John Hogan (1800-1858) was one of Ireland’s greatest sculptors. His work falls into two main subject categories, the religious and the political. Both these areas were central to the culture of the new nation-building Catholic middle class which emerged in early nineteenth century Ireland. Hogan belonged to this class, which can be described as an emergent bourgeoisie. It was a predominantly Catholic social phenomenon; innovating, anglophone, modernising and consciously removed from the cultural and political forms of the Gaelic tradition. It sought to bring about a successful and industrialised modern Irish nation, a new Ireland which would overcome the disastrous pattern of failure, division and chaos embedded in the prevailing order. There is no sense in which this class can be described as conservative.
Ultimately, its innovative political practices, including the unprecedented phenomenon of mass non-violent political mobilisation, derived from an acceptance of Irish military defeat in the late seventeenth century as final and definitive, and from a substantial engagement with certain new ideas and values associated with the European Enlightenment, ideas which offered concepts and principles particularly suited to the struggle against an exclusive hegemony. From its initial assertion, it was clear that both political engagement and cohesion across the social classes would be highly valued by this dynamic Catholic middle class. It was also clear that a non-exclusive Gallican Catholicism, one subordinate to the political agenda, would be prominent in the new order. John Hogan was attuned to these priorities and they are reflected in his work.
When we think of the bourgeoisie in European history we think of individuals achieving success as a result of their own efforts, as opposed to being beneficiaries of inherited privilege. We do not think of such people as self-consciously political in class terms. If they benefited their class or the wider community, it was largely as an indirect consequence of pursuing their personal interests. This, at any rate, is what the classic account tells us. In particular historical circumstances things tended to be less tidy. Certainly, in Ireland the O’Connellite bourgeoisie departed from the classic description in a number of respects. To give one example, in Ireland the Catholic bourgeoisie contained strong farmers as well as merchants, manufacturers, businessmen and professionals. But like the classic European bourgeois, individuals within the O’Connellite bourgeoisie were self-reliant, garnering or holding their wealth largely through their own efforts. Somewhat differently however, not only were they unsupported and unvalued by the state but their common and shared experience was of contending with hostile agents of the state in which they lived.
It is significant that as they emerged, this bourgeoisie overcame rival contenders for political leadership of the Catholic population. By the early 1820s the Irish Catholic aristocracy had been cast aside as a potential leadership. Similarly, with liberal and Whig Protestantism: by the time of his death in 1820 Henry Grattan was a spent force in Irish politics, as were Catholic aristocrats such as Lord Fingal. Significantly also, the outcome of the veto controversy saw the Catholic church recognise that it would not be permitted to negotiate independently with Westminster on religious-cum-political matters and that leadership in this area would be secular.
Challenges continued throughout the period of Catholic bourgeois leadership. The liberal Protestant challenge never quite disappeared and was represented by such figures as Lord Cloncurry and George Petrie in the 1830s and 1840s. However, their efforts in politics and culture never constituted a serious challenge. Conservative Ireland responded with a more substantial threat in the form of a national campaign of proselytism, directed primarily at the peasantry. The “second reformation” movement was formidable in terms of the energy and resources committed to it. Nevertheless, it failed to win the poor for biblical Christianity, a failure widely recognised as final by the conservative intelligentsia with the passage of Catholic emancipation.
The O’Connellite self-made men and their families, conscious of their own worth and achievements, were standing on their own feet. But because of their shared experience of exclusion, they were not a classic atomised bourgeoisie. The hostile political establishment had the effect of engendering a strong sense of community, as did the experience of national degradation, expropriation, penal statutes and religious prejudice. Moreover, due to the shared historical experience of political and cultural defeat across Irish society, this class, unusually for a bourgeoisie, enjoyed a strong organic relationship with the peasantry and poorer classes in general. Thus, the O’Connellite leadership was accepted as a national leadership.
Here then was a numerically small bourgeoisie, which in terms of wealth was much poorer than its leading European counterparts but which, as a result of particularly Irish circumstances, was nationally prominent to a degree simply not possible in other European countries. European observers looked on the O’Connellite achievement of mass political mobilisation and leadership in admiration and sometimes amazement. Among their other achievements the O’Connellites demonstrated that the reactionary and the Catholic were not necessarily twinned, a concept which, despite its historical validity, and not only in early nineteenth century Ireland but also in eighteenth century Europe, is still problematic in European thinking.
