Sculpture, Sheela-na-gig carving Item Code HCM 033
A 15th century sheela-na-gig carved in low relief from Caherelly Castle, Co. Limerick, Ireland. The head and part of the legs are missing but the torso and arms are in good condition. The legs are spread apart and there is an opening indicating the vulva. Unusually for a sheela-na-gig, the breasts and navel are well defined, and the vulva, although remarkable, is not as grotesquely exaggerated as on similar figures. The carving was found by workmen repairing a culvert in the townland of Caherelly East, close to Lough Gur, Co. Limerick.
Artist / Designer /Maker Unknown
Object Type Sculpture
c. 1947-28 December 1998
File of material relating to a sheela-na-gig. Includes photocopy of object description sheet including sketch of object (date unspecified). Find place is named as Caherelly Castle, county Limerick; photocopy of photographs of object (date unspecified); Hunt Museum collection survey form (4 December 1996); photocopy of extract from publication by Erich Neumann (and translated from German by Ralph Manheim), ‘The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype’ (Princeton University Press, 1992); photocopy of extract from the ‘Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland’ (volume 77, 1947) comprising note by John Hunt, Senior, describing present object; paper by Jorgen Andersen entitled ‘Temptation in Kilkea: Erotic subjects in mediaeval Irish art’ [c. 1971]; photocopy of extract from publication by Andersen, ‘The Witch on the Wall: Medieval Erotic Sculpture in the British Isles’ (Denmark: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1977) which contains description of the sheela-na-gig. Image of present object forms front cover of the book; review of this publication by Tony O Riordan (c. 1978) taken from an unnamed newspaper; letter (c. August 1972) from Andersen, care of Gilmartin, Main Street, Loughrea, county Galway, to John Hunt, Senior, requesting permission to see present object; letter (23 August 1972) from Andersen to Hunt requesting a photograph of present object. Also, requests Hunts opinion about a sheela-na-gig at Bunratty Castle, county Clare, and outlines research he has done on sheela-na-gigs in the British Isles. A portion of this letter has been cut out; letter (7 February 1975) from Anthony Weir, Kilnatierney farm, Grey abbey, Newtownards, county Down, to John Hunt, Senior, outlining research he has done on sheela-na-gigs and names some he has visited; further letter (21 February 1975) from Weir to Hunt. Writes that the trouble with these objects is that ‘everyone has different and quite reasonable opinions on them.’ Encloses list of sheela-na-gigs he has located thus far. Refers to locations in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; photocopy of newspaper article from ‘The Irish Times’ (9 July 1990) referring mostly to sheela-na-gigs in the National Museum of Ireland. On verso of the photocopy of newspaper article is photocopy of extract from unidentified publication (date unspecified) which comprises image of engraving for ‘La Fontaine’ by Charles Elsen and quotes from a letter published in ‘The Irish Times.’ Both refer to women raising their skirts to drive away enemies; letter (18 February 1998) from John H. Sulzman (address withheld) to Michael Holland, Registrar, Hunt Museum, requesting information about present object. Encloses photocopy of extract from publication by Michael Dames entitled ‘Mythical Ireland’ (Thames & Hudson,1992) which refers to and contains image of the sheela-na-gig; further letter (28 December 1998) from Sulzman to Holland. Discusses his family link with the Caherelly area. Also encloses greeting card on the cover of which is a colour photograph of Caherelly Castle; letter (7 August 1998) from Susan Slater-Tanner, Department of Art History, Orange County Community College, Middletown, New York, to Holland, requesting permission to photograph the sheela-na-gig. Image may be included in thesis she is writing for Hunters College, New York. Annotation in Hollands hand states that colour prints and slides were taken (10 August 1998); letter (29 July 1998) from Holland to Doctor Barbara Freitag, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, Dublin City University. Writes that he understands she is working on the publication of Irish sheela-na-gigs. Gives details of present object and encloses photocopy of extract from the publication by Dames mentioned above. Also, that Dames identifies the sheela-na-gig as ‘The Housekeeper’ but does not indicate the provenance of that appellation; reply (7 September 1998) from Freitag to Holland in response to invitation to see the present object.