Stapleton, Michael (c.1741–1801), master builder and stuccodore, was born in Dublin, son of George Stapleton, plasterer. He was an accomplished architect, but is perhaps most famous as an exponent of the ‘Adam style’ in plasterwork in Ireland, earning him the title ‘the Irish Adam’. This neo-classical style of the late 1700s marked the end of the more high-spirited, creative designs of the 1760s, and was based on the strict imitation of established engraved models. Stapleton enthusiastically adopted this style, and its popularity led to a huge growth in his practice. Many fine examples of his work remain intact, most notably Belvedere House (College), 6 Great Denmark St., which he built for George Rochfort (qv), 2nd earl of Belvedere, and in which he carried out the plaster decoration (completed 1786). It was sold (1841) to the Society of Jesus; the Jesuit school moved there from Hardwicke St. and retained the name ‘Belvedere’. Many of the designs he used for the lavish decoration of the ceilings and staircase walls were borrowed from recent publications such as George Richardson's Book of ceilings (1776) (Richardson had accompanied James Adam on his ‘grand tour’ of 1760–63), from Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam (1773–8), and also from Pergolesi's Designs for various ornaments (1777). Although his work is derivative, he enriches his sources with the addition of linking elements in the form of garlands and heraldic birds, resulting in a freer, less compartmentalised design. The Jesuits have continued to look after the preservation and maintenance of the building and its beautiful interior, prized for its proportion, elegance, and unity of design.
Other important interiors by Stapleton are the examination hall and the chapel in TCD, and Powerscourt House, South William St., Dublin. His name is also connected with Luke Gardiner (qv), Lord Mountjoy, in building and developing much of the north side of the city. Stapleton built and decorated a house for himself, 1 Mountjoy Place, and owned a number of others, including a house in Maynooth. He married (17 July 1774) Frances, second daughter of Thomas Todderick of Dublin; they had two sons, George (below) and Robert, who died young. Of interest is the fact that the distinguished stuccodore Robert West (qv) named Stapleton legatee and sole executor of his will. Stapleton died on 8 August 1801 at his residence in Mountjoy Place, and is buried in Malahide.
His son George Stapleton (1781–1841) followed in his father's profession. He continued to live in Mountjoy Place for a while and then purchased (c.1803) the Casino in Milltown, the former home of Dr Robert Emmet (qv) (1729–1802). He carried out decorative work for the architect Francis Johnston (qv), who designed the Chapel Royal at Dublin castle in the pointed Gothic style. The superb fan vaulting, made in imitation of medieval stone tracery, is the skilled plasterwork of Stapleton. He also worked with Sir Richard Morrison (qv), architect to TCD. He married Anastasia, daughter of Nicholas Bodkin of Annagh, Co. Galway; they had three sons and two daughters. He died at his house in Milltown, 25 July 1841. The craft of the stuccodore ended with George Stapleton, as his children followed different careers. Indeed, one rarely sees the word ‘stuccodore’ used by craftsmen after this period. His eldest son Michael Harry Stapleton (d. 1880), professor of anatomy, and an honorary member of the RHA (1844–73), was also the first surgeon with the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, which opened 24 September 1861. His other sons went into the legal profession.
The Friends of the National Collection purchased Michael Stapleton's original drawings and engravings from a relative of the Stapleton family, including those of the beautiful ‘Diana’ and ‘Venus’ ceilings in Belvedere College, and some drawings associated with George Stapleton and the architects with whom he worked. The drawings were presented to the NLI (1940). His engravings were given to C. P. Curran (qv), and these, together with other items in Curran's collection, were given to the Irish Architectural Archive (1977). Some unpainted casts of plaques by Michael Stapleton (c.1770) are in the NGI.