The statues in the court
A number of eminent scientists, philosophers and engineers are commemorated with statues around the Museum: Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Linnaeus are among the figures that grace the court. Several busts celebrate Oxford men of science that have made a significant contribution to the Museum.
The Museum is a magnificent testament to the Victorian neo-Gothic movement. It was designed to be a 'cathedral to science' and reflects this throughout. The stonework in the interior is no exception: columns of polished stone are capped by intricately carved capitals depicting different botanical orders, and the court is surrounded by statues of the great men of science. Darwin, Newton and Galileo act as inspiration to researchers, students, and visitors to the Museum.
A brief history of the statues
When the Museum opened it was planned that each pillar around the gallery would play host to a statue of one of the great scientists. The statues were paid for by private subscription however, and unfortunately only 19 full statues were completed. All but one of the statues is carved in Caen stone - a limestone from Normandy in France. Many of the sculptors were well-known Victorian artists.
A key to the statues in the court
There are 28 statues and busts on display in the main court. Many of the statues show the subject with a symbol or object relating to their work.
1. Humphrey Davy (1778 - 1829)
English chemist who discovered several chemical elements, and invented the miner's safety lamp. In the statue, Davy rests his right hand on a carving of the lamp. There are two books at his feet, one of them, Salmonia, his own work on fly fishing. Caen stone statue by Alexander Munro.
2. Joseph Priestley (1733 - 1804)
English chemist and amateur natural philosopher whose scientific work covered physics, electricity, magnetism, and optics, as well as chemistry. He is credited with the discovery of oxygen in 1774. He also invented fizzy water by dissolving carbon dioxide in water. He was a religious dissenter and a political non-conformist, with sympathies for the French Revolution. He later emigrated to America. Caen stone statue by Edward Stephens.
3. Roger Bacon (c.1214 - c.1294)
English philosopher and scientist, famous for his work on optics and for promoting experimentation. Bacon is depicted holding an astrolabe and calipers. The astrolabe represents his scientific studies, and the calipers suggest an aspiration to harmony. Caen stone statue by Henry Hope Pinker.
4. Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)
English philosopher whose ideas form the basis of modern scientific investigation. He championed empirical methods of scientific enquiry, and argued that the purpose of scientific advancement was to improve the human condition. These two beliefs continue to underpin scientific methods and philosophy today. Caen stone statue by Thomas Woolner.
5. Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.)
Greek philosopher whose ideas were for centuries the foundation of western study and thought. Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that ultimate reality was to be found in the material world. He wrote treatises on logic, ethics, politics, aesthetics, mathematics and science. His system for the classification of animals laid the foundation for modern taxonomy. Caen stone statue by Henry Armstead.
6. John Hunter (1728 - 1793)
Scottish doctor and anatomist. Hunter's most significant contribution to medicine was to provide an experimental basis to surgical practice. He favoured experimentation and observation. 'Don't think, try' was his famous injunction. In the statue Hunter's left elbow rests on a plinth concealing a snake coiled round a staff. This is a traditional symbol of medicine, and is associated with the Greek god Aesclepius. Caen stone statue by Henry Hope Pinker.
7. Thomas Sydenham (1624 - 1689)
An English physician, who has been called the 'father of English medicine', he favoured the Hippocratic methods of observation and clinical experience. He studied and described the conditions that gave rise to epidemics, and was a witness to the great plague of 1666 and to major out-breaks of smallpox. He was a skilled and popular practitioner of medicine, as well as the author of many important medical texts. He fought for Cromwell in the Civil War. Caen stone statue by Henry Hope Pinker.
8. William Harvey (1578 - 1657)
English doctor and anatomist. He is famous for his discovery of the circulation of the blood, described and published in 1628. Although his views were controversial, he was recognised as a leading physician, and was appointed doctor to Charles I. Harvey is depicted with a heart resting in his right hand; his work remains the foundation for modern research into the circulatory system. Caen stone statue by Henry Weekes.
9. Hippocrates (c.460 - c.377 B.C.)
A Greek physician, known as the 'father of medicine', Hippocrates was the greatest physician of his time. His medical practice was based on observation and on the study of the human body. He differed from his contemporaries in his belief that illness had physical and rational causes. Prevailing views held evil spirits and the whims of the gods responsible for ill health. Hippocrates was also concerned with the ethics of medicine, and the moral duties of a physician. The 'Hippocratic oath' he composed outlining these responsibilities is perhaps his greatest legacy, and in a modern form, remains the basis of trust between a doctor and patient. The statue's base is decorated with two serpents entwined around a staff, the caduceus, is sometimes used as a symbol for medicine. However it is more often associated with Hermes, the Greek god of commerce. Caen stone statue by Alexander Munro.
10. Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson
Waynflete Professor of Physiology, 1882-1895; Regius Professor of Medicine, 1882-1904. Bust.
11. Walter Frank Raphael Weldon
Linacre Professor of Comparative Anatomy, 1899-1906. Bust.
12. George Rolleston
Linacre Professor of Physiology, 1860-1881. Bust.
13. Benjamin Woodward
Prime designer in the firm responsible both for the design and building of the Museum; died after a bout of ill health in June 1861, a year after the Museum was opened. Bust.