This Irish national bourgeoisie had its poets, novelists and artists. John Hogan was its premier sculptor. Much of his greatest work is to be found in Dublin. Iveagh House on St Stephen’s Green, City Hall, The National Gallery and Trinity College are some of the institutions where it can be seen. Hogan’s Transfiguration and the celebrated Jeannette Farrell memorial are located in St Andrew’s Church on Westland Row, which is the church where Hogan’s funeral Mass was held and from where his body was removed for interment within the O’Connell circle in Glasnevin. St Andrew’s was the first church to be built on a main street of the city after Emancipation. It was originally on Hawkins Street in stable buildings which collapsed during a storm in 1750. It then moved to a “hastily erected” premises on Townsend Street. When it came to building a new church, some parishioners felt it should remain on Townsend Street. Bishop Daniel Murray and Daniel O’Connell felt otherwise. O’Connell who was chairman of the building committee persuaded the parishioners in a speech which concluded: “Too long have we Catholics been slaves and cowards; let us come forth into the light … we are no longer felons … leave Townsend Street … let us build our church in Westland Row”. It is hardly surprising that there is a bust of O’Connell in St Andrew’s, possibly also the work of John Hogan.
The Dead Christ, which was regarded by many, including the outstanding Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, as Hogan’s masterpiece, is displayed under the main altar in the church of the Carmelite Friary on Clarendon Street. It is a sublime work comprising a sensitive naturalistic rendering of an idealised male body, reclining in death and with the marks of the crucifixion barely visible. It is almost as if the recently dead Christ is resting or sleeping. The body is neither flat nor stiff and the limbs are fluid, suggestive of the resurrection to follow. It is in the Neoclassical style and was probably influenced by Christian Daniel Rauch’s remarkable Tomb of Queen Louise of Prussia (1814). To this viewer it is reminiscent also of some of Michelangelo’s early work; masterpieces such as David, Bacchus and Slaves come to mind. Indeed, The Dead Christ is frequently compared to Michelangelo’s famous Pietà in Saint Peter’s in Rome, the city where Hogan lived and worked.
It is interesting that Hogan did not regard Michelangelo highly as a sculptor, believing that he copied from nature including nature’s flaws. Hogan’s Neoclassical thinking was influenced by the Enlightenment belief that man using his reason could improve on nature: “Those sculptors who are not guided by the rigid rules of Greek art copy nature and all her imperfections,” he said. Thus, unlike Michelangelo’s Pietà, Hogan’s Dead Christ does not have anything of the inanimate shrunken character of the cadaver. Hogan was concerned to celebrate the beauty of the human form even in death. The figure is around eight feet but the effect on the viewer looking from a short distance is not of an oversized figure but rather of a well-proportioned and beautiful young man. It is very different from the Christ of the earlier Pietà.
As recommended in the writings of Johann Winckelmann, the scholar, art theorist and librarian to the connoisseur Cardinal Passionei, strict Neoclassical sculptors turned primarily to the antique classical world, as opposed to nature, for inspiration. It may be that the pre-eminent and strictly Neoclassical sculptor Thorvaldsen praised Hogan’s Dead Christ partly because it exhibited the qualities of pure Neoclassicism without any contemporary or other dilution. The piece conveys beauty, balance, harmony and restraint, core Neoclassical values; the naked and idealised body, which with its minimal antique drape, is very much in keeping with Winckelmann’s aesthetic, suggests a silent and moving nobility.
City Hall houses some of Hogan’s most impressive political work, in particular the strikingly powerful statue of a successful and assertive Daniel O’Connell, the political giant of Hogan’s time. Hogan was delighted to undertake this commission from The Repeal Association and said “For my idol; our illustrious liberator … I intend to have the marble of his colossal statue immaculate to resemble more closely his own pure and noble heart.” There are other political statues in City Hall, a memorial to Under Secretary Thomas Drummond, who was popular and appreciated owing to his fair-minded governance, reflected in his declaration to landowners that property had its duties as well as rights. Again, in City Hall there is a memorial statue to the admired national visionary Thomas Davis, who crossed from the ranks of liberal Protestantism to join the Repeal Association and support the ideal of national legislative autonomy in language and ideas of a decidedly Romantic character.
In the church of St Nicholas of Myra on Francis St there is a wonderful and much-praised Pietà in plaster showing the dead Christ supported by the virgin. This, with the magnificent angels below, is an outstanding work. There are other important Hogan sculptures around the city and elsewhere in the country, especially in Carlow and Cork.
During the three decades from 1820 to 1850, a time which encompassed John Hogan’s most productive period as an artist, he was largely based in Rome. Despite living and having his studio in Rome, Hogan, without question, and especially in terms of his subject matter and patrons, who were predominantly comprised of the Irish bourgeoisie and Catholic church, was an Irish artist.
The Neoclassical became the dominant international form following the gradual decline of the Baroque. It involved an aesthetic which informed many of the public and private buildings constructed in Dublin in the century from 1750, such as the Parliament House on College Green and the Royal Exchange at the head of Parliament Street. The style also informed many of the city’s wonderful post-emancipation Catholic churches, such as Westland Row, Francis Street, Gardiner Street and the pro-cathedral on Marlborough Street. Central elements of the Neoclassical aesthetic, those which celebrated order, balance, decorum and restraint, were also embraced in the Augustan style of the city’s many Georgian squares and streets.
