George Victor Du Noyer at the Crawford Gallery

I had been aware of George Victor Du Noyer’s antiquarian drawings from my days as a student, but that did not prepare me for the Du Noyer exhibition currently running at the Crawford – it’s nothing short of breathtaking. Du Noyer, it turns out, was far far more than an antiquarian: he was a nineteenth century Renaissance man, artistic, talented, curious, scientific and learned in equal proportions. Stones, Slabs and Seascapes is curated by Peter Murray (recently retired director of the Crawford) and co-curated by Petra Coffey of the Geological Survey.  If you do nothing else this winter, get to Cork to see this exhibition!

I’ve decided to annotate the images with quotes in italics (image follows quote) from the outstanding exhibition catalogue which is a collection of essays, each written from a slightly different perspective. I’ve tried to show representative samples of Du Noyer’s work, mostly from the exhibition. A couple of illustrations are from elsewhere. I’m not going to say a lot about Du Noyer’s life – there’s an excellent summary (with some additional photographs) by Fiona Ahern on the Maynooth University Library website.

From a cultural studies and critical theory perspective, the principal interest in Du Noyer lies also in seeing how, as an Irish artist, he responded to the international debates of his day: to the Devonian controversy, to the widening gap between ‘uniformitarianists’ and ‘catastrophists’, and to the urgent search by geologists and astronomers during his lifetime to explain the origins of the planet Earth. The ability of Du Noyer to traverse conventions of representation – he moved easily from picturesque watercolours, to scientific cross-sections of landscape – reflects a similar flux in nineteenth-century learning, where advances in science co-existed with a desire to adhere to traditional modes of representation. (From the Introduction by Peter Murray and Petra Coffey)

In contrast with other artists’ depiction of Ireland at this time (many of them English), Du Noyer’s sketches lack the stereotyping that is all too common in art of that period. Based on eyewitness observation, his drawings lack elements of caricature and satire often perceptible in depictions of Ireland by artists who tended to work from preconceived ideas. (From the Introduction by Peter Murray and Petra Coffey)

Throughout a long and productive lifetime, during which he depicted a myriad of objects and places in Ireland, George Victor Du Noyer compiled a databank of images that not only formed part of the new awareness of Irish national identity that emerged in the early nineteenth century, but also revealed the potential of art to frame revolutionary narratives relating to geology, natural history and human evolution . . . Du Noyer was one of those who helped construct this new narrative. He documented towns and villages, prehistoric sites and ruined monasteries. He had a keen interest in the natural environment, in methods of transport . . . artefacts connected with food preparation, cooking, eating and drinking. (From the Foreword by Peter Murray)

As  industrial production began to dominate people’s everyday view of the world, the aesthetics of handmade objects fell into sharp relief. Du Noyer delighted in depicting such objects, from every age, from simple ‘Killick’ anchors of wood and stone, to querns for grinding corn and wooden drinking vessels. Removed from their original context and preserved in glass cases in museums, these objects had begun to lose much of their original meaning. In illustrating them, Du Noyer not only committed their image to paper but also highlighted philosophical questions relating to the passing of time and the formation of both individual and collective memory. (From the Foreword by Peter Murray)

When he was visiting Belfast in 1837, he bought some apples in the market thinking they were Irish apples (they were not) and he painted them magnificently, enhanced with gum Arabic. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

From 1842 to 1843 . . . he accepted private work, as he was able to produce art work in many media . . . He illustrated Hall’s Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc (Vol.2, 1842). (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) was established on 1st April, 1845 . . . Du Noyer had been introduced to the new study of the earth – geology – and it was to shape his life thereafter. Despite having no formal training or qualifications in geology he was to become extremely competent in his calling with the added bonus of being better able than most to record graphically what he saw . . . From now on, Du Noyer never put down his geological hammer, pencil, paper and watercolours . . . (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

Du Noyer published papers in many journals, including the Archaeological Journal. His most important work was ‘On the remains of ancient stone-built fortresses and habitations to the west of Dingle, Couny Kerry’, published in 1858. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

The purpose of a scientific illustration is to reflect accurately the key features of a fossil, animal, plant or landscape. It can be a far cry from the conventional artist’s view, where the essence can be more important than the reality. (From The Scientific Illustrations of George Victor Du Noyer by Nigel T Monaghan)

Du Noyer’s scientific landscapes emphasise the geology, showing rocks accurately in terms of bed thickness, irregularity, angles of dip, faults and major joints, with no less attention to detail in his rendition of the soil cover, vegetation and the human impact on the countryside. (From The Scientific Illustrations of George Victor Du Noyer by Nigel T Monaghan)

. . . when Du Noyer worked with the [Ordnance] Survey, he would go out in all weathers to sketch antiquities surviving in the landscape, some of which are now in a more parlous condition than when he drew them, while others have disappeared entirely… (From Du Noyer’s Treasures in the Royal Irish Academy by Peter Harbison)

In 1837 Du Noyer painted a series of large watercolours depicting typologies of Bronze Age spears and axeheads, and early Christian artefacts, such as brooches, bells, devotional crosses, and figures clearly prised off reliquaries. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

in 1837 and 1838, Du Noyer drew a series of palaeontological monochrome-wash watercolours, depicting fossils of ancient life forms, including seashells, whorls, spirals and other simple shapes, images that were lithographed for Portlock’s Report on the Geology of Londonderry . . . Portlock’s publication, at over 500 pages, was, literally, ground-breaking in terms of the study of fossils in Britain and Ireland. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In May 1850, he painted four panoramic watercolours from the top of Carrickbyrne Hill . . . [and] also painted a panoramic watercolour, ‘View of Ballyhack and Arthurstown from Passage’. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In 1867 . . . after many years working for the Geological Survey of Ireland as an assistant surveyor, Du Noyer was appointed District Surveyor and posted to a field station in County Antrim . . . His article, ‘Notes on the stratigraphical position of the Giant’s Causeway, and the structure of the Basaltic Cliffs immediately adjoining it,’ had been published in The Geologist in 1860. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In total, Du Noyer left some five thousand works of art, in pencil and watercolour. At his best, he combined an objective scientific approach with a sublime artistic vision. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

The exhibition runs from November 17th, 2017 to February 24th, 2018 at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and then from March to September 2018 at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Catalogue published by Crawford Art Gallery, available from their book shop.

