A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery

In 1766 a talented and ambitious young English artist named Joseph Wright displayed a large oil painting, A Philosopher giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in Place of the Sun. This painting, now owned by the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, clearly captured the interest in astronomy and natural philosophy that was widespread in England in the 18th century. The instrument in the center resembles a Grand Orrery of the sort that Thomas Wright of London began making in the early 1730s. The individuals have not been identified, but their faces have been likened to the phases of the moon.
Mezzotint copies of Wright’s painting-drawn by William Pether and published by John Boydell in London-were widely known. This is one of those copies. The text at the bottom reads: “A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery. From the Original Picture Painted by Mr. Joseph Wright; In the Collection of the Right Honorable the Earl of Ferrers. Published May 20th 1768” and “Jos. Wright Pinxit” and “J. Boydell excudit” and “W. Pether delint et fecit 1768.”
Ref: T. Clayton, The English Print (New Haven and London, 1997).
Elizabeth Barker, “New Light on the Orrery: Joseph Wright and the Representation of Art in 18th Century Britain,” British Art Journal 1 (Spring 2000): 29-37.
David Fraser, “Joseph Wright of Derby and the Lunar Society,” in Judy Edgerton, ed., Wright of Derby (London: Tate Gallery, 1990).
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 20 in x 24 in; 50.8 cm x 60.96 cm
place made
United Kingdom: England, London
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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