- Museum number
Plaster portrait bust of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) after Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), slightly to right wearing a jacket with three buttonholes and an elaborate fold over his right shoulder over an open shirt.
Height: 57.40 centimetres
Weight: 23.50 kilograms
Width: 23 centimetres
Width: 52.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Text from Hans Sloane Manuscript Catalogue: 'A busto of Sr. Isaac Newton in plaster of Paris. with Dr. Morton.'
On the basis of photographs Dr Katherine Eustace does not believe that this bust is by Rysbrack; a terracotta bust by him in Trinity College, Cambridge, dated 1739 appears to be the source for the Museum plaster.
Displayed: c. 1756-6? 'A busto of Sr. Isaac Newton in plaister of Paris [with Dr. Mortimer]', recorded in Sloane Catalogue no. 1985 (kept in the MLA Dept); 1817, removed from Mr Baber's department to over the bookcases in the Print Room (letter from J. T.Smith, 17 November 1817, P&D Dept Archive); 1847, possibly still in the Print Room as one of the 'Clays or Casts: a Large portion of them by Roubiliac' in Sir Henry Ellis's memorandum of 3 June 1847 (BM Central Archive Officers' Reports); 1881, probably still in the Print Room;(1) 1960, Dept of British and Medieval Antiquities (MLA dept record).
For information about Sir Isaac Newton, see registration no. 1765,0629.1.
Michael Rysbrack,(2) a Roman Catholic, was born in Antwerp, the son of a landscape painter who had worked in England for Charles II but had been forced to flee to Paris at the time of the Rye House Plot. All his brothers were artists. He was trained by Michael Van der Voort and in 1714 is listed as a Master of the Guild of St Luke at Antwerp. He came to England in 1720 and soon won prestigious commissions at Kensington Palace and elsewhere. He executed reliefs and chimney-pieces as well as monuments and busts. In 1740 he is recorded as a ratepayer at St Martin-in-the-Fields;(3) he later had a studio at Vere Street, near Cavendish Square, London. His sale took place on 20 April 1765 at Langford's auction house in the Great Piazza, Covent Garden.(4) There is a portrait of him attributed to John Vanderbank in the National Portrait Gallery.(5)
The iconography of Rysbrack's representations of Newton is complex. A marble bust for Queen Caroline's grotto at Richmond, completed in 1733, survives in the Royal Collection, but although once given to Rysbrack, who worked on this scheme, it is now considered much more likely to be the work of Guelfi.(6) In 1731 Rysbrack's monument to the mathematician in Westminster Abbey was unveiled.(7) A marble version of a different portrait bust is in the possession of Lord Portsmouth; a terracotta bust, signed and dated 1739, is in Trinity College, Cambridge.(8) It is this bust which was the source for the Museum plaster. The Museum bust was once thought to be the work of Roubiliac, but both in construction and style it differs from his output. The head is hollow and separately attached to the neck. The reverse, with its multiplicity of circular holes, presumably to assist in maintaining the stability of the piece, and two struts, is unlike any of the busts by Roubiliac acquired by the Museum at the artist's death. The style, and in particular the carving of the drapery, also differs considerably from Rysbrack's marble in Cambridge, and the method of construction is uncharacteristic of Rysbrack. However, although Rysbrack is not known to have made plasters of his terracottas, reproductions of his works were made for him by Peter Vannini,(9) and it is possible that this bust is one of those.
(1) There is a pencil drawing of the bust (with Ray and Barrow) dated 17 February 1881 in George Scharf s notebook (see Dawson 1999, p. 154, fig. 42), National Portrait Gallery, London, ref. TSB XXVII, p. 52.
(2) M. I. Webb, Michael Rysbrack Sculptor, London, 1955 remains the standard work. The best recent overview is M. Whinney, 'Michael Rysbrack' and 'The later works of Rysbrack, Scheemakers, and Cheere', in Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830, revised edn 1988, pp. 162-81 and 227-32. There is much useful and detailed information in K. Eustace, Michael Rysbrack, Sculptor, 1694-1770, exh. cat., City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, 1982.
(3) M. I. Webb, 'Busts of Isaac Newton', Country Life, 25 January 1952, p.217.
(4) Of the seventy-seven lots, a considerable number were of marble tables; statuary urns and vases were also sold.
(5) J. Kerslake, National Portrait Gallery, Early Georgian Portraits, London, 1977, pp. 238-9, with a discussion of other portraits of the sculptor.
(6) Eighteenth Century Portrait Busts, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London, 1959, no. 31. Dawson is grateful to Katharine Eustace for her comments on the authorship of the Kensington Palace bust, and for her help with this discussion; see also C. Giometti, 'Giovanni Battista Guelfi: new discoveries', The Sculpture Journal, III, 1999, p. 39, fig. 18.
(7) M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830, rev. ed. John Physick, 1988, pp. 172-5.
(8) See n. 3.
(9) See M. Greenacre, 'A technical examination of some terracottas by Michael Rysbrack', in Eustace, Michael Rysbrack, p. 56.
- Not on display
- Front edge and back left edge of robe damaged; cleaned in the Victoria and Albert Museum, September 1949.
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number