Pittoni’s imposing oil painting ‘An Allegorical Monument to Sir Isaac Newton’ returned to the Wren Library last month following an absence of over a year during which time it was displayed in the exhibitions at the Grand Palais, Paris and in the Doge’s Palace, Venice.
The painting, which belongs to the Fitzwilliam Museum, is on long-term loan to the Wren Library.
It is one in a series of 24 paintings that depict imaginary monuments or tombs to major intellectual, political and military figures of the late 17th or early 18th century. The were commissioned in the 1720s by Owen Swiny, impresario and opera lover, from leading Venetian and Bolognese artists. Giovanni Battista Pittoni (1687- 1767) painted four in the series including this one.
Until the early 20th century Pittoni was a somewhat forgotten figure but in his lifetime he was considered one of the greatest Venetian painters and received many important commissions both at home and from abroad.
In the foreground, the mourning figures of Minerva and the Sciences are led towards a large urn containing Newton’s ashes. On the upper level, figures engage in astronomical calculations. The ray of light striking through a prism across the centre of the picture represents Newton’s celebrated experiment with light.
Sandy Paul, Sub-Librarian said:
The painting looked superb in the exhibition in the Grand Palais but, with many thanks to the Fitzwilliam Museum, it’s come back from its travels to its familiar place on the Wren staircase and can, once again, be enjoyed by our many visitors.
For more about the painting see the Library blog.