For Neoclassical sculpture, Rome, with its artistic traditions and benefactors, its numerous Renaissance, classical Greek and Roman treasures and, not least, its proximity to good marble, was unquestionably the best place to be based for a serious artist. The city attracted many foreign sculptors working in the classical style and Hogan was among the best.
John Turpin, the leading Hogan scholar, says: “Neoclassical sculpture was the great international style in 1800, the year of Hogan’s birth. This style was cool, detached and rationalistic, reflecting the spirit of Deism and the enlightenment.” The nineteenth century was, Turpin tells us, “a low ebb” for religious art. Antonio Canova, the greatest Neoclassical sculptor of the period, preferred the universalism of classical pre-Christian subject,s as did Hogan’s mentor the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen. Turpin comments “Such religious statues as Thorvaldsen made are dry and uninspired.” This appears a widespread view. Thorvaldsen’s monument to Pope Pius VII is generally regarded as unsatisfactory.
Despite the great power of Neoclassical sculpture, it had definite limitations owing to its tendency to negate the contemporary in favour of a classical ideal. Ultimately, the unprecedented social, political and economic changes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could not be adequately celebrated in sculpture solely within a universalist classical idiom. This difficulty applied not only to contemporary political works but also to the treatment of Christian subjects.
Antonio Canova was the artistic giant of his era and dominated just as Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini had in earlier times. Canova avoided the religious and the political but was regarded as successful when he did work with such subjects. As one commentator saw it, “without the originality and sensitivity of Canova” it was difficult to reconcile the Christian with the needs of the Neoclassical. The same could be said of Hogan’s religious work.
The central difficulty was that the visual grammar or iconography of a polytheistic antique period was aesthetically at odds with a living Christianity, which could not be represented as a mythology but, of necessity, had to be engaged with as actually and intrinsically sacred. It is hardly surprising that most of the great Neoclassical sculptors avoided religious subjects. Indeed, the Neoclassical movement in art can be read as part of a move away from religion under the influence of Enlightenment thinking. This distancing from religion, however, was not an option available to an Irish Catholic bourgeois of the early nineteenth century such as John Hogan and in many respects his work offered impressive solutions to the dilemma of uniting the classical with the Christian. The Dead Christ for example featured a naked Redeemer which in Hogan’s sensitive hands comprised a unity of the Christian and Neoclassical codes.
The political was another difficult area with which the Neoclassical had to engage. Patrons existed in the political present, and the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was a time particularly consciousness of its historical importance. Treating political subjects in a Neoclassical idiom posed problems; it was a question of how to represent the particularity of the historical moment through the universal iconography of the Neoclassical. Ultimately, it was not possible. When Canova produced his statue of Napoleon he presented the French leader in pure Neoclassical style as Mars the Peacemaker. He was influenced by the iconography of the rediscovered statue of Augustus, the Roman leader who initiated the Pax Romana and who, much admired in imperial Britain, gave his name to the Augustan era. Canova’s Napoleon was a nude figure in classical pose and over three metres in height with a leaf covering his genitalia. When Napoleon saw it he was taken aback and rejected it, saying it was “too athletic” and refused to allow the public to view it. He later came around but was never enthusiastic. It is now in the stairwell of Robert Adam’s house in London. It is a remarkable work but it failed in almost every respect to realise the political purpose of its patron who, in this case, was the subject of the work.
The experience was in some respects similar in the case of Canova’s statue of George Washington. It has been argued convincingly that the classical rendering of Washington was endorsed by the politicians of North Carolina as a buttressing of pro-slavery ideology. But, if this is true, many in America at the time disliked the classical representation of Washington in Roman dress, preferring to see their hero in contemporary garb. Only a copy of the work remains and it continues to unimpress Americans who travel considerable distances to honour their most important founding father only to view a semi-naked figure in a skirt and sandals whose face does not correspond with their idea of what Washington looked like. In other words, the piece, though artistically brilliant, disappoints politically.
Hogan was to offer innovative and imaginative solutions to the representation of contemporary political figures. He achieved this through a modification of the Neoclassical spirit, one which involved an overlaying of the universal with the particular. As in politics, literature, philosophy and the arts, movement from the universal towards the local was a movement towards the Romantic. In Hogan’s greatest political works there is, in addition to the Neoclassical spirit, a romantic tone. The difficult synthesis Hogan achieved would undoubtedly have failed in less skilful hands.
