Might anyone know of a recent study on the portraits and furnishing of the RS, or in other contemporary or similar institutions?
From archival records, we know that Fellows of the Royal Society frequently gave portraits to the Society, either of themselves, of past Fellows or of other figures (e.g. William Harvey, Thomas Hobbes); widows of Fellows (e.g. Mrs Evelyn) presented portraits of their husbands; visiting dignitaries presented their own portraits; several of which were hung up in the Meeting Room; smaller drawings and prints of Fellows’ portraits were kept together, either in the Library or in the Repository. Such portraits were important in the eyes of the Fellows of the Society, as they helped to memorialise its distinguished Fellows and their achievements – a collection of individual portraits formed part of the genealogy and identity of a collective institution (perhaps in parallel to the writing of the history of their own Society). The Society was also well aware that memory could fade. In 1691, John Mapletoft (1631-1721) was asked to provide a suitable encomium to the portraits hung in the meeting room of the Society.
At present, it is unclear if there were any hierarchies or orders expressed in the location and hanging of such portraits, and how they might have related, if at all, to other objects such as a globe by Joseph Moxon or a barometer designed by Robert Hooke that furnished the Meeting Room. The symbolic and practical functions of the furnishings and the setting of the room where the meetings took place would further add to our understanding of the settings in which the Fellows presented themselves, sometimes to visitors.
Stephen Johnson says that the Ashmolean Museum certainly had a sense of hierarchy in its furnishings.
The following provide provenance of surviving portraits in the RS:
Hammill, Gillian. 1969. The Society’s portraits and busts. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 24 (1):156-68;
Robinson, Norman H., and Eric G. Forbes. 1980. The Royal Society catalogue of portraits. London: The Society.
The following provides a description of the portraits hung in the middle of the 18th century.
‘A List of Original Pictures at the Royal Society House. Communicated by a Connoisseur’, Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 38 (1768), pp. 62-3.