Thursday 26 May 2016

Bust of Isaac Newton by Roubiliac at the Royal Society

The Royal Society Marble Bust of Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727).
by Louis Francois Roubiliac.
Life Size.

Here shown with Photographs of the Roubiliac Terracotta of Newton at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich for comparison.
For my notes on the portrait busts of Newton see -
For an excellent overview of the portraiture of Newton see -
The Iconography of Sir Isaac Newton to 1800, Milo Keynes, pub. Boydell Press, 2005.
There are two references to the purchase of this bust in the Royal Society Records -
In the Royal Society Journal Book XVII 231-2, 13 Apr 1738.

“The President informed the Society that he understood that Mr Freman [William Freman FRS] had purchased a fine Marble Bust of the late Sir Isaac Newton, with an intention of making a Present of it to the Society: and therefore, as it would be proper to consider beforehand of a suitable place in the Meeting Room, to set it up in, he proposed that Mr Folkes (Martin Folkes, FRS), with any other Gentlemen he be pleased to join with him, might be desired to consider of it, and report their opinion to the Society”
A further reference to the bust is the note in CMC.3 (Minutes of the Council) -  page 214, 19 June 1738
'The following Bill was laid before the Council'.
Mr. Roubillac’s [sic] Bill for a Pedestal to Sir Isaac Newton’s Bust 2.7.0…. which Bills being put to the Ballot were agreed to, and ordered to be paid”.
Many thanks to Kat Harrington - Archivist of the Royal Society for supplying the full text of these references.

Plaster bust of Martin Folkes FRS, PSA 
vice president of the Royal Society from 1723 - president
by Roubiliac at the British Museum.
Lot 10, 4th day of the Roubiliac Studio Sale
bought by Matthew Maty.
The marble is at Wilton House.

Lettered below the image with the title, and "J. Vanderbank pinxt. 1736, / I. Faber Fecit 1737, / Sold by I Faber at the Golden Head in Bloomsbury Square". 355 x 253 mm. British Museum.
NB. Bust of Isaac Newton on the wall Bracket behind.
In the Catalogue at the Welcome Library of the sale of the collection of Martin Folkes, FRS by Langford's of the Piazza Covent Garden, 7 and 8th May 1755, under Plaister figures, 7th May lot 4, a large bust of the earl of Pembroke, on a painted deal term, lot 5 ditto of Sir Isaac Newton on a ditto.
 If the plaster bust in the sale is the same one as illustrated in the Faber engraving and is by Roubiliac which seems the most likely then it is the earliest representation of the Roubiliac busts of Newton and probably the earliest illustration of a Roubiliac bust.
Along with the marble bust of Folkes there is also a marble bust of the 9th Earl of Pembroke by Roubiliac at Wilton; and there was  also a plaster bust of Newton now missing.
For more on the British Museum bust of Martin Folkes, the iconography of Martin Folkes and the other busts bought by Matthew Maty at the posthumous Roubiliac studio sale by Langfords of 1762 and presented to the British Museum see -


Bust of Isaac Newton
by Louis Francois Roubiliac
at the Royal Society.

Shown here with the Greenwich Observatory Terracotta prototype, given by John Belchier to the Royal Society on his death in 1785 for placement in the Ryal OPbservatory at Greenwich

 This terracotta bust was owned by the surgeon John Belchier, FRS, who at his death in 1785 left it to the Royal Society with instructions that it should be placed in the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
The  Minutes of the Council of the Royal Society VII pp.230/1 18th August 1785 states ' Bequeathed to the Royal Society by John Belchier FRS (1706 -85) with intention it should be placed at the observatory in Greenwich Park, nb this bust in terracotta was made under the eyes of Mr Conduitt and several of Sir Isaacs particular friends, by Roubiliac from many pictures and other busts and esteemed more like than anything extant of Sir Isaac'.

In his will Belchier also stated that, as a portrait, it was 'esteemed more like than anything extant of Sir Isaac'. Some forty to fifty years later, at Greenwich, the head was broken off in an accident and, after being repaired, the whole was painted white. The result was that by the later 19th century the bust was mistaken for a low-value plaster one and it remained at the Observatory up to and throughout the Second World War, on occasions provided with a tin hat, before moving to Herstmonceux with the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) organization in the 1950s. 

