On St Brigid’s Day Trinity College Dublin installed four new sculptures in its Old Library to honour the scholarship of four trailblazing women.
The women represented are the scientist Rosalind Franklin, the folklorist, dramatist and theatre-founder Augusta Gregory, the mathematician Ada Lovelace and the pioneering women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft.
The new sculptures, the first to be commissioned in more than a century, will be displayed among the 40 marble sculpture-busts that line Trinity’s historic Long Room, which were hitherto all of men. The current artworks represent men throughout history, from Homer and Shakespeare to Dean Jonathan Swift, Sir Rowan Hamilton and Wolfe Tone.
The new sculptures were launched by Trinity’s Chancellor Dr Mary McAleese at a ceremony in the Long Room.
Their addition represents a first step toward a better representation of our diversity in all of Trinity’s public spaces.
Rowan Gillespie’s sculpture of Mary Wollstonecraft was modelled in wax, 3-d-scanned, milled in Carrara marble and then carved and fine finished. Rowan is known for his work in bronze and this is the first time he carved in marble since his student years.
Maudie Brady’s sculpture of Ada Lovelace was modelled originally in clay, then 3-d scanned and carved from a block of statuary Carrara marble by computer-programming, and, finished by hand. Maudie thought it would be apt for Lovelace, as a mathematician and, effectively, the first ‘computer programmer’ to be represented using techniques enabled by computer programmes and algorithms, book-ended by modelling initially in clay, and, finishing the marble sculpture by hand.
Guy Reid’s sculpture of Lady Gregory was hand-carved in lime wood. Guy’s practice is focused singularly on portraiture, and is inspired by medieval, coloured wooden sculptures, resulting in painted depictions of family and friends, alongside special commissions.
Vera Klute’s sculpture has been created in three sections with classical and contemporary techniques. The portrait is made with cast Parian (a type of porcelain) Jesmonite, marble, and Swarovski crystals, the latter making direct references to Franklin’s use of x-ray crystallography to research the structure of DNA. The helix of the socle is a visual nod to Franklin’s contribution to the discovery of the helical form of DNA.
Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton and also Chair of the Artist Selection Panel welcomed the College community, sculptors and invited guests to the packed launch event:
“On this auspicious day, St Brigid’s Day, we celebrate women’s scholarship with these sculptures in the Long Room of the Old Library. Their individual contributions to knowledge and to society will now be permanently honoured in this cathedral of learning at the heart of Trinity.”
Provost Dr Linda Doyle stressed the historic significance of the occasion:
“While it is important to respect tradition, it is also important to break tradition. The addition of these sculptures of women has been a long time coming. I want to thank everyone involved in the creation and installation of these beautiful pieces. Sculptures are an iconic feature of Trinity’s Long Room, and I hope that the inclusion of these four outstanding women is the furthering of a collective recognition of the incredible contribution of women across many fields.”
In an uplifting inauguration, Chancellor poignantly quoted the 18th century Irish poet Antaine Ó Raifteirí in her speech:
“Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dúl chun síneadh, Is tar eis na féile Bríde ardóigh mé mo sheol”.
“Spring is coming. The days are lengthening and after Brigid’s feast day, I will raise my sail. We are the lucky generation to be here to see the springtide. To see Brigid’s sail raised to catch the wind, to see great women given the respect and recognition they deserve. Congratulations to all those who have helped open the floodgates which will one say see full justice done to the work and talent of women everywhere.”
The four women being honoured were chosen in 2020 from more than 500 nominations by students, staff, and alumni covering a wide field of ground-breaking individuals who contributed significantly to scholarship and culture across history.
In 2021, after an extensive national and international shortlisting process, nine artists were invited and supported financially to submit maquettes (preliminary models) of at least two of the nominated women, from which the four artists were chosen.
An ‘In Conversation’ event with the artists and Trinity champions of the scholars also took place in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Institute the following day on 2nd February 2023 (more information here).
More about the portrait candidates:
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
Mary Wollstonecraft was a pioneering women’s rights advocate, and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), often considered a foundational text for women’s rights movements. Radical for her time, she argued that all humans have the faculties of rational thought and reason. She also argued that women must be allowed to be educated and to contribute equally to society, stating in A Vindication, “my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue.”
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was the author of an 1843 monograph on Charles Babbage’s design for the first analytical engine (general-purpose computer). To her translation of Menabrea’s report of a presentation made by Babbage in Turin she added her famous Notes, highlighting the potential and flexibility of an analytical engine compared to a calculator. These Notes included an algorithm for computing Bernouilli numbers and presaged computer-generated music, a century before Alan Turing proved that such achievements required properties now intrinsic to computers, which Babbage’s design possessed. Ada Lovelace’s unique contribution was to publish the first recognition of the capacity of a computer to make logical deductions about both numerical and non-numerical objects.
Augusta Gregory (1852 -1932)
Lady Gregory became one of the most significant intellectual and creative powerhouses of the Irish Literary Revival. Her work as a writer, dramatist, theatre-founder, champion of the Irish language, translator, folklorist, and social commentator helped define and give voice to the tenets of cultural nationalism in the years leading up to, and after, the establishment of the Irish Free State. Today, scholars look to Augusta Gregory’s ground-breaking work for its artistry, for insights into the country’s complex revolutionary period and to explore the role of language and literature in defining Irish identity as distinct, self-determining, and heroic, both nationally and internationally.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
Rosalind Franklin’s scientific discoveries have benefited humanity in several ways. As a fundamental experimentalist, excelling in X-ray crystallography, and despite a career cut short by premature death at the age of 37, she made two seminal contributions: her impeccable analysis generated key measurements for one of the most transformative advances of the 20th century, uncovering the structure of DNA. Her later work had an equally pivotal impact on revealing the structure of RNA viruses, including early work on the Polio virus. Discoveries in both areas contributed to the awarding of Nobel prizes after her death, though not to her (they cannot be awarded posthumously). While her name is often connected with missing out on a Nobel prize, her legacy is of much greater significance.