Victoria & Albert Museum Department of Engraving Illustration and Design & Department of Paintings, Accessions 1946. London: Published under the Authority of the Ministry of Education, 1949.
The full text of the entry is as follows:
"KENT, William (1684-1748)
Design for the memorial to Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey showing Newton reclining on a plinth on a sarcophagus. Two cherubs display a sheet of geometrical figures. Above, a lamenting female figure reclines upon a globe inscribed Sr: I: Newton.
Signed W. Kent and inscribed in pen with scale.Pen and ink and wash. 1111/16 X 51/4 E.424-1946
Note: The memorial was executed by J. M. Rysbrack. A drawing by Rysbarck, slightly varying from Kent's design, is in the British Museum (reproduced in The Architect, Vol. CVII, 3 March 1922, p.166). Rysbrack's terracotta model of the figure of Newton is in the Department of Architecture and Sculpture of the V. & A. M., No. A.1-1938.
Design for a monument commemorating Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) by J M Rysbrack on the Choir Screen of Westminster Abbey by William Kent (1685-1748).
Height: 29.7 cm, Width: 13.3 cm
William Kent 1686-1748: Designing Georgian Britain (The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts 19/09/2013-16/02/2014)
Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C
Vertue records that Kent was paid the large sum of £50 for supplying the design. A drawing by Rysbrack of the modified design is in the British Museum and his terracota model for the figure of Newton is in the Department of Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Sculptures known to have been designed by Kent are relatively few but are accorded positions of great prominence. In Westminster Abbey Kent designed the monuments to Newton and Earl Stanhope (both carved by John Michael Rysbrack) and to Shakespeare (carved by Peter Scheemakers) and received substantial fees for doing so. He also designed the figures of Palladio and Inigo Jones (carved by Rysbrack) for the entrance front of Lord Burlington's Chiswick House. It is, therefore, possible that he may have designed sculptures for other locations.
This design by William Kent was for a memorial to the scientific thinker, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Kent showed Newton in classical dress to do him honour, as if he were a citizen of ancient Rome. The full-scale sculpture was carved in marble by John Michael Rysbrack (1684-1770) and erected in Westminster Abbey in 1731. The model for the figure is shown in the case above. [27/03/2003]
Design for the monument commemorating Sir Isaac Newton, showing Newton reclining on a plinth on top of an inscribed sarcophagus. Two cherubs display a long sheet of geometrical figures which also rest in the lap of Newton. Above, a lamenting female figure reclines upon a globe inscribed 'Sr: I: Newton'. Signed by the artist.
The design is inscribed with a scale in feet. This was an important component because the design - 30 centimetres high by 13 centimetres wide - was to be transformed into a much larger, life-size marble sculpture.
Design & Designing
The next stage in the design process was to make a terracotta model (see museum no. A.1-1938). This was then scaled up into the full-size sculpture.
The engraver and diarist George Vertue (1684-1756) criticised the final result in April 1731. He wrote, 'Sett up in Westminster Abbey the monument of Mr Michael Rysbrack, and much to his Reputation tho the design and drawing of it on paper was poor enough, yet for that only Mr Kent is honoured with his name on it.'
Sir Isaac Newton was a physicist, mathematician and professor at Cambridge University. His first great discovery was the law of gravity. His contribution to optics was his recognition that white light is a mixture of coloured light, which can be separated by refraction. He also invented calculus and the reflecting telescope. Newton was knighted in 1705. The poet Alexander Pope wrote an epitaph originally intended for the memorial to Newton. His couplet, though not used, honoured one of the greatest scientists of all time:
'Nature, and Nature's laws, lay hid in night;
God said, Let Newton be, and all was light.'