Considering Hogan’s subject matter, a question arises as to whether there might have been a less fraught aesthetic than the Neoclassical which he might have adopted. The major European style preceding the Neoclassical was the Baroque, a style which featured religious and political subjects in great abundance. It might be asked why did Hogan not work in that style. There are many reasons which might be suggested; not least is that by his time high Baroque was decidedly passé. Nevertheless, late Baroque was still a possibility and in South America the aesthetic survived well into the nineteenth century. It seems also that very early in his career Hogan showed interest in the late Baroque. Perhaps in theory, the style might have been chosen by Hogan. But if this is so, Irish bourgeois politics definitively precluded the possibility.
O’Connellite Ireland was Gallican and promoted a national church as part of the political order. High Baroque, on the other hand was the favoured style of the Catholic counter-reformation. The Ultramontane Jesuits, until their suppression in 1773, were enthusiastic; in the view of a recent commentator, the Jesuits and the Baroque in both art and architecture were almost synonymous. In its religious form it could be said that the Baroque was anti-Protestant art. It was also opposed to the autonomy of national churches and to what Dale K Van Kley in a recent work terms “Reform Catholicism”, known also, though less precisely, as Enlightenment Catholicism. The Catholicism of the Baroque was assertive and exclusive, involving an uninhibited celebration of the authority of the church and its hierarchy, which were typically presented in an uninterrupted and spectacular continuum leading through the hierarchy and Rome to the heavenly hereafter and the divine.
Baroque artists did not focus on the plain narrative of the New Testament, preferring instead an Ultramontanist idyll comprising extravagant and dramatic representations of bishops, saints, the church and the heavenly kingdom. In style and substance, it celebrated much of what the Reformation rejected. The suppression of the Jesuits, which followed from a long-gestating and complex confluence of political forces, marked the end of Baroque dominance. It also marked the emergence into a new prominence of anti-Jesuit “Reform Catholicism”, a force which saw itself as restoring to national churches ancient rights which had been appropriated by Rome under Jesuit influence.
Van Kley describes Reform Catholicism as being opposed to superstitious forms of piety “such as rosaries, the incantation of novenas, the veneration of relics and apocryphal saints”. “In lieu of these devotional practices, the reformers sought to nourish lay piety with such meatier stuff as catechisms, instructional sermons, the reading of Holy Writ in the vernacular.”
The non-peasant Catholicism of early nineteenth century Ireland was in the Reform tradition. Indeed, many Irish Catholic prelates of the early nineteenth century, such as James Doyle, had been educated in continental seminaries in Portugal and elsewhere, which, following the fall of the Jesuits, were heavily influenced by Reform Catholicism. Doyle was an Augustinian and it was Augustinianism which provided the theological and spiritual underlay to Reform Catholicism. This was the religious culture that Hogan experienced and it is hardly surprising that it was the plain and unadorned events of the New Testament that interested and inspired him.
Reform Catholicism chimed with the Neoclassical aesthetic, leaning, as it did, in a simple rationalist direction and representing a theology compatible with much of the Enlightenment thrust. In his religious works Hogan incorporated this mood and did not celebrate the temporal power and wealth of bishops, nor did he feature any of the numerous saints from the Irish or European medieval world. Instead, his religious work drew on Reform-inflected post-reformation, Enlightenment Catholicism. It was a religious form which was ideally suited to bourgeois needs. No bourgeoisie wants a dominant church. Rather it wants a supportive national church which confines itself to religious matters and care of the poor, and in its institutional form endorses the values and politics of its national bourgeoisie.
The Reform character of early nineteenth century elite Irish Catholicism is reflected in the Jeannette Farrell memorial, which is Hogan’s only work depicting contemporary religious practice. In it we have a celebration not of devotion but of religious instruction. The instruction is being given, not by a priest but by a pious young woman. In what might be described as a Catholic Sunday School setting, a young woman sits holding an open book and is instructing an attentive child in religion under the protection of an angel behind. The book, appropriately, is not the Old Testament, which was associated with proselytism, but rather a New Testament gospel or perhaps a catechism; it is a scene of Enlightenment Catholicism at one with the values of O’Connellite Ireland. The work is a masterpiece, wonderfully balanced in the pure Neoclassical style with the main figure, Jeannette Farrell, exuding repose and dignity as she instructs the attentive child.
The politics which the Baroque celebrated were the politics of the ancien régime, the wealth and splendour of the imperial, the aristocratic and the regal. It offered a vision of crown and altar in unassailable social and political power. It denied the Enlightenment values of rationality, universality, subjectivity and equality. The Baroque aesthetic was deeply at odds with the modernising democratic politics of the O’Connellite bourgeoisie. Hogan therefore, as an artist of that class, could never have chosen the Baroque. Both in its religious and political manifestations, the Baroque aesthetic was dogmatic, unyielding and exclusive, quite the opposite of the values celebrated by Hogan. The O’Connellite bourgeoisie was Catholic but it sought peace with Protestant Ireland. Counter-Reformationist ideas played no part in its ideology. Politically, it wanted to incorporate as much of Protestant Ireland in the new nation as possible. There was no O’Connellite proselytism.
