth Mary Margaret Burke Plunkett Fingall, Countess of Fingall, Seventy Years Young (London: Collins, 1937), pp. 164Google Scholar
  47. see Aberdeen and Temair, “We Twa”, Reminiscences of Lord and Lady Aberdeen, 2 vols. (London: W. Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., 1926), 2:148.Google Scholar
  48. 54.
    Art and Crafts Society, Journal and Proceedings (1896) and Exhibition Catalog 1 (1895).Google Scholar
  49. 59.
    Mary Colum, Life and the Dream, revised ed. (Dublin: Dolmen Publishers, 1966), pp. 105–08.Google Scholar
  50. 61.
    The discursive functions of masquerade are immensely complex, as analyzed by such scholars as Judith Butler. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 43–57 on Lacan, Riviere, and masquerade. Here, the masquerade is one of cultural identity rather than gender.Google Scholar
  51. 62.
    Paul Larmour, “The Dun Emer Guild”, Irish Arts Review 1.4 (1984): 24–8.Google Scholar
  52. 68.
    Thomas MacGreevy, “St Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea”, Capuchin Annual (1946).Google Scholar
  53. 72.
    John Colgan, The “Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae” of John Colgan (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1948), pp. 308–10.Google Scholar
  54. Richard J. Kelly, “St. Jarlath of Tuam”, Journal of the Galway Archaeological Society 1.2 (1901): 90–108.Google Scholar
  55. See also Daithi O’Murchù, Tuam (Tuam: John Egan and Son, 1971), p. 7.Google Scholar
  56. 74.
    Nora O’Mahony, “Celtic Church Banners”, The Irish Monthly: A Magazine of General Literature 32 (1904): 167 [167–69].Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Maggie M. Williams 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maggie M. Williams

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations