Friday 28 July 2017

Art may be imitating life in one 'uncanny' portrait

Claire Nolan published a book in 2008 on the life of Dame Alice Kyteler.
Claire Nolan published a book in 2008 on the life of Dame Alice Kyteler.
Paddy Shaw's painting.

Sean Keane

IT SOUNDS like a spooky Halloween story but the author of a book about a medieval Irish witch has discovered an incredible coincidence linking her to her subject.

Some would say this eerie story surrounding Dame Alice Kyteler, who escaped being burned at the stake on witchcraft charges, is beyond belief.

Kilkenny woman Claire Nolan published a book in 2008 on the life of the notorious noblewoman who disappeared without trace in 1324.

She was thought to have supernatural powers and to have poisoned several men, including three of her husbands.

Some 3,000 miles away in the US midwest, back in 2003, an artist painted a portrait of Alice because he liked her story, having come across it in a library in New York.

Paddy Shaw had never heard of Claire Nolan or her book called 'The Stone' -- he couldn't have, because it wasn't written until five years later.

At the time when he was exhibiting the painting in New York, Claire Nolan's book was just an idea.

Earlier this year, Paddy was clearing out his studio and decided it was time to send Alice home. He gave the painting, without charge, to Nicky Flynn of Kyteler's Inn on St Kieran Street in Kilkenny city. Where the pub now stands is where Alice once lived.

A few weeks ago, the painting was brought to the attention of Claire's father, well-known genealogist Pat Nolan.

Pat was "flabbergasted" when he saw it. The resemblance to his daughter was "uncanny". "I almost fell over with shock," he said.

He rang Claire, who came down that weekend to see the image and was "physically shocked" when she first saw the work because there are no known photographs of Alice.

"It was looking at myself in the mirror -- the eyes, face, posture, body shape, everything was like me, except for the malevolent look on Alice's face," she said.

It gets even more creepy. The dress in the painting is almost identical to the one that Claire wears when she is reading excerpts from the book.

Asked if it was the work of Alice up to her old tricks, Claire said it was definitely very strange and could not really be explained on the basis of fact.

Claire has never met the painter, Paddy Shaw. And he had no notion of her existence when he painted the picture.

"I'm genuinely puzzled. It's a very strange coincidence that somebody would paint a picture about Alice that looks exactly like me when he's never heard of me.

"I wasn't working on the book when he did the painting. The more I think about it, the more creeped out I get," she said.

"He painted a woman that looks exactly like me, even the way she wears her hair and the fact that she looks the same age as me, it's everything else about it," Claire told the Irish Independent last night.

The portrait also shows Aethiops in the background. He is a mythical figure and supposedly the founder of Ethiopia.

Claire is an administrator at the school of information and library studies at University College Dublin.

She wrote her book on Alice Kyteler in 2008, however, it received little attention and was relatively unknown until now.

Irish Independent

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