The struggle over emancipation in Ireland in the 1820s was a struggle between an established elite and its challengers. The contest took the form of property-owning proponents of emancipation, with the assistance of the Catholic church and backed by a mass organisation ‑ The Catholic Association ‑ appealing, through a demonstration of numerical strength, to the centre of power in Westminster for inclusion in the body politic over the heads of local power-holders, most of whom furiously opposed the concession. At its core the conflict had virtually nothing to do with religion, notwithstanding the fact that the opponents of emancipation campaigned almost entirely on the grounds of the fundamental religious error and political danger inherent in what they called “popery”, a view which involved a misreading of prevailing Catholicism. As O’Connell remarked of himself, following what was a relatively untroubled journey from Deism, “I am sincerely a Catholic but I am not a papist.”
In the end Westminster was not convinced by the inherent-evil-of-popery argument and found it could live with the idea of Irish Catholic property-holders becoming a small element within the governing classes, particularly if this would prevent massive civil unrest. Hogan responded to emancipation with joy, writing: “It was a joy to my soul to hear of my being free from the orange yoke.” In 1829 he returned to Ireland and displayed several pieces, including The Dead Christ, at the Royal Irish Institution on College Street.
Hogan’s bourgeois politics and national church values are central to one of his greatest works, the 1839 statue of James Warren Doyle (JKL), Catholic bishop of Kildare and Leighlin (1786 -1834). Martin Haverty, Rome correspondent of The Freeman’s Journal, quoted from a critique which appeared in Palade, a Roman art journal. According to this review, which Turpin believes probably carried Hogan’s own viewpoint, Erin is “one patiently supporting the burden of the unjust and oppressive laws which have been placed upon her […] the Bishop is in a position of expressive tenderness and emotion […] with his face towards heaven, [he] stands by the drooping figure of his country as it were to raise her from the anguish and darkness in which for so many ages she has groaned.” George Petrie wrote along similar lines: saying that it was “beyond question the finest production of art in monumental sculpture that Irish genius has hitherto achieved”.
Turpin tells us that the statue brought Hogan national acclaim and was a turning point in his career. It has also been claimed that its successful combination of art and politics caused a sensation in Rome and Dublin. Certainly, Hogan was doing something quite new and innovative in Neoclassical sculpture just as O’Connell was doing something quite new in politics.
Doyle, widely known as JKL, which is how he signed his political writings, was a remarkable figure and a source of great pride for the politicised Catholic middle classes. The signature letters, which stood for James of Kidare and Leighlin, were a significant political statement in themselves in that they suggested territorial authority at a time when it was forbidden for a Catholic prelate to make such a claim.
Doyle’s arguments in favour of emancipation were grounded in the rationality of eighteenth century Enlightenment thought and Reform Catholicism. He offered an authoritative view of Catholicism that was inclusive, non-threatening, tolerant and compatible with Westminster’s broader political interests. Doyle was an Augustinian, with a prose style which could be described as Augustan. In his public interventions, including to formal Westminster enquiries, he explained, from the standpoint of a national church, with calm intelligence and clarity that Protestant fears regarding Emancipation were without foundation, in particular the fear that Catholics could not be trusted in civic life since they owed ultimate fidelity to Rome. He was respected by many of those who opposed emancipation, is credited with changing minds in Westminster and frequently left Irish opponents of emancipation floundering.
Doyle was a Reform Catholic, distinctly not an Ultramontanist Catholic. Indeed, at one point in the 1820s, much to the consternation of Protestant conservatives, he argued that the Anglican and Catholic churches should merge as the difference between them was not great.
Doyle’s calm and measured prose style, and the dignified tone of the Neoclassical churches that appeared in Dublin around and after Emancipation was possible within the formidable institutional structure of Catholicism. But if Doyle was admired by establishment figures, it was a different story for O’Connell. In the midst of endless political struggles, many of which were extremely vicious, he could not adopt the Augustan style of occasional intervention. O’Connell’s style was necessarily one of attack, confrontation, defence and assertion. For this he was denounced as a demagogue and found aesthetically repulsive by ascendancy property-owning classes in Ireland, by establishment cultural and political figures in Britain and by certain aristocracy-led pro-emancipation English Catholic figures.