The original was considered 'lost' until the error was discovered in 1961, when it was stripped of paint and expertly restored by the British Museum. After the RGO later moved to Cambridge, it was lent to the Fitzwilliam Museum, mainly for safety. 

It returned to Greenwich and the NMM's custody on the closure of the RGO in 1998.

Photographed at the Royal Society.
13 May 2016.

With many thanks to Kat Harrington, Archivist of the Royal Society for facilitating the photography.

Images of the terracotta at Greenwich lifted from National Maritime Museum website -


I include the crop of the bust from Hogarth's painting of the Conquest of Mexico of c.1732 in the Tate Gallery to reinforce the fact that the bust of Newton shown over the chimney piece is a version of the Michael Rysbrack bust and not a version of the Roubiliac bust - close examination shows that the frieze beneath is also by Rysbrack and is a version of that on the Newton monument by Rysbrack in Westminster Abbey.

Matthew Craske reports a version of this relief at Saltram House, Devon.

It follows that the Roubiliac bust at the Royal Society is less likely to have been commissioned by John Conduit than formerly believed. This idea was popularised in Mrs Esdail's biography - Louis Francois Roubiliac, published in 1928. It has since been repeated in recent works on the Sculptor by Malcolm Baker and Matthew Craske.


The Conduit Marble bust of Sir Isaac Newton

 Image Conway Library, Courtauld Institute, Somerset House.


The Conduit Marble bust of Isaac Newton by Michael Rysbrack c. 1727 - 9.
In the Collection of Earl of Portsmouth, Farleigh Wallop, Basingstoke, Hampshire.
Noted by Vertue in 1732.


I don't know if the base is original to the bust - if the Hogarth portrait is taken at face value then it is a later addition. The obvious source is the Croker medallion dated 1726 (see below).


Silver Medallion by John Croker (1670 - 1741). dated 1726.
Noted as struck at the Tower Mint in 1731 in the Gentleman's Magazine.
 on the reverse side - FELIX . COGNOSCERE . CAVSAS.
Happy in the knowledge of causes

Diam. 51 mm.
Croker was born in Dresden, moved to England in 1691, worked at the Royal Mint from 1697 -
Croker became chief engraver at the Royal Mint in 1705.

The dress of Newton here is very similar that on the David le Marchand ivory bust and it possible that the ivory was the source, but the bust by Rysbrack although generally assumed to be later could also have provided the source for this relief. The hair above the forehead is certainly closer to the Rysbrack version, but it is equally possible that the medallion was the source for Rysbrack's Conduit  bust pedestal.
The reverse side is repeated on the unusual base of Rysbrack's Conduitt bust of Newton and represents science holding a diagram of the Solar System.


The Socle of the Royal Society bust of Isaac Newton by Roubiliac.

Showing the pedestal or socle provided by Roubiliac and noted as paid for 19 Jun 1738.


Portrait of Dr Benjamin Hoadly, FRS, (1706 -57) by William Hogarth with the bust of Newton by Roubiliac.
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

There is another version of this portrait dated 1740 in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Hoadly son of the Bishop of Worcester settled in London, and was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians on 29 December 1736. In the following spring he delivered the Gulstonian lectures on the organs of respiration, which were printed.
In 1739 he was elected censor, and in 1742 delivered a commonplace Harveian oration, which was printed. On 9 June 1742 he was made physician to the king's household, and on 4 January 1746 physician to the household of Frederick, Prince of Wales. He died at Chelsea on 10 August 1757.


Plaster Bust of Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

by or after Louis Francois Roubiliac.
710 mm tall.

The form of the socle suggests that this bust was probably manufactured in the later 18th Century or early 19th Century.

Institute of Astronomy Library, Cambridge University.


Isaac Newton
Marble Bust
Traditionally attributed to Roubiliac
but I suggest that the hand of John van Nost III might also have been involved.

Trinity College, Dublin.


Bust of Isaac Newton by Roubiliac,
Wren Library, Trinity College Cambridge.


Engraving George Bickham, 1732.

350 x 247 mm trimmed.

British Museum.

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