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Bust - William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (modelled)

  • Date:

    after 1726 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Rysbrack, John Michael (modeller)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Presented by Mrs M. A. Miller, in memory of her father, Augustus William Roxon

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 52, The George Levy Gallery, case WE

This historicising bust of Shakespeare may well have been one of a group of British Worthies. Shakespeare, along with John Milton, Isaac Newton and other figures became important symbols in the 18th century for what were perceived as the great British traditions of independent and creative thought and action.

This particular bust is a version of one in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe, Buckinghamshire; the bust at Stowe was carved by Rysbrack for Lord Cobham in about 1730. This version may also have been one of a set, although its original context is unknown. This terracotta bust may have been a model for the stone bust at Stowe.

John Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770) was one of the most successful sculptors working in Britain in the 18th century. Born in Antwerp, he arrived in England in about 1720, and soon established himself as a leading sculptor of funerary monuments and portrait busts in particular. Many of his monuments are in Westminster Abbey. His bust of the architect James Gibbs (1682-1754) commemorates his friendship with him (the bust was commissioned and owned by Gibbs himself); he and Gibbs worked together on a number of projects, at Stowe and elsewhere.

Physical description

The playwright William Shakerspeare is shown in contemporary dress with a buttoned jerkin.

Place of Origin

England (modelled)


after 1726 (made)


Rysbrack, John Michael (modeller)

Materials and Techniques



Height: 57 cm, Width: 50 cm, Depth: 26 cm

Object history note

Modelled in England after a model by Michael Rysbrack (born in Antwerp, Belgium, 1694, died in London, 1770). Given by Mrs M.A. Miller, Anglesey House, Isle of Wight in 1924 in memory of her father Augustus William Rixon, to whom the bust had previously belonged. A business card for E.W. Field, Dealer in Antiques and Works of Art, 28 Union Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight, was found amongst the papers relating to the objects offered as gifts to the Museum by Mrs Miller, and may indicate he acted as an agent for the donor.

Descriptive line

Bust, terracotta, of Shakespeare, by John Michael Rysbrack, England, ca. 1730

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bilbey, Diane and Trusted Marjorie. British Sculpture 1470 to 2000. A Concise Catalogue of the Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 2002. p. 129. cat. no. 179.
Sturgis, Alexander. Presence. The Art of Portrait Sculpture, exhibition catalogue for exhibition held at the Holburne Museum, published by the Art Collector’s Club Ltd, Old Martlesham Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK, 2012, cat. no. 41, p. 70, illus. p. 68
Shakespeare Memorial and Theatrical Exhibition, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1910, p. 24, cat.no 173
Review [1911-1938], Victoria & Albert Museum. Review of the Principal Acquisitions during the Year, London, 1912-1939, 1924, p. 4 and fig. 3
Esdaile, K.A., The life and works of Louis François Roubiliac, Oxford and London, 1928, pp. 128, 186

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Shakespeare (1564-1616) was revered in the 18th century as a British genius. Along with Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), he was celebrated through busts and statues demonstrating pride in the nation's history. This example is based on a stone bust by Michael Rysbrack, made for the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. [27/03/2003]




Sculpture; Portraits


Sculpture Collection

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