There was, as both sides in Ireland were well aware, a latent nationalist element to the struggle for Catholic Emancipation. Doyle was not a nationally-minded integrationist in the manner of Irish Whigs such as Lady Morgan and Lord Cloncurry. Like most O’Connellites he was ultimately a nationalist. Thomas McGrath, the leading Doyle scholar, tells us:
In a letter to his brother in 1827, Doyle wrote: ‘if I be not destined to witness the liberation of my country from British bondage, I hope to prepare the way for that event. A scientific education, such as I have begun to look to for the bulk of the population will, if propagated, produce a revolution of some sort in the course of time …’
Bishop Doyle then was a Reform Catholic bishop, a man of the Enlightenment and a nationalist.
In Hogan’s statue, commissioned in 1837 and completed ten years after emancipation, Doyle stands alongside an allegorical Erin in dejection. Here we have the undisguised linking of the aspirations for religious emancipation and national fulfilment. Viewers in 1839 would have been under no misapprehension as to its import: the first is achieved and the second is outstanding.
The Erin figure was almost entirely compatible with the Neoclassical style and, in terms of iconography could be treated as a mythological entity in classical robes. The same process could not be followed with the representation of Doyle, who could not be portrayed in classical style. The cool repose of the Neoclassical could not serve the pain and drama of the Irish political struggle. We see the bishop in an attitude of tender and empathetic feeling. Doyle’s face is not drawn from classical models but rather from nature, presenting a countenance of particular individuality, warmth and intelligence. Classical demeanour was suggestive of cultural, social and political order. That is, perhaps, why the classical in general has been so approved in British imperial culture. It could not serve the needs of dissident Ireland. Ultimately, nationalism required a Romantic vision.
Nationalist painting had taken on a decidedly Romantic tone by this time, with the much reproduced 1836 Joseph Haverty painting of O’Connell, accompanied by a wolfhound, in wild mountains above Derrynane being representative. It is interesting and also significant that the day-to-day material expressions of O’Connellism tended in a dramatic Gothic and Romantic direction. O’Connellites created triumphal arches decked in foliage, outsize monster carriages to carry O’Connell, medieval pageantry, drama, parades, large-scale celebratory dinners and monster meetings. A medal struck in 1842 by the Repeal board of trade which was concerned to promote Irish manufacture features a mythological Erin, modelled on O’Connell’s daughter, which departs considerably from the mood of Neoclassical repose. Erin is depicted as receiving goods from Irish manufacturers while her wolfhound barks at foreign manufacturers.
Hogan, as an O’Connellite himself, was happy to join in, most of the time, and at the monster meeting at Mullaghast, he was chosen to place a green cap of liberty embroidered with golden shamrocks on the Liberator’s head to the great approval of the crowd. O’Connell, it has been reported, became hugely attached to his “repeal cap” and it is said that thereafter he rarely removed it in public or private. There is a stone relief of O’Connell wearing the cap to the side of the entrance to St James’s church on James Street.
Returning to the statue of Doyle, it is again indicative of Hogan’s representative politics that Doyle is not presented as a figure of authority. Unlike countless bishops of the Baroque, he does not wear a mitre, nor does he hold a crozier. He is represented as a friend of Ireland, an Irishman experiencing Ireland’s pain, not as a figure of authority over his countrymen. It is telling also that his hand barely touches Erin’s shoulder, there is nothing proprietorial or hierarchical about the relationship, which is entirely one of joined sympathy. There is no suggestion of clerical national leadership or that the church has the means to raise Erin. He is not exhorting Ireland to rise, he is wishing Erin could shed her burden of injustice and rise.
There is a similar suggestion of care and tenderness in Hogan’s 1855 statue of an allegorical Hibernia with the young Brian Boroimhe, a figure who, like Erin, could be treated in a mythological idiom. The tenderness in this case emanates from the calm and loving Hibernia, whose light touch echoes that of Doyle toward Erin nearly a millennium later in historical time. Significantly, this is the only Hogan statue which features a weapon. The child Brian holds a sword signalling his successful martial future. It was politically acceptable within the politics of non violent O’Connellism to show Brian with a sword and to suggest the Clontarf victory ahead because the eleventh century enemy was not England but the Danes. It was also an acceptable way to draw attention in an oblique way to another possibility for contemporary Ireland. This was a sub-theme which often found muted expression through the O’Connell years.
For political reasons, O’Connellite Ireland steered clear of the late medieval and early modern military exchanges between the two islands, exchanges which ended in the comprehensive defeat of the Irish. The two main reasons were first that the O’Connellites wanted to incorporate Protestant Ireland in the new nation. Depicting Protestant forebears as the bloodied enemies of the Irish would not help in this desire. Secondly, any emphasis on the wars between the Irish and the Crown would have invited the conclusion that O’Connell was simply carrying on the old war by different means and that he should be opposed as resolutely as the Irish were opposed in earlier times. It was not a lapse of memory but rather broader political considerations which lay behind this huge silence.
