Irish artist’s sculpture goes on display alongside masterpieces in Florence

Artist Paddy Campbell – the former owner of Dublin’s famous Bewley’s Cafe – said it was “a tremendous honour”.
Artist Paddy Campbell – the former owner of Dublin’s famous Bewley’s Cafe – said it was “a tremendous honour”. Artist Paddy Campbell – the former owner of Dublin’s famous Bewley’s Cafe – said it was “a tremendous honour”.

A sculpture of a mother breastfeeding her baby will be the first Irish contemporary work acquired by one of the great museums in Florence, Italy.

It represents a remarkable achievement for its sculptor Paddy Campbell, who is a former owner of Dublin’s famous Bewley’s Cafe.

The sculpture ‘Mother and Child’ depicts Mr Campbell’s family friend Emily Dawson nursing her newborn daughter Coco 17 years ago.

The work will be inaugurated at Italy’s historic Museo degli Innocenti.

Mr Campbell, who began work on the sculpture in Dublin in 2005, said he was honoured.

“This is a tremendous honour and so fitting for the beautiful story of Emily and Coco as the Innocenti museum is unique in exhibiting works of art relating to children,” said Mr Campbell said.

“It is part of the oldest public institution in Italy, originally a convento, which had been devoted to the hospitality and protection of children and their rights for six centuries.”

Emily and 17-year-old Coco travelled to Florence to see the sculpture.

Emily said: “Coco and I are immensely proud of this collaboration. Paddy captured our love and eternal bond that words cannot convey.

“A dear family friend, Paddy had asked me while I was pregnant if I would be willing to sit for the sculpture once Coco was born.

Paddy Campbell’s Mother and Child sculpture in its new home in The Museo degli Innocenti in Florence (Media Consult/Agatino Vacante/PA)

“Coco was just five weeks old when we sat on a makeshift wooden revolving stand as Paddy moulded us over the course of six weeks into a life-size wax model.

“My newborn and I sat bare, she didn’t know any different, kept comforted by the warm milk from my breast and skin-to-skin contact.

“We were warmed by a small gas fire, hot tea and conversations on life, love and loss in a small studio above a garage in Fairview.”

Mr Campbell cast his Mother and Child sculpture in various materials, which culminated in the Carrara marble version carved by Dario Tazzioli.

This is now installed on permanent display at the Museo degli Innocenti alongside works by artists such as della Robbia, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio.

The former orphanage turned museum also houses Unicef’s research centre for child wellbeing, which carries out work into the importance of breastfeeding, among other issues.

Mr Campbell’s book about the sculpture, Mother and Child – A Secret Hidden In Stone, will be launched in Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street on Thursday October 6.

The book is available for a recommended donation of 20 euro, with the proceeds going to Unicef to help children at risk of famine.

Unicef Ireland executive director Peter Power said the charity was grateful for Mr Campbell’s support.

“It is fitting that Paddy’s touching depiction of Mother and Child will find its home in the same institution in Florence as Unicef’s global research teams,” he said.

“For more than six centuries, this historic building has been devoted to the protection of vulnerable children. And now, the support generated by Paddy’s work will help to further Unicef’s mission to safeguard the rights of every child.”