This engraving from Brook’s 1892 article in PSAS about the medieval Scottish university maces shows the head of the Glasgow mace, which was made in Scotland in the 1460s. When I was in the exhibition in MUSA looking at this mace, I was struck by the foliage designs on the panels in the central stage (these six panels are illustrated on the engraving).
The leaves on these lovely engraved silver plates are similar to the late 15th century forepillar leaves on the Queen Mary harp, However the leaves on the mace are not identical, and to me they looked a bit later. There are similar leaves on the 16th century Ballinderry harp metalwork.
Brook suggests that the plates are not original to the 1460s construction of the mace, but may have been late 16th century post-reformation replacements of figures of saints. The St Andrews Arts mace and Canon law mace both have very similar designs and both have saints in these middle panels.
The leaves are not easy to see on the mace in the museum as they are above eye level and the silver is very highly polished. However I am looking forward to comparing them with the leaves on my replica of the Queen Mary harp at my concert tomorrow.
A sneak preview for readers of my blog!
I have made a drawing of the forepillar decoration on the Trinity College harp. This has never been done before; when R.B. Armstrong studied the harp for his 1904 book, he did not draw the pillar decoration, saying it was probably later work. And no-one has done a good published study of the harp since then.
I have been admiring the pillar decoration on my vists to Dublin for a few years now, and I managed to get enough closeup photos to be able to work out almost all of the decoration. I have drawn it all out schematically, following the general principle of Armstrong’s superb diagram of the decoration of the Queen Mary harp forepillar.
I very much enjoyed doing this work; the decoration is really complex and busy and it was a real challenge to trace the twists and turns of each vine stalk and interlace strap.
I’m publishing the drawing officially on 1st October, both as a free PDF download that you can get from the Trinity pillar decoration webpage and also as a 2-colour A3 sized digital print on good art paper that you can order from the Emporium prints page.
Be sure to read the rest of the Trinity pages as I have added some other interesting information and illustrations.
I have long admired the inscription on the front of the Downhill harp: CODEVLIN. I assume C. O’Devlin was the person who originally commissioned the instrument from the maker, Cormac O’Kelly, in 1702.
I think it is a great idea for a harper to have their name or coat of arms displayed proudly on the outside of the forepillar of their harp. Other examples I can think of are the coats of arms and initials of Sir John Fitzedmond Fitzgerald on the Cloyne harp, of Robert FitzGerald on the Kildare harp, and the arms of William Archdeacon on the harp in his portrait. There is also Richard Stavan, I think, named on Charles Byrne’s harp in his portrait. Other old instruments announce their owner’s name alongside their maker’s, such as Rev. Charles Bunworth on the Bunworth harp, and of course the graduates of the 19th century harp society schools had their name written on their presentation instruments, either on a brass plate or in gilt lettering like on Paul Smith’s, now in Collins Barracks.
But the Downhill harp is perhaps the boldest, with the name inscribed in big display capitals, slightly wobbly but in very classical style, right on the front where it is most visible.
I have also long been thinking about how plain my Student Downhill harp looks, when I use it occasionally for concerts or events. David Kortier has a very clean aesthetic, and his choice of timbers for their visual and acoustic beauty is excellent, but I have more of an antique taste and love decorated and carved things. I have in the past considered painting the whole thing blue or some other such plan, but I can’t bring myself to cover the subtle curl in the timber, which I am sure Kortier selected for me especially.
So I decided instead that a homage to C O’Devlin was the best way forward. I looked at the elegant ligatures on Cormac O’Kelly’s lettering on the side of the Downhill harp, and I secretly regretted that my name does not have an N in it to reverse. I laid out what I thought was a pleasing design. After a careful trial piece in an offcut of the same wood that my harp was made from (thoughtfully provided by Kortier when the harp was new), I carved the lettering into the forepillar. After sealing the cut edges with shellac varnish, size was carefully applied, followed by loose gold leaf. This is the first time I have ever tried gilding, or carved lettering, and I am very pleased with the result.
First public outing tomorrow at my garden concert. I am nervously watching the weather forecast…