All female reboot of Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’ fresco

Posted on: 06 April 2024

An art project depicting a full-scale re-enactment of Raphael’s famous School of Athens fresco with an all-women cast has been devised by the art collective Na Cailleacha and staged in collaboration with Trinity’s History of Art and Architecture Department in the Museum Building. 

Entitled the School of Hibernia, the image features women from a variety of ages profiles and backgrounds, all leaders in their fields, who have contributed to human knowledge. The re-creation of an icon of Renaissance art aims to challenge patriarchal attitudes to knowledge and education as well as the art history canon. The image was published on Sat, April 6th by Na Cailleacha on its website

Na Cailleacha. School of Hibernia. 2024.

Dating from 16th century, the School of Athens, located in the Vatican, depicts a congregation of 50 classical philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists. All men.

The participants in the School of Hibernia were selected by Na Cailleacha and include first female Irish president, Mary Robinson; first female president of the RIA, Mary E Daly; and first female Provost of Trinity, Linda Doyle; writer Melatu Uche Okorie; poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin; and thought leaders Sinéad Burke, Saoirse Exton and Sindy Joyce.

Art history and drama students from Trinity assisted in the staging and production.

Curator of Na Cailleacha Catherine Marshall explained:

“We talk about the visibility of women a lot in the visual arts and are rightly critical of the art historical canon. Raphael’s School of Athens fresco is a powerful illustration of how pervasive patriarchy is in all aspects of life. We decided to bring living women together to celebrate all the ways in which they have challenged history. We wanted it to be fun as well as provocative. To our delight, Trinity offered a location with ready made history and architecture and these great women did the rest.”

The tableau was staged on the day after International Women’s Day, on March 9th and was followed by round-table discussions on the meaning of “the academy” in the 21st century. These were recorded and archived for use at a later time.

Rachel Moss from Trinity’s Department of History of Art and Architecture added:

“We were delighted to collaborate with Na Cailleacha in the staging of this subversive art project. It has been an amazing opportunity for our students to be involved in a project that celebrates living female thought leaders, when historically so much of art has focused on male subjects. It is wonderful for our drama and art history students to be making history rather than simply studying it.”

The staging of the School of Hibernia is the subject of a documentary by director Therry Rudin and the image will be made available by the group for art exhibition and other installations.

Participants: Mary Robinson, first woman President of Ireland, first woman Chancellor, Trinity College Dublin; Linda Doyle, first woman Provost, Trinity; Na Cailleacha art collective; Rita Fagan, Community Housing Activist; Susan McKay, Press Ombudsman and writer; Mary E. Daly, first woman President, Royal Irish Academy; Sindy Joyce, Lecturer in Traveller Culture, University of Limerick; Emily Logan, first Children’s Ombudsman, Commissioner Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; Ailbhe Smyth, feminist, LGBTQ activist, former academic; Orla Hardiman, Professor of Neurology, Trinity and Consultant Neurologist; Jennifer Okeke, Anti-trafficking Co-ordinator, member of the European Network of Migrant Women; Nora Stapleton, Sport Ireland, former Rugby international and Donegal footballer; Sarah McCormack, Professor in Sustainable Energy, Trinity; Frances Ruane, economist, academic, former director Economic and Social Research Institute; Philippa Ryder, LGBTQ+ activist, feminist, chair of the board of Dublin Pride; Aoife Gowen, Professor, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering; Emma Teeling, Full Professor of Zoology, UCD; Hannah Quinn Mulligan, farmer and journalist; Melatu Uche Okorie, writer, member of the Arts Council of Ireland; Caroline Campbell, first woman director of the National Gallery of Ireland; Catherine Rose, founding CEO, Age & Opportunity, founder Arlen House; Cindy Cummings, first woman choreographer in Aosdána; Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, poet, Fellow Emerita, Trinity; Gráinne Humphreys, Executive Director, Dublin International Film Festival; Gráinne Mulvey, composer, professor, Head of Composition, Conservatoire TUD; Sinéad Burke, Founder & CEO at Tilting the Lens; Amel Yacef, community activist; Rachel Moss, Associate Professor, History Of Art, Trinity; Saoirse Exton, climate justice activist, Youth Advisor to the UN Secretary General; Clara Fischer, Vice-Chancellor Illuminate Fellow, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen's University Belfast; Aoife McLysaght, Chair of Evolutionary Genetics, Trinity; Maria McNamara, Professor of Palaeontology, UCC; Caitriona Lally, Professor, Biomedical Engineering, School of Engineering, Trinity.

Helen Comerford, founding member of Na Cailleacha and creator of the two soft sculpture goddesses in the background of the School of Hibernia, died very suddenly on Sunday, 24th March 2024. 

More about the School of Hibernia

The spectacle was devised by art collective Na Cailleachain collaboration with Trinity’s History of Art and Architecture Department. Theatre director Medb Lambert and choreographer Cindy Cummings, along with Aoife Lyons provided expert assistance on the staging of the tableau and the presentation  was captured by photographer Ros Kavanagh. The image will be reproduced in a limited-edition print.  

More about Na Cailleacha  

Cailleach is an Irish word meaning witch, divine hag or wise woman. Na Cailleacha is a collective of women artists based in Ireland focused on exploring attitudes to ageing. Comprising five visual artists,  one documentary film-maker, one musician and an art writer/curator the group have held numerous exhibitions in Ireland since its inception in 2020.  


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