Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
- Place of origin:
Great Britain, UK (made)
ca. 1730 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, room 54c, case 2
This terracotta figure is a study for the full-size marble by John Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770) for the monument to Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) erected in Westminster Abbey in 1730. Rysbrack's monument was based on a design by the painter, designer and architect William Kent (1685-1748).
Design & Designing
Rysbrack adapted and improved Kent's design, a fact which was recognised by his contemporary and friend George Vertue, who noted that the monument was 'a noble and Elegant work by Mr Michael Rysbrack. much to his Reputation. tho the design or drawing of it on paper was poor enough, yet for that only Mr Kent is honourd with his name on it (Pictor et Architect inventor). which if it had been deliverd to any other Sculptor besides Rysbrack, he might have been glad to have his name omitted'.
Rysbrack was one of the leading sculptors active in Britain in the first half of the 18th century. Born in Antwerp, the son of a painter, he arrived in London in 1720 with his brother, also an artist. Rysbrack specialised in portrait busts and funerary monuments, and executed many in Westminster Abbey, often in conjunction with the architect James Gibbs, or as here, William Kent. Rysbrack's deft and sensitive handling of terracotta may well reflect his Flemish training and background.
Materials & Making
Terracotta (fired clay) was often used for sculptors' models, although it could also be employed for finished works. This is likely to have been a preliminary model, and may even have formed part of the sculptor's contract.
Sculpture, terracotta model for monument of Sir Isaac Newton by John Michael Rysbrack. Newton is shown reclining on an oblong plinth resting his right arm on a pile of books. He wears an ample drapery over classical dress.
Place of Origin
Great Britain, UK (made)
ca. 1730 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 36 cm, Width: 53 cm, Depth: 23 cm
Object history note
Modelled in London by John Michael Rysbrack (born in Antwerp, Belgium, 1694, died in London, 1770). Illustrated in a photograph of the Museum at Badger Hall, Shropshire, 1888 (National Monuments Record BB74/2928).
Previoulsy on loan to the Museum by Dr. Hildburgh F.S.A. from 7 October 1945, and subsequently given by him to the Museum as a New Year gift in 1938.
Historical context note
Rysbrack's retirement sale of 24/25 January 1766, Langford's Covent Garden. First day sale, lot 42: 'Two ditto (figures) a sketch of Sir Isaac Newton, and a Bishop' in a section headed 'MODELS', which seems to mean 3 dimensional models, though not specified as terracotta.
Sculpture model, terracotta, for a memorial to Sir Isaac Newton for Westminster Abbey, by John Michael Rysbrack, Britain, ca. 1730
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997, p. 307, cat. no. 137
Sculptors' models were acquired by the Museum from the 1860s as examples of processes of design and making. Although drawings for English sculpture, including William Kent's design for the monument to Lord Stanhope, were purchased for this reason, most of the three-dimensional models acquired at this date were French or Italian. Models for eighteenth-century English sculpture were acquired only in the 1930s when the Museum was prompted by scholars such as Katherine Esdaile and the donor Dr. W. L. Hildburgh to take serious account of postmedieval English sculpture. As a result, the Newton model was acquired in 1938 and Kent's design for it (fig. 115) in 1946, complementing the companion design for the Stanhope monument bought seventy years earlier. This reassessment of the artistic qualities of English sculpture led to the inclusion of several English models, including the Newton piece, in the V&A's 1946 exhibition, "Style in Sculpture."
This terra cotta was made as a preliminary model for the central marble figure on the monument to the scientist Sir Isaac Newton erected in Westminster Abbey in 1730. By his death in 1727 Newton was already included among English "worthies" (or celebrated men), and his monument immediately attracted wide attention. Commissioned by John Conduitt (the husband of Newton's niece), the monument was designed by the architect William Kent, and drawings by both Kent and Rysbrack preceded the making of this model. Models such as this were already being collected in the eighteenth century, and in the 1770s some of Rysbrack's models for monuments in Westminster Abbey were advertised as "ideal for any library or grotto."
Lit. Whinney, 1971, pp. 38-9; Baker, 1986
Penny, Nicholas. Catalogue of European Sculpture. III, Oxford, 1992, p.153.
Whinney, Penny. English Sculpture 1720-1830. London: HMSO, 1971. p.38.
Baker, M. 'Roubiliac's models and eighteenth century English Sculptors working practices' in Volk, P ed. Entwurf und Ausführung in der Europäischen Barockplastik. Munich, 1986, p.64, fig. 18.
Knox, T. 'Edward Cheney of Badger Hall: A forgotten collector of Italian Sculpture', Sculpture Journal, 16, 1, 2007, fig. 5 on p.9 and p.16
Bilbey, Diane with Trusted, Marjorie. British Sculpture 1470 to 2000. A Concise Catalogue of the Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V& A Publications, 2002. pp. 136-7. cat. no. 184
William Kent 1686-1748: Designing Georgian Britain (The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts 19/09/2013-16/02/2014)
Precious: Objects and Changing Values (The Millennium Galleries, Sheffield 02/04/2001-24/06/2001)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)
Drawings by English Sculptors, 1680-1810 (Ashmolean Museum 23/11/1967-10/12/1967)
Labels and date
This is a model for the figure on the marble monument to the great scientific thinker, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), in Westminster Abbey. He is shown in classical dress, as if he were a citizen of ancient Rome. The design for the whole monument is shown in the drawer below. [27/03/2003]
Men; Books; Newton, Isaac (Sir)
British Galleries; Portraits; Sculpture