The Significant Rock Art of Clonfinlough

Whenever we stray from our home territory of West Cork, we are always on the lookout for archaeological wonders. When we set our course for Clonmacnoise, in County Offaly, last week (I like the possible translation of the Irish Cluain Muccu Nóis: Meadow of the Pigs of Nós, but there is an alternative Cluain Mhic Nóis: Meadow of the Sons of Nós), we were looking for Ireland’s most important medieval monastic site, but we were diverted only a stone’s throw from our destination by a sign that we couldn’t ignore…

Tucked away to the south east of Clonmacnoise, on a by-road, sits an isolated church in front of which is a well defined and fenced pathway leading past the Priest’s house, through fields, over a stile and into a pasture where cows grazed and barely gave us a glance. There – open to the ravages of weather and cattle – is a large, earthfast slab of limestone bearing a remarkable array of markings.

Header – a detail from the stone’s crowded surface. Upper – the well-defined path leading from St Kieran’s Church to the stone (don’t confuse this St Kieran with the one from Cape Clear). Lower – the limestone slab situated beyond the stile

For Rock Art enthusiasts like us the stone was a wonderful find. The surface is teeming with rings, lines, shapes – and even lettering. In spite of the weathering, everything was deeply defined and easy to see. And the more we looked, the more we did see, and the more perplexed we became. I even noted footprints! Remember my search last week for the footprint left by Archangel Gabriel on his visit to his eponymous mountain in West Cork? Here I counted six, and my size nine feet fitted perfectly in them all.

Upper – two of the ‘footprints’ scattered on the stone’s marked surface. Lower – the stone in its landscape context: ‘footprints’ are also visible

When we returned from our visit to Offaly I was able to research the available information on the Clonfinlough Stone and was delighted to find a very comprehensive study of it written by Finola’s old friend and Rock Art expert from UCC, Elizabeth Shee Twohig. The piece – Context and Chronology of the Carved Stone at Clonfinlough, County Offaly – was published in 2002 in The Journal of The Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Volume 132 pp 99-113. It makes the most enlightening read, outlining the ways in which the stone was regarded and drawn by early antiquarians and then opening up discussion on how much of the stone’s markings might in fact be natural formations, or natural forms which have influenced and been enhanced by ‘artists’ working with motifs which have become familiar to Rock Art researchers today, including cupmarks.

Engravings by George Victor du Noyer illustrating a paper published by James Grave in 1865. Note the emphasis that du Noyer has placed on recognisable ‘Greek’ style lettering (termed phi by Shee Twohig)

Elizabeth Shee Twohig quotes theories by RAS Macalister which evolved between 1921 and 1949, and which include the idea that the phi markings represent ‘…a possible depiction of a battle between the ‘loop men’ and the ‘cross men’ and suggested that the cupmarks …may even indicate the number of severed heads!…’ In his 1928 book The Archaeology of Ireland Macalister (quoted by Shee Twohig) suggests ‘…the carvings as showing a battle or pre-battle scene, the medicine men having prepared for their occult purposes a picture of the consummation desired…’ while in 1949 he saw it as a sign-manual of a hostile expedition from Spain which sailed up the Shannon: ‘…the battlefield, printed with the footmarks of the flying foe, strewn with weapons cast away in their flight and with missile stones…’

These are but brief extracts from the Shee Twohig account and discussions, which are essential reading – not just for possible enlightenment on the markings on this stone, but also for a well defined background on how ideas about Rock Art generally have developed since the time of the earliest antiquarians.

Elizabeth Shee Twohig has amplified her study of the Clonfinlough Stone with the first truly accurate drawing of the markings on it (above). It is certainly interesting to compare this with the 1865 engravings by du Noyer

Elizabeth Shee Twohig brings in to her study the possible significance of the stone’s positioning close to the great monastic centre of Clonmacnoise, which in medieval times was the prime pilgrimage destination in Ireland. There is evidence that one of the paved pilgrim routes passed close by the Clonfinlough Stone. It is plausible, therefore, that at least some of the markings on this limestone slab could have dated from those times: Clonmacnoise was active between the 6th and 12th centuries.

Upper – the many enigmatic markings on the stone: natural limestone solution pits, Bronze Age Rock Art, crosses carved by or for medieval pilgrims? Lower – the stone is within sight of the present day church

A trawl through the folklore records proves fertile. One legend says that at certain times of the year a horseman manifests and gallops around the stone. Another has it that a local boy named Michael used to play at the rock and there met another boy who gave him a silver knife. His mother made him take the knife back and leave it on the stone, for she said the boy was a fairy trying to entice him away. It is also said that another Michael will find the knife, and when he does he will find two big pots of gold under the rocks. Whatever the truth is about the rock and its meaning, I am struck by the path we found coming from the little church which is in sight of the Clonfinlough Stone: could there be something pagan in that stone which required the church to be built there – or is it a mutual guardianship?

PS – since publishing this post, Gearóid Ó Díomasaigh has pointed me to this 3D Sketchfab image of the Clonfinlough Stone available to view online:

In the church at Clonfinlough is a curious series of Stations: this one showing the ’empty tomb’ can be seen as a rock supplanted by a cross…