The Cloyne harp

Cloyne pillar
Front of the pillar (RBA 1904), with inscription, Royal arms, family arms, and interlace or foliate panels.

The neck and pillar of the Cloyne harp are covered with carved and painted animals. They are copied from zoological books - late 16th and early 17th century animal encyclopedias which mark the transition from medieval bestiary to scientific classification. You can see images from the first and most important, Historiae Animalium by Conrad Gesner, 1551-87, here at the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Compare especially the Beaver and the Satyr.

Satyr Another on Bunting's 1809 engravingWe can narrow down the source for the pictures on the Cloyne harp: many of the animals on the harp have a little white-painted rectangular label with their name carved into it. The satyr at the treble end of the left side of the neck is labeled “SATYRe ANOTHeR(see Bunting's 1809 engraving, left, click to enlarge). This satyr drawing appears in Gesner's book and also in later editions and translations based on Gesner. However, in Topsell, Historie of Foure-footed Beastes (1607), this satyr is placed on a page with the running title “of the satyr”, and directly above the title of its description, “The figure of another monster”, laid out like this:


(Click here for an online facsimile)

It seems that the decorator of the harp was less competent in English than in Irish and Latin, and read “Another” as the name of this satyr. All of the other animals can also be found in Topsell’s 1607 book, and its 1608 sequel, The history of serpents.

The harp also has a lot of foliate decoration, also carved in relief and painted with bright colours. When Robert Evans and Guy Flockhart were making their replica for the National Museum of Ireland, they analysed the paint remaining on the original harp and replicated it for decorating the replica, so that the replica truly demonstrates the original garish colour scheme.


Simon Chadwick