A portrait of William Harvey in the Royal Society since 1683 is a copy by an unknown artist after a portrait, now lost, painted by Sir Peter Lely ca. 1650. Three other unattributed copies besides a copy bought from Lely's studio on his death by the Earl of Bradford have been located. The present labelling of the Royal Society portrait should be corrected.
A portrait of William Harvey, MD (1578–1657) was given to the Royal Society in 1683 by John Mapletoft, MD (1631–1721), who was 26 years old and a law student at Gray's Inn when Harvey died five years before the foundation of the Royal Society. Mapletoft was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and did not begin to study medicine until 1660, becoming Gresham professor of physic 1675–79 and being elected FRS on 10 February 1676. It would have been natural for him to wish to perpetuate Harvey's memory at the Royal Society by having a copy made of a portrait painted ca. 1650, now lost, which can be attributed to Sir Peter Lely (1618–80).
Before writing his biography1 Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1887–1982), surgeon and bibliophile, delivered the 1948 Thomas Vicary Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons on the subject of Harvey's iconography2. In this the main portraits discussed were the following: (i) attributed to Daniel Mytens (1590?–1642), oils on canvas, oval, 72.4 cm×61 cm, ca. 1627, in the National Portrait Gallery since 1976; (ii) possibly by Cornelis Janssen (1590–1664), oils on canvas, 132 cm×106.7 cm, at the Royal College of Physicians since before 1666; (iii) attributed to William van Bemmel (1630–1708), oils on canvas, 114.2 cm×95.2 cm, ca. 1650, in the Hunterian Collection, Glasgow, since the death of Dr William Hunter FRS (1718–83) and earlier belonging to Dr Richard Meade FRS (1673–1754); (iv) attributed to Richard Gaywood (fl. 1650–80), etched plate, 20 cm×15.2 cm, ca. 1651, copies in the British Museum, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons; (v) unattributed, oils on canvas, 101.6 cm×71 cm, ca. 1651, in Kent and Canterbury Hospital since 1807; (vi) unattributed, oils on canvas, 130.8 cm×102.8 cm, in Ditchingham Hall, Norfolk; (vii) unattributed, oils on canvas, 74.9 cm×62.2 cm, ca. 1650, at the Royal Society since 1683.
The distinctive feature in the Royal Society portrait—‘Half length to left, three quarter face. Wearing black gown or cloak, flat white collar. The head covered by a black skull cap.’—is the skullcap. The copy painted by an unknown artist is inscribed at the top GVILIELMVS. HARVEIVS. M D. and below Sic ora ferebat. | Magnus Naturae Rimator | Et Circulationis Sanguinis Demonstrator Primus | Gulielmus Harveius. In it Harvey is in his seventies (figure 1).
George Vertue (1684–1756), engraver and antiquary, reported seeing the portrait in August 1737 when he made a list of the pictures in the Royal Society but without giving any attribution to it.3 In the Wellcome Library there is a stipple engraving of the portrait, 27.1 cm×18.3 cm, engraved by Edward Scriven (1775–1841), published by Charles Knight, Pall Mall East, in the first part of the nineteenth century, and wrongly said to be ‘From the original picture by C. Jansen, in the possession of the Royal Society.’ The Dutch portrait painter Cornelis Janssen (Cornelius Johnson) was born in London, worked with Van Dyck at the court of Charles I, and left England in 1643 to live in Amsterdam years before the portrait was painted ca. 1650. The portrait is still incorrectly labelled. It is at present ascribed to Jan de Reyn (1610–78), one of Van Dyck's assistants, who returned home to Dunkirk when Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641) died, so is unlikely to have painted it.
Keynes also included another unattributed copy, 75 cm×63 cm, now in the Pybus Room of the Library Building of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The portrait was acquired by F. C. Pybus (1883–1975), surgeon and antiquary, at Christie's on 18 November 1929, lot 29, and donated by him to the University of Newcastle in 1965. An unconfirmed note claims that it was formerly at Nottingham Castle: William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle (1592–1676), who had known Harvey during his support of Charles I in the civil war, bought Nottingham Castle in 1663 and began rebuilding it in 1674. Keynes also drew attention to three inferior secondary copies of the Harvey portrait, but did not mention an oils on canvas copy, 66 cm×57.1 cm, in the Wellcome Library by 1918, again unattributed but also of unknown provenance.
After a second edition of the Keynes iconography2 came out in 1985, a fourth copy of the portrait of William Harvey wearing a skull cap appeared at Christie's on 11 July 1986, lot 60, said to be from the studio of Sir Peter Lely but here considered unattributed and not from his studio. It came from the estate of the 10th and last Earl Fitzwilliam (1904–79) and was acquired by Dr Verne Roberts of Durham, North Carolina.4 The oils on canvas portrait, 75 cm×64.1 cm, has at its top the inscription The Famous Dr WillmHarvey Who discovered The Circulation of The Blood and is at present in New York at Martayan Lan. The first mention of it was made by George Vertue when he reported seeing it after it had arrived at Wentworth Woodhouse in 1730: ‘Dr Wm Harvey the famous phisician in poses of the Ld Malton’.5 How it might have descended to the Fitzwilliam family is complicated.
It is suggested that this early copy by an unknown artist after a portrait by Sir Peter Lely was made for Heneage Finch, first Earl of Nottingham and Lord Chancellor (1621–82), who married Harvey's niece Elizabeth in 1646, was one of his patients and as a lawyer helped him to draft his will, later becoming its executor. His collection passed to his eldest son Daniel, second Earl (1647–1730), whose daughter Mary married Thomas Watson-Wentworth, Earl of Malton and first Marquis of Rockingham (1665–1750), in 1716 and then lived at Wentworth Woodhouse. Their eldest daughter Anne, who had married the third Earl Fitzwilliam (1719–56) in 1744, died in 1769, and it was the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam (1748–1833) who inherited Wentworth Woodhouse on the death of Charles, second Marquis of Rockingham (1730–82).
A fifth copy of the portrait of the aged Dr Harvey was acquired by Francis, Lord Newport and first Earl of Bradford (1620–1708), for £4 at the sale of Sir Peter Lely's pictures on 18 April 1682, two years after his death.6 This was a studio copy made by an unknown assistant after Lely's original painting. George Vertue reported (no date) that there was ‘At My Ld. Bradfords at Twittenham Dr. Harvey Phisitian’.7 The oils on canvas portrait, 61.3 cm×53.3 cm, is now at Weston Park, Shropshire, having passed by descent to the Earls of Bradford of the second creation. In a Biographical catalogue of the portraits at Weston Park (1888, p. 57) the Harvey portrait is wrongly attributed to John Riley (1646–91), as it is in C. H. Collins Baker's Lely and the Stuart portrait painters8 (1912), where he writes, ‘There, too [at Weston Park], is said to be Riley's portrait of William Harvey, who died in Riley's twelfth year’.
Lely's studio copy confirms that he painted the portrait of Harvey dated ca. 1650, which was copied for the portrait in the Royal Society and three other times, as reported here, in the seventeenth century. A portrait of ‘Dr Harvey, probably William Harvey’ is listed in R. B. Beckett's study of Lely9, but there is no mention of it in the catalogue10 of an exhibition of Lely's paintings and drawings at the National Portrait Gallery in 1978–79.
The help of Dr Malcolm Rogers and William Schupbach, Wellcome Library, in writing this paper is gratefully acknowledged.
- © 2006 The Royal Society