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The father and son team of Edward and John Smyth were sculptors of Dublin. Smyth senior, one of the most distinguished sculptors of his day, was a favourite of the architect James Gandon, who employed him to decorate the Custom House and many of his other buildings in the city. Smyth was also commissioned by the architect Francis Johnston to carve the decorative heads for the chapel of Dublin Castle. These busts of Johnston and his wife may have come about as a result of the working relationship between himself and Smyth.
Johnston, the professional man, is shown with accoutrements useful to his calling, namely books on geometry (Euclid), Roman architecture (Vitruvius) and Renaissance architecture (Palladio). Curly-haired and bare-necked, with cloak tossed nonchalantly around his shoulders, he is depicted in the manner of a Byronic hero. The mood of the piece is that of Romanticism, of a feeling of self-fulfillment and the importance of the imagination. A portrait of Johnston as an older man is also included here.