But the O’Connellite silence in this area was not merely tactical; in effect it proclaimed that past-colonial violence would be forgotten if Protestant Ireland would now simply put its shoulder to the national wheel. This political ideal also found expression in Hogan’s work, particularly in his non-martial iconography and symbolic endorsement of reconciliation.
The allegorical figure of Erin features also in Hogan’s fine Neoclassical bust of Lord Cloncurry and here there would appear to be a difference. Hibernia is seated above Cloncurry and looks down on him with concern and, I would suggest, affectionate authority. Cloncurry was a nationally-minded Whig and a champion, friend and patron of Hogan as an artist. Hogan, it seems certain, named his son John Valentine after Cloncurry, whose birth name was Valentine Lawless. Cloncurry was Hogan’s only consistent aristocratic patron and there can be no doubt of Hogan’s positive disposition and friendship. But politically Cloncurry was not entirely at one with the O’Connellite movement. He eschewed the mass movement, preferring instead to see a solution to Ireland’s difficulties not in repeal but in the actions of an enlightened administration, which he tirelessly lobbied from the early 1830s. In Hogan’s treatment, we see a mild political critique. Cloncurry is a patriot but not one guiding an oppressed Hibernia, rather one requiring Hibernia’s guidance. Erin overshadows Cloncurry and has her arm firmly around his shoulder.
In the Doyle statue the Neoclassical is, of course, further compromised by the presentation of the bishop in episcopal robes. Doyle’s effectiveness in the campaign and in his crucial depositions to Westminster was owing to his being a Catholic bishop and therefore in a position to speak authoritatively on Catholic doctrine. It was necessary to show him as he was. Classical polytheist robes would have been absurd.
We see again, if indirectly, Hogan’s political outlook in his Trinity College memorial to Bishop Brinkley completed in 1845. Brinkley was an Anglican bishop unfriendly to Catholic claims. The commission clearly posed political and aesthetic questions for Hogan. As in the case of the Doyle statue there is no crozier or mitre to symbolise episcopal authority or rank, but in this case for different reasons. The Church of Ireland was generally hostile to the O’Connellite movement and Hogan would not have wished to imply it enjoyed any inherent authority. He dealt with the problem by turning in a much stricter Neoclassical direction than he had followed with the JKL statue. There are no clerical accoutrements whatsoever apart from an unemphasised clerical surplice and a remote reference on a heraldic shield. Brinkley, in addition to being a bishop, was a scientist. Like Doyle he was an advocate of scientific education, something of which Hogan could approve. Thus Brinkley is presented in academic gown with globe and book ‑ not the Bible ‑ in classical pose, representing the timeless virtue of scientific enquiry.
There is another feature of Hogan’s statue of Doyle which is worth noting and which reflects and endorses both the nonviolent political strategy of the O’Connellite movement and the desire for a reconciliation of the sects in Ireland. Hogan modelled the harp, which the figure representing Ireland has at her side, on the medieval harp, sometimes called Brian Boro’s harp, in Trinity College. Hogan added some features, one of which is of particular interest; the main upright section is decorated with olive branches. These do not feature on the Trinity harp. They were added by Hogan and constitute a particular statement. The olive branches representing peace and reconciliation have no traditional Irish connection but they are an important and telling addition. They reflect the peaceful tactics and ultimate objective of national reconciliation and inclusivity of the O’Connellite movement. When O’Connell emerged from prison in 1844, he carried aloft an olive branch. The hall on Burgh Quay adjacent to the Corn Exchange where numerous repeal meetings were held was called Conciliation Hall. The O’Connellite strategy was to emphasise national identity as superseding religious affiliation and to prevail on Protestant Ireland to join them in a new national movement. Hogan’s harp reflected these priorities.
Hogan’s statue of O’Connell in City Hall is perhaps the single most forceful and emotional expression of the ambition and aspirations of the nationalist bourgeoisie of this time. It too features olive branches, this time entwining the document holder at O’Connell’s feet. Significantly, there is no allegorical figure of Erin to O’Connell’s side. O’Connell has become Erin as suggested by a symbolic harp featured in relief on The Liberator’s document holder.
Hogan said that he wished the statue to express “all the power and grandeur of concentrated Ireland”, a figure “no more of weeping and weakness but of pride and command”. For him, the O’Connell of the proposed statue was to be concentrated Ireland in her power and the grandeur. Given these objectives an element of idealisation was likely.
John Turpin, however, sees the statue as a failure, due to over-idealisation. “It fails in its description of the head of the seventy-year-old O’Connell … [is] in no sense a character portrait study … Had a more directly realistic approach been adopted, the power and charisma of this extraordinary man might have come through.”
