30th November – 1st December 2023 at Trinity College Dublin
Manuscripts for Medieval Studies Project supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York
We are delighted to announce a Call for Papers for a symposium on ‘The Many Lives of Medieval Manuscripts’ as part of the ‘Manuscripts for Medieval Studies’ project, supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York. The symposium will take place on Thursday 30th November and Friday 1st December 2023 at Trinity College Dublin.
During my first year on the Carnegie Project, I had the opportunity to work on a group of five 15th-century manuscripts, mostly antiphonaries (choir books), ranging in size from 40×30 cm (TCD MS 101) to 54x38cm (TCD MS 77).
Three of the manuscripts (TCD MSS 77, 78 and 79) presented themselves, as is the case of a large number of other manuscripts from this period, in a typical 18th-century binding that had been “Executed for the College in 1741-1744 by the shop of John Exshaw of Dublin in speckled calf”; whether the original contemporary binding had been discarded during this process, or if the manuscripts had already been rebound before 1741, it’s difficult to say.
What is certain is that the contemporary medieval binding was replaced with a typical 18th-century full leather structure with hemp sewing supports laced-into laminated boards. At a later stage all three of the manuscripts were rebacked in the early 1900s with the use of poor-quality leather.
The Yeats sisters, Elizabeth, and Lily (Susan) depicted above on an advertisement postcard c. 1905 by their sister-in-law Mary Cottenham Yeats. The card shows Elizabeth carrying books and Lily Yeats holding an embroidered garment as they set out to build a female Arts and Crafts enterprise with Evelyn Gleeson at the anticipated dawn of a new Independent Ireland.
Elizabeth ran the hand printing press. With her brother William as editor, the press produced important Irish revivalist literature. Additionally, Elizabeth worked with several Irish artists, key among them her brother Jack, to produce hand-coloured prints, cards, bookplates, and the illustrated series A Broadside. Lily managed the embroidery department. The Yeats sisters separated from Gleeson in 1908 and continued their areas of production nearby in their new venture Cuala Industries. Both were female enterprises and almost exclusively employed and trained young women as assistants in producing artefacts adhering to arts and crafts principles. Elizabeth was a woman of her time, a time of increasing female agency, politically, socially, and in the workplace. A contested and complex history was lived through her Press.
Lily (1866-1949) and Elizabeth Yeats (1868-1940), pictured above, originally moved to Dublin from London to join Evelyn Gleeson (1855-1944) in her newly established arts and crafts enterprise, Dun Emer Industries in 1902, where the printing of high-quality books and prints was overseen by Elizabeth and embroidery by Lily. The enterprise was named after the Irish mythological figure, Emer, who was renowned for her artistic and needlework skills, and Cúchulainn’s wife. However, after an acrimonious split with Gleeson, the sisters established Cuala Industries in 1908 taking their own areas of production with them. The ideology of both organisations was espoused in the original Dun Emer prospectus, which stated its desire to “make beautiful things” using honest and native materials in “the spirit and tradition of the country”. Both were female enterprises and almost exclusively employed and trained young women as assistants in arts and crafts
The Press, the dominant part of Cuala’s business, published handcrafted books by leading members of the Irish literary revival including Nobel prize-winning sibling William (1865- 1939), and prints designed by Irish artists, chief among them another sibling Jack Yeats (1871-1957). Lily’s embroidery department was also notable, but its output was smaller and its legacy harder to track as many of the domestic embroidered items, such as, clothing, tablecloths and bedspreads are no longer extant. Framed embroidered art works such as those in the National Gallery of Ireland and in private collections indicate the artistry and technical quality of the embroidered work of Lily and her assistants. Before moving to Dublin, Lily had established herself as a skilled artistic embroiderer working for six years in the late 1800s with May Morris, daughter of William Morris, in their world-renowned Arts and Crafts scheme.