Paintings in St Michael's Church

The Nativity     (21/06/2012)

The Nativity - Michael Healy 1873-1941

Painted by Michael Healy 1873 - 1941.


Michael Healy was born on the 14th November 1873 at 40 Bishop Street, Dublin. In March 1897 he enrolled at the Metropolitan School of Art where he studied until 1898 when he joined the RHA school. In 1898 Healy also began to work as an illustrator for the Irish Rosary and whilst there became very friendly with the editor Father Glendon, OP. Father Glendon encouraged Healy to go to Florence to further his studies and accordingly Healy left for Florence in the Autumn of 1899. Healy stayed in Florence for eighteen months working in the studio of de Bacci-Ventui (a Florentine painter) and studying in the life school of the R. Istituto di Belle Arte.

On his return to Ireland in May 1901 Healy took a job in the Dominican College at Newbridge as an art teacher. This was not a position that he held for long as he found the teaching of small boys very tiresome and frustrating.

In 1903 Sarah Purser, Edward Marytn, T.P. Gill etc. founded the studio An Tur Gloine (The Tower of Glass) whose purpose was to improve the quality of stained glass in Ireland. Healy was the first recruit to this studio and by 1904 he produced his first complete window, The St. Simeon window for Loughrea Cathedral. From this period onwards Healy's interest in painting decreased (he did though exhibit with the RHA from 1912-1914) and stained glass became his passion. He became so prolific in the art of stained glass that he is now regarded as one of Irelands greatest artists in this medium.

Between 1906-1911 Healy spent time in Enniskillen designing and producing windows for the Convent of Mercy on Belmore Street. It is not known exactly how he came to be commissioned in c. 1908 to paint the Nativity in St Michael's but it is possible that this commission arose as a result of the time he had already spent working in Enniskillen. The Nativity appears to be unique in that it is the only known oil mural in a Church by Healy.

The Nativity has been noted to show the painters indebtedness to his observation of early Renaissance painting in Florence, this is without doubt. The style, detail, humanism, serenity and harmony of the painting all have their basis in Renaissance painting but with the colouring Healy appears to have developed a totally new means of expression using colours that are more often associated with the stained glass with which he was by then so passionate. The reds, blues and purples in The Nativity almost having a jewel like quality which can normally be associated with stained glass.

Healy died on Monday 22nd September 1941 in Mercers Hospital after a short illness.


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