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Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734–1797
Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery
ca. 1768
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
17 5/8 x 23 1/2 inches (44.8 x 59.7 cm), Frame: 20 3/4 × 26 3/8 × 1 3/4 inches (52.7 × 67 × 4.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
apparatus | astronomer | astronomy | audience | books | boys | children | cravat | curtain | genre subject | gesture | girls | invention | lecture | light | men | model (representation) | monochromatic | orrery | paper (fiber product) | pencil | philosopher | planets | redingote (overcoat) | science | scientist | spectators | teacher | teaching | writing (processes)
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system that was used in the eighteenth century to teach astronomy to lay audiences. In his depiction of the children marveling at the mechanism and the young man contemplating the lecture, Wright captures the eighteenth-century fascination with astronomy and natural philosophy. Painted in grisaille, a monochrome executed in shades of gray, this is a highly finished copy of a larger painting in color, made to this small scale to serve as an exact guide for mezzotint engravers to reproduce the composition as a print.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2021

Eighteenth Century - Art Civilization in the Rococo Era (Nationalmuseum, 1979-09 - 1980-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Crafting Worldviews: European Instruments of Art and Science from Yale University (Yale University Art Gallery, 2023-02-17 - 2023-06-25) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner: British Painting and the Rise of Modernity (Fondazione Roma Museo - Palazzo Sciarra, 2014-04-14 - 2014-07-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Art in Focus : Joseph Wright and the Spectacle of Science (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-03-30 - 2007-06-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Mehr Licht. Europe around 1770. Art and the Enlightenment (Stadt Frankfurt Am Main, 1999-08-22 - 2000-01-09) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The New Child - The Origins of Modern Childhood in English Art 1730-1830 (Joslyn Art Museum, 1996-03-09 - 1996-05-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The New Child - The Origins of Modern Childhood in English Art 1730-1830 (Dixon Gallery & Gardens, 1995-12-10 - 1996-02-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The New Child - The Origins of Modern Childhood in English Art 1730-1830 (Berkeley Art Museum, 1995-08-23 - 1995-11-19) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Pursuit of Happiness - A View of Life in Georgian England (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-09-18) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Herbert Beck, Mehr Licht : Europa um 1770 : die bildende Kunst der Aufklärung, Klinkhardt & Biermann, Munich, 1999, pp. 72-3, 493, no. 43, N6756 .M44 1999 (LSF) [ORBIS]

Lance Bertelsen, David Garrick and English Painting, Eighteenth Century Studies, vol. 11, Spring 1978, p. 323, NX452 E54 11 (YCBA) Also available online at JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2738195 [YCBA]

Joseph Burke, The Iconography of the Enlightenment in English Art, Sydney University Press for the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1970, p. 15, N6766 B87 [ORBIS]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 266-267, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Matthew Hargraves, Joseph Wright of Derby and the Society of Artists of Great Britain, British Art Journal, Vol. 11, no. 1, 2010 (Spring), p. 54-55, Pl. 2, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Also available on line (ORBIS) [YCBA]

Kathryn James, English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500-1800, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, p. 79, fig. 95, Z115.E5 J36 2020+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Joseph Wright and the spectacle of science, Yale Center for British Art, 2007, pp. 33-4, Vertical File V1736 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sten Lindroth, 1700 [i. e. Sjuttonhundra]-tal : tanke och form i rokokon = The eighteenth century : Thought and form in the Rococo Era, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1979, p. 76, no. 127, N6425 .R6 S57 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Michael Neuman, Baroque and Rococo art and architecture, Pearson, Boston, 2013, p. 392, N6415.B3 N48 2013 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 1, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

J. H. Plumb, The pursuit of happiness : a view of life in Georgian England : an exhibition selected from the Paul Mellon collection, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, pp. 51, 108, no. 97, N6766 Y34 1977 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Eric Robinson, Shorter Notices, Joseph Wright of Derby : The Philosophers' Painter , Burlington Magazine, vol. 100, The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd., June 1958, p. 214, N1 B87 100 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Simon Schama, The Yale Centre for British Art, TLS, the Times Literary Supplement, , May 20, 1977, p. 619, TLS Historical Archive [ORBIS]

Skira editore, Hogarth Reynolds Turner : British painting and the rise of modernity, Rome, 2014, pp. 157, 287, cat. no. 18, fig. 18, ND466 .H65 2014 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

David H. Solkin, Joseph Wright of Derby and the Sublime Art of Labor, Representations, vol. 83, Summer 2003, p. 167, NX1 R46 (SML) Available online in JStor. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rep.2003.83.1.167 [ORBIS]

James Christen Steward, The New Child : British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood, 1730-1830, , University Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 135, 196, fig. 90, N6766 S78 1995 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Marian Wardle, The Weir family, 1820-1920, expanding the traditions of American art , Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah and Hanover, N.H., 2011, pp. 117-18, fig. 6.5, NJ18 W4268 A12 2012 (LC) Oversize (HAAS) [ORBIS]

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