The light may be dim but the subject of this sculpture certainly wasn’t. Visitors to the Old Library in Trinity College Dublin tend to be so engaged with the architecture of the space that they don’t notice the plinths holding busts that line either side of the room. The all-male gathering features classical philosophers, distinguished figures associated with the college and also, rightly, a number of famous Irishmen. This is scientist Robert Boyle, discoverer of Boyle’s Law (which explains how pressure is inversely proportional to volume) as represented by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. In 1743 he was commissioned by the college authorities to produce the first 14 busts in the library. Nearby can be seen Dean Swift by Louis-François Roubiliac which dates from c.1748/49 and is the finest item in the collection.
A bronze life-size statue of George III as a Roman Emperor. Made by John van Nost the younger, this work was commissioned in 1765 by Hugh Percy, first Duke of Northumberland who for the two previous years had served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He paid van Nost 700 guineas for the work which was originally placed in the centre of the rotunda of the Royal Exchange (now City Hall) when that building, designed by Thomas Cooley, was completed in 1779. The statue was moved to one side of the space in 1864 (to make way for John Hogan’s statue of Daniel O’Connell) and then taken out altogether and put into storage in 1945. In 1988 it found a new home – in the car park of the Point Theatre on the north quays – before finally being offered on long-term loan by Dublin City Council in 1996 to the National Gallery of Ireland where it has remained ever since. The piece is significant for two reasons, the first being that other such work by van Nost, his statues of George II that once stood in both Dublin and Cork, has long since been destroyed. In addition it appears to be a true likeness of George III since the sculptor, on receiving the commission, went to London to make a model of the king from life. Readers can decide for themselves whether or not Thackeray was correct to describe the work as ‘a pert statue of George III in a Roman toga simpering and turning out his toes.’
The Massereene Hound, a carving believed to date from 1612. According to legend, not long after her marriage in 1607 to Sir Hugh Clotworthy of Antrim Castle, Mary Langford was walking alone in the woods when threatened by attack from a wolf. Fortunately at the same moment an Irish wolfhound appeared and saved Lady Clotworthy by killing the wolf. A second tale has it that the self-same wolfhound also ensured the Clotworthys were spared an assault on their castle by howling and thereby warning them of the imminent danger. Whatever the truth, the sculpture stood on the original castle until the 18th century when it was moved to one of the estate walls. It now stands on a plinth adjacent to the restored walled gardens.
A white marble statue of Amorino commissioned in Rome from Antonio Canova in 1789 by John La Touche. Scion of Ireland’s wealthiest banking family, La Touche was then on a year-long Grand Tour through Italy, during which he was taken to Canova’s studio by the Irish painter Hugh Douglas Hamilton. There he saw two versions of the same figure, one of which is now in Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Not long before leaving Rome and returning home, La Touche requested his own copy which was duly delivered to Dublin in the summer of 1792. It remained in the family’s possession until the last century but both artist and provenance were forgotten until the statue was rediscovered in the back garden of an English house in 1996. It was then bought by the Bank of Ireland, appropriately since John La Touche’s father David had been that institution’s first governor, and presented to the National Gallery of Ireland.
The Irish Aesthete wishes a happy Valentine’s Day to all readers.