Shelbourne statues under scrutiny
Sir, – I applaud the ground-breaking research conducted by art historian Kyle Leyden (particularly finding the original trade catalogue), showing that there is clearly no evidence that the statues were slaves, let alone Nubian. (Ronan McGreevy, “Shelbourne Hotel statues do not depict slave girls, says leading art historian”, and Letters, July 30th)
I agree that Elizabeth Bowen’s sensationalist 1951 work is the likely culprit in perpetuating this “baseless and romanticised” myth. Elizabeth Hamilton’s 1963 memoir An Irish Childhood of Edwardian Dublin also noted the statues as “Nubian” though not as slaves.
I would like to clarify that the architect, John McCurdy, did not order the statues; the contemporary trade journal, the Irish Builder (March 1st, 1867), in providing its readers a technical description and illustration of the hotel after a “personal inspection”, noted that the statues of “Egyptian maids” “were had by Samuel H. Bolton”, the builder.
The Irish Builder also noted that the press, though appreciative of the new hotel, “cannot be expected to be conversant with the technicalities, etc, requisite to describe a building”, which might explain why, a month earlier, the Freeman’s Journal (February 9th, 1867) and other Dublin newspapers mistakenly referred to the statues as “Assyrian mutes”. – Yours, etc,
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
Sir, – No doubt many of the people breaking their crayons over any public reference to slavery are walking around in clothes made by child workers in the third world. They stop for an under-priced coffee, laying their cup on a ubiquitous imported mahogany table, tut-tutting while eating a 10-cent banana. Never mind, might Skype the emigrant kids making a living in an occupied country (where the natives live on reservations), later in the evening. Off on holidays then to places where the locals sleep on a bed of rushes, dreaming of equality. – Yours, etc,
Firhouse, Dublin 24.