ON THIS DAY IN SKIBBEREEN: 14 October 1800

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On this day, 14 October 1800, the sculptor John Hogan was born in Tallow, Co Waterford.

John Hogan was Ireland’s most noted neoclassical sculptor, a very gifted man. In Skibbereen we’re lucky to have a work of art by Hogan in St Patrick’s Cathedral, a piece sculpted most likely in 1833.

The marble relief, dedicated to the memory of Bishop Michael Collins, is a very significant piece of art and was the first of Hogan’s funerary relief works and shows him keeping strictly to neoclassical conventions. The work, inscribed ‘Hogan fecit’, although in marble, has been painted white rendering the surface a dull matt.

The beautiful memorial to Bishop Michael Collins in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen.

The memorial marks the burial place of Bishop Michael Collins, the man who was responsible for building the cathedral, and was erected to his memory by the people of Skibbereen. Executed in marble, the piece shows a seated allegorical personification of Religion mourning the great Bishop as she gazes at an oval cameo relief of the deceased prelate. At her feet rest the mitre and other insignia of his sacred office. Elaborate drapery falls around the limbs, fold upon fold. Just one inch of projection carries all this mass of detail.

John Hogan was born in Tallow, Co. Waterford, on October 14 1800 but his family moved to Cork in 1801. Hogan has a West Cork connection. His father, John Hogan, a carpenter and builder of Cove Street, Cork, was employed about 1795 by Richard Gumbleton of Castle Richard, near Tallow, in some building work. While working on contract in Dunmanway, he met Miss Frances Cox, a great granddaughter of Sir Richard Cox, Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

In 1796 John married Frances in spite of the disapproval of her family, who considered the match as a mésalliance. Her fortune of £2,000 was withheld by her indignant family, and her husband appears to have been too proud to urge his claim to the money. The third child of that marriage was John Hogan.

Hogan went to Rome to study in the spring of 1824 and he quickly became a prominent figure in the artistic and cultural life of the city. The genius displayed in the design and execution of his work obtained for Hogan the honour of being elected a member of the Society of the Virtuosi of the Pantheon. This is the greatest distinction an artist can enjoy and he was the first British subject ever to have been enrolled among the members of that very select society.

This Lawrence Collection photo of the inside of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen, was taken around 1900, before seating was installed in the main body of the church. On the right of the photo is the work by John Hogan which is over the final resting place of Bishop Michael Collins, the man who built the cathedral. Originally the empty sarcophagus was placed under the Hogan masterpiece and over the remains of Dr Collins who was buried in the ground inside the cathedral. During major renovations to the cathedral in the early 1950s the sarcophagus was moved outside.

Rome was Hogan’s home from 1824 to 1848 but he made occasional visits home to Ireland.  It was on one of these visits in late 1832 and early 1833 that he received the commission for the work at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen. Dr Collins died on 8 December 1832 and the commission was more than likely given to Hogan when he was in Cork in early 1833.

Originally the empty sarcophagus was placed under the Hogan masterpiece and over the remains of Bishop Collins who was buried in the ground inside the cathedral. During major renovations to the cathedral in the early 1950s the sarcophagus was moved outside.

There are also two fine examples of Hogan’s work in Bantry House, Bantry. The story behind their commission is quite interesting. Hogan’s studio in Rome was on the itinerary of many art-loving tourists. In 1842-43 Mary White, Lady Berehaven, and later second countess of Bantry, and her husband, Richard White, Viscount Berehaven, and later second Earl of Bantry, visited Hogan in his studio in Rome. In just under two weeks Hogan recorded their likenesses in a series of sittings in preparation for the execution of two marble busts which were completed after the couple had left the city. While some of Hogan’s assistants would have worked on these two marble busts, Hogan alone would have put the finishing touches, or last hand, to the carving of the marble, this final touch securing the statues’ authenticity.

John Hogan, sculptor, 1800-1858.

John Hogan did not forget Skibbereen. On 29 January 1847, while still living in Rome, Hogan sent £20 to the Mayor of Cork “… apply it to the funds collecting for the relief of those poor famishing people, who are most in want, either in Skibbereen or Bantry…”. He had obviously read some of the reports of the awful conditions prevailing in this part of the country at the height of the Great Famine and remembered his West Cork connections.

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