Thursday 8 February 2018

Bust of Locke from Queen Caroline's Hermitage by Guelfi.

The Bust of John Locke (1632 - 1704).
from Queen Caroline's Hermitage.
Giovanni Battista Guelfi (1691 - left England in 1734).

The Hermitage was built in 1731 and demolished in 1775.

Ordered in 1731- put in position in the hermitage shortly before August 1732 (Gentleman's Magazine).

There is no record of a specific payment to Guelfi for the first four busts for Queen Caroline's Hermitage, of Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke, Dr Samuel Clark or William Woolaston but he was paid for the bust of Boyle which completed the project and was placed in the grotto before April 1733 (Gentleman's Magazine).

 He received £68 by the Paymaster of Richmond Old Lodge "for the busto of the Honbl Robert Boyle in statuary marble with a neck of veined marble & for carriage & for repairing the antique statue of Venus"

George Vertue in his notebooks III wrote in 1731 "Four busts of stone are to be made by Snr Guelphi a sculptor for the Richmond Sr I Newton, Lock Dr Clark and Mr Woolaston. This Sg Guelpha works under the direction of Mr Kent at the house of Lord Burlington"

Francis Walsingham wrote in the newspaper the Free Briton, no 195, 16 August, 1733, praising Queen Caroline as a patron of the arts and in particularl sculpture "her peculiar affection to this country whilst Bacon and Boyle Sir Isaac Newton and Dr Clarke, Lock and Wollaston employ the hand of Rysbrack and are placed in her majesty's grotto not even her own Liebnitz is allowed a place there"

Three weeks later the Grub Street Journal, no. 193, 6th September 1733, corrected this error pointing out that Walsingham had "made several historical mistakes and one egregious blunder which overturns his whole panegyric and entirely destroys the reputation in the art of statuary. For in order to do honour to Mr Rysbrack he has attributed to him the bustoes in her majesties grotto which unfortunately happen to be the work of another, and as some think a much inferior hand".

Unfortunately George Vertue (notebooks III p. 66) repeats the error made by the Free Briton, listing 6 busts - this has lead to the erroneous assumption that the five busts were made by Rysbrack - although a bust of Bacon was noted in the Free Briton it appears that it was never made.
There is a stone version of the Guelfi bust Newton at Scone Palace left to William Murray Lord Mansfield by Alexander Pope

Rysbrack states in the postscript of a letter of 20 January 1756 to Sir Edward Littleton" Sir I did not make the bust of Dr Clark in the Hermitage. It was done by Mr Ghuelphi an Italian who is dead"

For an in depth look at Queen Caroline's Hermitage and its sculptural program see -

For some reason the myth that MichaelRysbrack was responsible for these four busts and the slightly later bust of Boyle has continued to be promoted despite ample evidence to the contrary; particularly in the actual carving of these busts which bears no resemblance to the very fine work of Rysbrack.

It is surprising that Guelfi managed to remain employed given the poor quality of his work .

Malcolm Baker in The Making of the Wren Library, ed. David McKitterick, Cambridge University Press 1995, repeats this 'egregious blunder'.

Bust of John Locke
John Faber the Younger
345 x 250 mm
British Museum.

John Locke by Guelfi
Height 58 cms excluding the socle.
The socle is 19th Century
c. 1731 - 2.
Now in the Privy Chamber, Kensington Palace.

One of the five busts commissioned from Guelfi for Queen Caroline’s Grotto at Richmond,. 

A plaster in Trinity College, Cambridge, is described as a version of the bust of Locke formerly in the Richmond Grotto (M. Baker, ‘The Portrait Sculpture’ in D. McKetterick ed., The Making of the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge, 1995, p 117n32) but this is erroneous.

He was in good company, Mrs Webb in  Michael Rysbrack, Sculptor pub. Country Life 1954, makes the same error despite publishing the letter from Rysbrack, to Sir Edward Littleton refuting his workmanship (see above).

Milo Keynes in his Iconography of Sir Isaac Boydell 2005 and subsequently Gordon Balderston in the Sculpture Journal of 2008, both present the evidence that the busts for Queen Caroline's Hermitage were definitely by Guelfi and not by Rysbrack.

So that there can be no mistake - this photograph illustrates that the bust from Queen Caroline's Hermitage is nothing like the plaster bust in the Wren Library.

The terracotta prototypes of the busts made for Queen Caroline's Hermitage were once owned by William Kent who bequeathed them to Lady Isabella Finch - unfortunately they have now disappeared.


John Locke.
Michael Rysbrack
Portland Stone.
in the Temple of Worthies Stow House, Buckinghamshire.


John Locke
Michael Rysbrack
Terracotta bust.
c. 1755.

This is perhaps a prototype for the full length marble at Christ Church College, Oxford
(see my next post).


John Locke
attributed to John van Nost I.
Early 18th Century.
Lead on stone socle.
Height 73.7 cms.
Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Included here to illustrate the closeness to the Rysbrack terracotta.

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