Maria features in an all-female re-enactment of Raphael’s famous “School of Athens” fresco!

8 Apr 2024

Recreation of 500-year-old painting highlights achievements of Irish women and the need for ongoing social change.

A new photographic portrait of 50 women leaders in Ireland has been unveiled at Trinity College Dublin.

The new tableau showcases an all-female cast of prominent artists, social activists, sports figures and scholars, including former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and UCC palaeontologist Professor Maria McNamara.

The portrait is a re-enactment of The School of Athens, a famous fresco painted by the classical artist Raphael in The Vatican between 1509 and 1511. The original fresco includes 50 male figures that represent important philosophers, mathematicians and scientists of the day. This painting is considered the quintessential symbol of classical knowledge and education during the Renaissance. It also endorsed the Greek educational system that persisted in Europe for centuries, whereby privileged white European men presided over educational directions and priorities for over 500 years. These male characters are replaced by women in the Irish portrait.

The portrait will be the subject of a documentary that will explore the project and will feature conversations with the women subjects and their ideas about education and social needs for now and the future.

Professor Maria McNamara, participant in the project, said “This project highlights the transformative social change that Western society has seen since the painting of Raphael’s fresco. Five hundred years ago, it would have been unthinkable to consider the existence of female professors, sporting champions, politicians and activists, let alone to gather them in one space and celebrate their achievements. This tableau project places social change and greater educational opportunities for women front and centre. The women participating in the event, however, spoke about shared ongoing challenges, including persistent tension between legacy societal expectations of women and career success and unequal treatment of women and men in both the workplace and in educational settings. Gender equity is still a goal and not a reality, so initiatives like this provide us with an important opportunity to take stock and consider the path to a more equal society.”

UCC story

Maria McNamara Research Group

Experimental and analytical taphonomy

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), University College Cork (UCC), Butler Building, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, T23 TK30, Ireland