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Isaac Newton (1642-1727)


Object connections:

Collection Sculpture
Gallery locationQH (Floor plans)
PeopleDepiction: Newton, Isaac
Provenance: Royal Greenwich Observatory

Object details:

Object ID ZBA1640
Description Head-and-shoulders classical-style bust of Isaac Newton on a flared square socle, fitted into a modern moulded wooden base. The sitter is shown bare-headed, with short natural hair, a robe wrapped round his shoulders over a loose undershirt and his head turned slightly to his right. On Newton's death in 1727, his nephew, John Conduitt, allowed John Rysbrack to take casts of his face. Two of these were obtained by Roubiliac and in about 1731 Conduitt commissioned him to make this terracotta bust from them. It features on a mantlepiece in a painting that Conduitt also commissioned from Hogarth in 1732. It was later 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. 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.
Date made circa 1731

Artist/Maker Roubiliac, Louis-Francois
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials terracotta
Measurements Overall: 740 mm x 500 mm x 290 mm
  • Isaac Newton (1642-1727) (ZBA1640)
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