As an addendum to that last post on the old Library and scrumptious Long Room of Trinity College: a quick respectful nod today, to these lovely sculptural Busts that line the Long Room. Oh, these photos are my own, so if you “borrow” them, no problem for non-commercial purposes but please provide a photo credit, and a link back to this blog. Thank you Now read on, and enjoy these distinguished old heads…
This collection, of great men, (not a woman in sight, alas) began in 1743. The sculptor Peter Scheemakers (1691-1781) was commissioned to carve the first 14 figures for the library. Most of his career, (and very long life!) were spent in London. Although you may not know his name, you’ll probably know at least one of his works. Because it was Scheemakers who sculpted the famous bust of William Shakespeare that sits in Poets’ Corner Westminster Abbey, and is endlessly reproduced.
What about the Trinity College busts? Well, presumably they had some sort of committee that drew up the names of the greats they wanted for their collection. For example, like Westminster Abbey, Trinity also wanted a Shakespeare, and they got one, and by the same artist.
Among the original 14 busts they also got a Francis Bacon; the Elizabethan statesman and philosopher obviously (not the Dublin-born Soho painter of the 20th century). Elizabethan Bacon is often credited as the Father of Empiricism, sometimes even Father of the Scientific Method. Other people have also suggested he was the real author of the works conventionally attributed to Shakespeare. (He is of course just one of several candidates for that accolade, the Earl of Oxford being another popular alternative) Perhaps the Trinity committee were hedging their bets on that particular issue with both Bacon and Shakespeare himself included in the gallery of greats. Although Bacon would have easily merited on his own, massive achievements.
Apart from these two literary Elizabethans, the collection tends otherwise to dominated by figures from, historically speaking, two major groups or eras. On one hand, by great figures from the distant Classical past. These include Homer (below) reputedly blind, a semi-mythical figure at least, the author of the Iliad and Odyssey. Other classical figures include Plato, Aristotle and Socrates.
Aristotle, (above) has an impressively, lofty, even haughty, demeanor. I wonder who modeled for Scheemakers?
These are all Greeks of course. But there is also the great Roman orator, statesman, and lawyer, Cicero.
Now, with respect to the artist, I have to say this is really not at all how we imagine Cicero. Not one bit. No, I picture him as a much more robust, more worldly character, well built and well-matched for the rough and tumble of Roman politics, in those extraordinary last years of the Roman Republic wheeling and dealing, and later facing up to Pompey, Caesar, then Mark Anthony, and then the still very young Octavian, as the civil wars loomed and came and as the shadow of empire fell, as he fought to preserve the constitutional institutions of the Roman Republic. I suppose I’m marked by reading too much Roman history (by the likes of Mary Beard, Adrian Goldsworthy and Tom Holland) and also historic fiction too (by the likes of the brilliant Robert Harris) Did you know by the way Cicero invented short hand? (QV, Ibid, etc, NB, and the rest of it) Or rather, it was invented for him, by his slave, literary and legal assistant, confidant and advisor, Tyro. In any case, this bust by Scheemaker looks nothing like Cicero. We have a good idea of how Cicero looked from this contemporary or near contemporary Roman bust in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.
Cicero : (Marcus Tullius Cicero) Bust from Capitoline museum, Rome, image Wikipedia Commons
above: Sheemaker’s “Cicero”
below: the actual Cicero
below: image commonly said to be of the actual Cato-
I’m reasonably confident therefore that William Sheermaker in fact based this sculpture bust of “Cicero” on images (probably engravings) not of Cicero, but of Cato. And at some later point it was, to be blunt, mislabeled. Very likely by some poor young studio assistant.
Anyway, I said the characters depicted by the artist, and chosen, one presumes by some committee at Trinity, fall essentially into two main groups. The first is the ancients, illustrated by these examples above. The second were more men of their own time, or at least from their own century and the preceding century, in other words from the 17C and 18th Century Enlightenment.
So here (below) we have Isaac Newton:
and Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry, (and an Irishman to boot).
Of course these two are undisputed giants. As such, they would make it into almost any list of “greatest ever..” type Pantheon. Maybe even in France. I’m going to check one day if Newton (at least) is or was actually in the Paris building of that name, (I know Voltaire was a big fan)
There are other high-profile Irishmen here too: Jonathan Swift, naturally, author of Gulliver’s Travels, often called the greatest satirist in the English language, as well as a champion of the poor, of Dublin, and “of liberty”. Well okay, it was Swift himself who rttermed himself “This Champion of Liberty” in fact. But in fairness, with his record nobody ever disagreed with his assessment, which is saying something.
So of course are the great statesman and orator Edmund Burke is here, and his contemporary, the dramatist Goldsmith.
and the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, who laid the foundations for what would, much later become quantum physics.
So far, so good. But now, perhaps, the committee started to stumble. For example, what, exactly, are we to make of Mr Thomas Combs? (below) Who exactly was he? And what did he do, to merit inclusion in this august hall of intellectual giants?
For some time I didn’t know that Thos Comes was in fact Thomas Comes 8th Earl of Pembroke. But that mystery is now solved. Many thanks to the handful of readers who took the trouble to enlighten me.
If you know, please write and tell us. So far, I have been unable to find any record, apart from a small note on a website, which in turn is dedicated to a historic graveyard in the city of Oxford. Is this even the same person? Experts on Thomas Combs. Your time has come! Dust off that old masters thesis, Step forward from the shadows. Enlighten us, and receive our praise and thanks. *** (SEE Note end of page)
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-Arran Henderson | Dublin Decoded.
NB: ** the Thos Comes mystery was solved. As readers can see in the comments section below the Sheermakers bust is of Thomas Comes 8th Earl of Pembroke, or Thomas Dominus Herbert Comes de Pembroke et Montgomery for short.