Monday 28 February 2022

Skeuomorph, Co. Tipp

Skeuomorph could be an Irish townland; we live a short hop from Skeoughvosteen, Co KK which seems only marginally less unlikely as a toponym. But it is not [an Irish townland]: a Skeuomorph skeuos (σκεῦος), meaning "container or tool", and morphḗ (μορφή) "form" is the archaeological architectural fancy-word for something that retains attributes which were necessary in older forms of the object. The classical example is the fluting on the columns of Greek temples, which might be decorative representations of the fissures in the bark of the tree-trunks which held up the roof of earlier examples of that architectural form. This theory is bolstered by the appearance of carved stylized leaf-like decorations in Corinthian capitals [L] to the pillars. Biology is full of these hang-overs from ancestors: the recurrent pharyngeal nerve, 3 (three!) phalanges in the wee stub of your baby toe. There was a reason for these things once, but the conservative mills of growth and development keep churning out the parts, albeit in reduced or modified form.

I'm getting back to Tipperary! Ahenny to be precise: where there is a clatter of Celtic high crosses in the church-yard. Like the red hats on the moai of Easter Island, the North Cross at Ahenny has a sandstone top-knot which may represent a bishop's mitre. It is also missing one quadrant of decorated circle which braces the arms of the cross. Some months ago, I requested a read of The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland by Nancy Edwards from the library. It sat on the shelf in Bagenalstown Library expecting me to come in to collect it. But it took a message from Tramore library, in  a different, more efficient county, to tell me it was waiting. Whatevs, I snagged the book and added it to a tall stack of to-be-read literature with which I have been juggling since Christmas.

The book is available at UCC bookstore, so I guess that, despite being published more than 30 years ago, it still has utility for studenting. Although I can't imagine many students will be happy to lay out €46.40 to secure their own copy. It is certainly an academic book and the vocabulary takes no prisoners [Skeuomorp, indeed] but it is also profusely illustrated with photographs [see R], maps and archaeological drawings. Prof Edwards makes the case that the decoration owes much of its inspiration to metal-workers, who were masters of filigree and wire-working. Think about all the torcs, brooches and chalices which fill Ireland's museums: so much delicate, fussy detail far and away from the object's strict utility. 

You can just hear The Bish, instructing the poor stone mason. "see this chalice, my man, this wire-work edging is the latest thing in Armagh; I want you to include something at least as good in the cross which I have ordered". Maybe the mason rose to the challenge without grumbling; maybe he cursed the day he undertook the commission but he delivered! even the zoom in on the detail doesn't do justice to the fine-work which is a miracle in stone. Megalithic Ireland has better pictures.

No comments:

Post a Comment