14. Carl von Linnaeus (1707 - 1778)
Swedish botanist, known as the 'father of taxonomy', Linnaeus published the first edition of his classification of living things, Systema Naturae, in 1735. His system of hierarchical classification still survives, as does his most important legacy, the system of binomial nomenclature that he devised and implemented. This 'two name' system - a combination of the genus and species names - is recognised as the official starting point of modern taxonomy. Before Linnaeus there were no accepted standards for naming living organisms. In the statue, Linnaeus holds a sprig of Linnaea borealis in his left hand, and at his feet is the Lapland plant Menyanthes trifoliata. Caen stone statue by John Tupper.
15. Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)
English naturalist considered to be the 'father of modern biology'. He developed the theory of evolution in his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859. Darwin's ideas were controversial, as they challenged prevailing belief in God as creator and 'man' as unique and separate from the rest of the animal kingdom. The publication of his theory sparked the 'great debate' held in the Museum in 1860. Today, however, Darwin's theories are integral to our understanding of the natural world. Caen stone statue by Henry Hope Pinker.
16. Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727)
English physicist and mathematician. The basic principles of investigation that Newton defined, together with his scientific work, laid the foundations for modern science. His two most famous works are the Principia (1687), and Opticks, (1704). He made a huge impact on astronomy by defining the laws of motion and universal gravitation. He used them to describe the movement of the moon around the earth, and the planets around the sun. Newton investigated the properties of white light, and he constructed the first reflecting telescope. He is probably the most influential scientist who ever lived. In the statue Newton holds a book in his left hand; an apple rests at his feet representing his discovery of the laws of gravity. Caen stone statue by Alexander Munro.
17. Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)
Italian astronomer and physicist. Galileo studied motion by experimenting with pendulums and measuring the speed of falling objects. He built the first refracting telescope and used it to make astronomical observations. He saw the mountains on the moon and observed that the Milky Way was made up of stars. He was condemned by the Inquisition for his belief in the Copernican system of planetary movement which states that the planets, including the Earth, move around the sun, rather than believing the Earth to be the fixed centre of the universe. In the statue Galileo holds two lenses, one in each hand. Caen stone statue by Alexander Munro.
18. Euclid (about 300 B.C.)
Probably the most famous of the Greek mathematicians, he wrote The Elements, a treatise on geometry and other branches of mathematics. In the statue Euclid holds a compass and a scroll bearing geometric inscriptions. Caen stone statue by Joseph Durham.
19. William Buckland (1784-1856)
A scientist and clergyman, William Buckland founded the scientific teaching of geology in Oxford, and brought together what would become the core of the Museum's geological collections. Bust.
20. Gottfried Leibnitz (1646 - 1716)
German mathematician. One of Leibnitz's great achievements was the development of the binary system of arithmetic. Another significant contribution was his work on dynamics. He also developed differential and integral calculus, although there was serious controversy between him and his contemporary Sir Isaac Newton as to who had worked out the details and explained the proofs first. Leibnitz applied the methods of mathematical proof to other disciplines such as logic and philosophy, and among his lifelong aims were ambitious plans to collate all human knowledge, and to reunite the Church. Caen stone statue by Alexander Munro.
21. Hans Oersted (1777 - 1851)
Danish physicist, who in 1820 discovered that electricity and magnetism were related phenomena. This discovery laid the foundation for the theory of electromagnetism, and for the research that later created technologies such as radio, television and fiber optics. Plaster statue by K. Jobhen.
22. John Phillips (1800 - 1874)
Prominent geologist and Oxford academic; he was the first keeper of the University Museum, 1857-1874 and Professor of Geology 1860-1874. Bust.
23. William Smith (1769 - 1839)
An engineer who is now considered the 'father of English geology', Smith created the first geological map of Britain. Bust.
24. James Watt (1736 - 1819)
A Scottish engineer, Watt is famous for his success in modifying steam engines to make them more efficient. His new models of the steam engine had a huge impact on the Industrial Revolution as they came to be used in factories, mills and mines. In recognition of the importance of his work, the electrical unit, the watt, was named after him. Caen stone statue by Alexander Munro.
25. George Stephenson (1781 - 1848)
An English engineer, Stephenson is generally regarded as the founder of the British railways. He is associated with Rocket, the steam-powered locomotive which has provided the model for almost every steam locomotive built since. He also used his engineering skills to devise the most effective rail tracks for the locomotives. His work made a significant impact on the pattern of industrial life in Britain. Caen stone statue by Joseph Durham.
26. Sir Joseph Prestwich (1812 - 1896)
Prominent geologist and archaeologist; Professor of Geology at Oxford, 1874-1888. Bust.
27. Henry Smith (1826 - 1883)
Professor of Geometry at Oxford, 1861-1883, and keeper of the University Museum, 1874-1883. Bust.
28. Albert, Prince Consort (1819 - 1861)
Husband to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert took a keen interest in the arts and sciences. He was the driving force behind the Great Exhibition of 1851, profits from which enabled the Royal Albert Hall and the museums in South Kensington to be built. Caen stone statue by Thomas Woolner.
Further information on the architecture of the Museum and the stonework in the court can be found in the 'Learning more' articles listed below.
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