But arguably O’Connell’s head is not over-idealised. It is known that Hogan went to great trouble to capture O’Connell’s essential physiognomy, a task he found difficult through direct study, as O’Connell had grown quite jowly in old age. The outcome, nevertheless, is successful in that the head carries a strong and unmistakable likeness to a younger O’Connell. Sarah Atkinson in an 1858 article on Hogan in The Irish Quarterly Review quotes a contemporary saying “It is the very image of the man.” It could be argued, then, that Hogan successfully balanced the ideal and the particular.
Some aspects of the work are outstandingly successful, such as the treatment of O’Connell’s garments, involving a suggestion of the contemporary with a classical overlay and limbs, clearly defined but not naked. Overall the body, including the raised arm, is successful in conveying the desired impression of power and command in a Neoclassical idiom. The question is whether the particularised and identifiable head of O’Connell somehow undercuts and compromises the Neoclassical tone of the piece. A Neoclassical head is typically characterised by confidence and composure. Hogan had no difficulty in presenting Drummond in such a way; he also did so in his bust of Father Matthew and in other works, just as Canova did with Napoleon and George Washington. Had Hogan presented O’Connell with such composed features he might have achieved a success greater than that of the JKL statue. Had he given O’Connell a look of decided composure, the effect in Hogan’s gifted hands might have been artistically remarkable.
But Hogan did not give to his idol an expression of classical confidence but a somewhat different look. There is a slight but decided crooked downturn to the mouth suggestive of determination, confrontation and belligerence, rather than of composure in victory. There is no sense of restraint or decorum. Speranza (Lady Wilde) in an 1850 article on Hogan in the Dublin University Magazine, highly approves the statue but describes O’Connell as being depicted in “his grandest passion mood. The arm boldly extended, as in defiance- the proud scorn seated on the massive brow.” This is an appearance which is not compatible with the Neoclassical style, which otherwise pervades the piece. Therein lies what could be argued to be the artistic flaw of the work.
When we look at what Hogan set out to do, to realise the power and grandeur of a concentrated Ireland no longer downtrodden but successful, it may be wondered why he chose not to give to O’Connell a more standard Neoclassical expression, one showing composure following triumph. The answer may lie with events in Ireland between the commissioning of the statue in 1843 its completion in 1845/6.
1843 was the Repeal Year, so designated by O’Connell as the year when victory would be achieved. Hogan was a politically, intellectually and emotionally invested supporter of the O’Connellite movement. He was not alone in this. Among the Catholic middle classes there were tens of thousands equally committed and among ordinary countrymen and women perhaps millions. Victory was expected and it could be said that there was an emotional need to finally depict the hero as successful.
The reality taking shape in Ireland, however, was somewhat different. Victory was not coming. Ireland was then on the cusp of twin disasters of transformative and far-reaching consequence, disasters which would cut the ground from under the O’Connellite bourgeoisie and, also, signal the death of peasant Ireland. The unprecedented period of Catholic exuberance and confidence in which Hogan thrived ended with these twin defeats, the defeat of the poor who had given their loyalty to O’Connell in the Famine and the defeat of the O’Connellite bourgeoisie in the collapse of the repeal movement.
Once these disastrous developments began to be apprehended, the artistic task of representing an Ireland in triumph and no longer on her knees was impossible. Hogan had set himself a task which events were to render impossible, one that presumed a victory which had not transpired.
Westminster had a hand in both disasters. In the case of the repeal movement, the collapse was brought about by it becoming unmistakably clear that the British parliament was willing to use military force to suppress what had become the world’s greatest moral force movement. When faced with a choice O’Connell decided he would not facilitate his people being cut to pieces by a professional military. With Westminster’s decision and with O’Connell’s humane and enlightened response, repeal was lost. In the case of the Famine, Westminster proved itself willing to allow the troublesome peasantry, who had underwritten the O’Connellite revolution, to perish. The political nature of this fate may be judged by its not befalling the victims of potato blight in other parts of Europe such as Poland, Portugal and Scotland.
As the truths of the Irish predicament slowly emerged, so also did the contradiction between Hogan’s initial objective and Irish political reality. The contradiction took material form in the O’Connell’s statue. Consciously or otherwise, Hogan smuggled into his great work a palpable sense and recognition of the political failure that was descending upon Ireland. His response to this truth was desperate and implausible: the struggle would have to continue; the aged O’Connell would have to lead on. Victorious composure could not yet take the place of confrontation and assertion. But, in reality, an era had ended. O’Connell was close to death and Ireland was defeated. In the view of the author of this essay, Hogan’s flawed statue of Daniel O’Connell remains the most moving and tragic of all Ireland’s political sculpture.
This essay is based on a talk delivered in Books Upstairs, D’Olier Street in Dublin on Culture Night, September 21st, 2018. Maurice Earls is a bookseller and joint editor of the Dublin Review of Books.