Sunday 4 March 2018

Bust of Isaac Newton in the Bodleian Library - probably not!

This post updated 17 August 2023 with a few thoughts on the portrait sculpture of Edward Capell by Roubiliac.

The Marble Bust of the so called Isaac Newton.
in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Anonymous sculptor.

Formerly attributed to Joseph Wilton (1722 - 1803).

Height 50 cms.

Acquired by the Bodleian Library in 1762.

see Bodleian Day Book.

This bust is a conundrum.

It bears no relation to other sculptures of Newton or to any painted or engraved portraits.

Does it represent Isaac Newton?

I am going to make a suggestion that will probably be dismissed

Is it Edward Capell by Roubiliac.

There were two busts (perhaps portrait reliefs) in the posthumous sale at the Roubiliac Studio in St Martin's Lane.

Lot 20. Mr Capel, Plaster Bust or perhaps a relief. (Edward Capell {1713-81} known from engravings by Bartalozzi and Anker Smith at the BM).

Lot 77. ---- Capel. Terracotta, Bust  (known from engravings by Bartalozzi and Anker Smith at the BM).

The closely cropped hair is unusual in a bust of this date - what is most instructive here is the form of the ear.

This goes a long way to convince me.


There is a superficial resemblance to other busts of Newton particularly in the square shape of the jaw - but there is another bust of Newton which has been attributed to Wilton by Malcolm Baker - currently in a private collection? see photograph below which bears no resemblance to this bust.

Garlick says that it was believed to be based on a portrait by Enoch Seeman I can find no evidence for this.

This post is one of an on going series depicting the portrait sculpture at Oxford University.


Image result for Joseph Wilton bust

Bust of Isaac Newton.

attrib. to Joseph Wilton.

Presumably the version sold by Christie's in 1991.

Current location unknown.

Joseph Wilton was born in London, but trained in the Netherlands, France and Italy from 1744 to 1755. 
He was appointed Statuary to His Majesty George III in 1761, and in 1768 became a founder member of the Royal Academy. However in the same year he inherited a large legacy from his father and neglected sculpture thereafter; he was bankrupted in 1793.


Mrs R. L. Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in the possession of the University, Colleges, City and County of Oxford, I, p 91, no.227. 

Catalogue of Portraits in the Bodleian Library by Mrs R. L. Poole: completely revised and expanded by K. Garlick, 2004, p 235.

M. Keynes, The Iconography of Sir Isaac Newton to 1800, 2005, A.32, p 90). Keynes mistakenly writes that it is signed and dated.

Described in the Bodleian Day Book 1762 as ‘said to be based on an original portrait by Enoch Seeman’. 

An unidentified ‘bust; a model’ by Wilton was exhibited Society of Artists, London, 1768, no.159, 

and another appeared in Wilton’s sale, Christie’s, 2 June 1779. 

This was possibly that bust sold Christie’s, 2 July 1991, lot 81, catalogued as Roubiliac, this was re attributed to Wilton by Malcolm Baker, see - M. Keynes, The Iconography of Sir Isaac Newton to 1800, 2005, A.33, p 90).

For a very interesting post on the composition bust of William Pitt, Lord Chatham by Wilton at Harvard University Museum  see -


A couple of Busts by Joseph Wilton.

Bust of Leake of  Okeover by Joseph Wilton - private Collection
image from Conway Library

Oliver Cromwell.

Joseph Wilton.

74.9 cms.


Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sir Isaac Newton 
after Enoch Seeman 
engraved by James Macardel


No comments:

Post a Comment