Vicereines of Ireland: Portrait of Forgotten Women


Designed by Jurga Rakauskaitė-Larkin at The Office of Public Works

Editor: Myles Campbell

Categories: Printed Publication

Industry: Cultural

Publication for the exhibition Vicereines of Ireland: Portraits of Forgotten Women

This book tells the untold story of a group of overlooked women in Irish history. It was published by Irish Academic Press, in association with the Office of Public Works, to accompany an exhibition curated by Myles Campbell at Dublin Castle in 2021. As the wives of the country’s viceroys, the vicereines were the female faces of the British administration in Ireland in the days before independence. Though their world was one of shimmering fabrics, glinting pearls and blossoming flowers, the book and its associated exhibition set out to look beyond the superficial image of these women as mere decorative consorts to powerful men. Though sometimes apathetic, the vicereines were often sympathetic and dynamic agents of change in Ireland. Probing beneath the gilded surface, the book unearths stories of activists and advocates who touched almost every facet of Irish life. 

The design process was key in helping to tell this untold story. Striking a balance between evoking the rich material world of these privileged countesses and duchesses, but also eschewing typical signifiers of wealth and status as symbols of detachment, was central to the creative process. The book has been praised in The Times Literary Supplement as ‘a gorgeously illustrated history’, but unusually for an academic book exploring period portraits, the portrait featured on the cover is a relatively modest print. The selection of this image for the cover, rather than one of the many stately portraits of the vicereines, sets the tone for a book that seeks to offer an alternative reading of these women. It reflects, as one favourable reviewer in History Ireland has noted, the way in which the book breaks with ‘the patronizing physical description methodology of the past.’ Glimpsed through a circular portal between our world and theirs, the image hints at the book’s presentation of the vicereines as real people with the kind of beating hearts and curious minds that can easily be concealed by fur-lined robes and gilded coronets in grander portraits. 

Colours for the book were spot picked from an object featured in the book and exhibition – an eighteenth-century artist’s palette with its original paint colours intact. Sir Joshua Reynolds, as part of a training exercise, prepared the palette for Mary, Marchioness of Buckingham, who was vicereine of Ireland in the 1780s. The cover’s circular portal is mirrored in gold leaf behind the dustjacket, serving as a gilded frame to the world within. Bookending that world are spot marbled end papers. The design of the end papers was inspired by the cover of a nineteenth-century notebook found among the papers of one of the vicereines. To create them, a marbling artist was approached to re-interpret the Victorian marble pattern, which was then digitally manipulated to emphasise the purple, pink and gold tones of the project palette. As a twenty-first century take on a nineteenth-century source, it reflects in form what the book seeks to offer through its content – a new interpretation of an old world.