Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Arniston House, Plaster bust of Isaac Newton after Michael Rysbrack

A Plaster Bust of Isaac Newton
After Michael Rysbrack
Approximately Three Quarter Life Size.
Arniston House
Midlothian, Scotland.
I am very grateful to Henrietta Dundas for allowing me the opportunity to visit Arniston in June 2015 and to photograph the sixteen busts and two statuettes in the upper library.
It is my intention to publish further on this blog the 16 plaster busts and plaster statuettes of Hercules and Shakespeare at Arniston in due course.
This bust of Isaac Newton  is one of a collection of plaster casts in the Skied Library at Arniston House which was designed by William Adam, father of the Adam brothers in 1725, for the first Robert Dundas (1685-1753), Lord President of the Court of Session.
 William Adam designed the first phase of the building at Arniston the East wing and central portions which was constructed between 1726 and the 1740's, the west wing was constructed to the specifications of John Adam in the 1750's.
The Library at Arniston as Designed by William Adam c.1728.
 In 1819, 4015 volumes are recorded there. This library was replaced by a new library on the first floor level some time after 1819.
Most of the 16 busts are now believed to have been collected in Italy by the second Robert Dundas II,(1713 - 87) also a Lord Presidents of the Court of Session, whilst on his grand tour in the 1730's when he was studying at Utrecht University, but the figure of Shakespeare after Scheemakers monument and the accompanying statuette of Hercules after the Rysbrack Hercules at Stourhead and the bust of Newton are later casts perhaps by John Cheere but given the subjects could be by Harris of the Strand or Robert Shout of Holborn.
 An undated list from the Arniston Muniments, Bundle 171 (Small Volume) personal Accounts Book of R Dundas (1750 - 85) records 'the busts in the Library at Arniston'
 Sir Isaac Newton        Diogenes
Aristotle                      Lucretia
Nero/supposed            Zeno
Jeron                           Antinous
Vestal Virgin             Solon
Homer                         Socrates
Cuero                          Euripides
Info from Architectural Heritage, vol 12, 2001. Pat Wigston
 The attribution of the figures of Shakespeare and Hercules and at least the bust of Newton to Cheere is based on the fact that work on the the Library refurbishment commenced in February 1756, when the alterations were made to the joinery and paint work and the busts were cleaned under the supervision of Edinburgh Wright George Stevenson. Stevenson had worked for the Dundas family since the 1730's at their town house in Edinburgh, at Ormiston Hall in Lothian and at Arniston. The Library was repainted by James Norrie the Edinburgh house painter who invoiced for £14 14 8d for painting the library in "oil white" for March and April 1756.  Norrie also gilded he capitals in library in1756.
The woodwork of the library was oak grained probably in the early to mid 19th century this graining remains - the original white paint can be seen on the interior of the bookcases.
 An invoice for 10 shillings from George Stevenson was paid in April 1756 for hanging and mending old windows, and washing and cleaning the heads that stands in the library (bundle 236 Arniston Muniments).
All the plaster casts in the library have been painted a uniform orange brown to give the appearance of terracotta. This is probably the earliest collection of reproduction of classical plaster busts in England still in their original setting.
Both Lord Presidents studied law at Utrecht as part of the well-known temporary migration of Scottish legal scholars between the 1680s and 1750s.
It has been assumed in the past that the busts were from the workshop of John Cheere - but they are too early if they were collected in the 1730's given that Cheere did not start in business until 1739,  a close inspection reveals that the majority which have turned socles have a thin surface layer of approximately 5mm thick of a variegated coloured yellow and dark brown plaster giving them a Sienna marble like appearance, which I have never encountered before.
For Arniston House see - http://www.arniston-house.co.uk/

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