Gallery of The Immortals at Russborough House
Continuing a survey of the twin colonnade of statuary at Russborough House – The Gallery of The Immortals - from the January edition of The Bugle.
On the left side of the dual display at the Gallery of The Immortals, we already met with The Belvedere Antinous, Ceres, Hercules, Bacchus, Callipygian Venus and Saturn. We are now to meet The Goddess Diana, a Dancing Faun, Farnese Flora, the Muse of Comedy, and the gods Mercury and Apollino.
When you next visit Russborough, park your limousine by the front entrance gate, and as you amble along the 400m tree-lined avenue, you will in short distance be at one with the softness of the place, and in the comparative silence, begin to realise that it is as proper a way of introduction as though by choice you were about to meet a much admired lady of great beauty (should one be with you, stay some paces behind her!). On each side of the avenue, tall trees, hosts to impish Fauns, stand in salute, and from their leafy heads, birds frolic and sing.
During the 1930’s, the avenue, some say locally, was once adorned on either side by scantily attired or nude statues, representations of ancient Greek and Roman life, carved from marble by sculptors, exposing in dreamy wonderment the pleasant climate of 2000 years ago but with different gods, different morals; of what was, but could no longer be, and so they were shattered by steel hammers and cast to a pond, not because Irish weather was too cold for those ancient stones, but from prudery – for it was the time of censorship - of The Tailor and Ansty, The Plough and the Stars, The Playboy of The Western World even of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, who, like Prometheus, was eventually unbound - in the early 1960’s.
Lead on kindly light, that we might expose the glory of Russborough, where mystery and myth abound. As before, while the Latin form of name is given, we pay respects to their Greek progenitors, proceeding from the left colonnade to the right, where we meet the rest of…..
Diana: The Greek Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister, daughter of Zeus and Leto. She was Goddess of the Hunt, the countryside, and of wild things – a ‘tomboy’ goddess. She was also goddess of Fertility and Motherhood. She was a chaste lady, not so fond of men and was no help to the ‘Greeks’ during the Trojan War. Because they had killed a hare and her young, she made Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, so ensuring their ships would reach Troy safely. Poor dear. Although Artemis had little time for men, when her friend Orion was laid low by the Scorpion, she attacked it but misfired, killing Orion with her arrow. In sorrow, she placed him in the stars forever chased by the Scorpion. Source of original statue unknown.
Dancing Faun: A country or woodland demi-deity, the Greek Faun or Roman Satyr, like Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Pan, full of mischief and fond of joining every celebration-party possible, sometimes causing utter mayhem. Every family has one! These little imps are sometimes depicted as half human, half goat (see Mercury), but if they are treated decently, they will look after field crops and woods. Fauns had an important presence in the Carmen festival, celebrated by Horace in his Carmen saeculare (Sapphics) verse. Source: signed Bartolomeo Solari. Carrara. Original statue at Uffizi, Florence.
Farnese Flora: Roman Goddess of flowering plants who was wont to throw great adult-only parties for flowers on her birthday, ‘The Floralia’, attended by Marigold, Shady Lady, Deadly Nightshade, Hemlock, Mandrake, Iris, Ladie’s Mantle, Betony, blushing Tulips, and a ‘Host of Golden Daffodils’. She is said to be the female Mercury (Hermes), and is distinguished by the Floral Crown (in her left hand). Her temple was on the Aventine Hill, in Rome.
The Farnese(s) were a rich and noble (?) Italian family during the 1500’s with a fabulous palace in Rome. They also governed Naples. Source: signed B.S. Original statue in Museo Nazionale, Naples.
Muse of Comedy: Thalia (Goddess of Comic Drama and Idyllic Poetry), one of the nine Muses or mountain goddesses, whose voices were beyond compare. Thalia was also one of the Three Graces, and by Apollo bore the Corybantes or crested dancers who were so elegant at the Winter Solstice.
The Muses were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosne (Memory), and were companions of Apollo, God of Music. They were minor deities, care-free spirits whose hearts, always untroubled, were set mainly for happiness, music and song. The other eight Muses were: Caliope (Epic Poetry), their leader, was also mother of Orpheus; Clio (History); Terpsichore (Choral Dance and Song); Urania (Astronomy); Melpropene (Tragedy); Erato (Love Poetry and mimicry); Terpsichore (Choral Dance and Song); Polyhymnia (Songs to Gods) and Euterpe (Lyric Poetry accompanied by the flute). They were too, inspirational in art, learning and poetry. (It is noted that the mask held here by Thalia may represent the visage of Joseph Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown.) Source of statue unknown.
Mercury: Hermes of Greek fame, complete with his hat of invisibility, but the wings of his sandals have been clipped to keep him here. He was chief Messenger of the Gods, a Bugler, the God of Commerce and Gain, of Travellers and Wayfarers, of Weights and Measures and curiously, of Perjurers and Embezzlers! Overall he was a very interesting, if cunning chap.
He caused jealousy to Aphrodite, but after a pleasant assignation, she bore what would be identified today as an un-Irish, un-hyphenated, Hermaphrodite, who, like the common worm, may freely enjoy its own company. C’est la vie!
Supposedly, Hermes was born out of stone, upstanding, a monument, unveiled by Aphrodite herself, three of which are to be discovered close to us in Ballymore to this day. He was also father of Pan by the nymph, Dryope (note the goat’s head on the tree stump). A remarkable fellow indeed!
Having been instructed in the ways of divination of Oak twigs and old bones, the original alphabet shapes, it was he who gave the letters sound, or pronunciation. Source: Statue signed B.S. Original at Uffizi, Florence.
Apollino: In Egypt there was a city called Apollinopolis, (-polis = city) later Edfu, south of Luxor, where a temple was erected to the god Horus, who is identified with Apollo.
Apollo, Greek Sun God, twin brother to Artemis (Diana), was a dashing ladies man (the fabulists say he fathered Miletus, the Irishman, by Aria) but when his earthly protégé, Hector, was killed by Achilles at the battle of Troy, Apollo was disgracefully found wanting; and it was he who killed Hyacinth, which is why Hyacinth was not at Flora’s party. Source: original statue at Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Michael Ward.