image Fontenelle P0044
Image number: RS.9347
Credit: © The Royal Society
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Portrait of Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle


ca. 1740


Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757, French), Natural philosopher


Unknown, Artist


Guillaume Voiriot (1713-1799, French), Painter

Object type



height (painting): 771mm
width (painting): 643mm


Content object


Half-length portrait of an elderly Fontenelle, wearing a black turban and a loose red fur-trimmed robe over a white shirt and neck-cloth. There is an open and a closed book in front of him, on a table surface at which Fontenelle holds fabric loosely with his right hand. He is seated on a green, round-backed chair and behind are bookshelves and a red armillary sphere.

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1733.

Object history

Bequeathed by Matthew Maty FRS, 1776 (presented with the Society’s portrait of Rene Descartes).

The donation is noted in the Society’s Journal Book with other presents tabled at a meeting of 7 November 1776: “Two portraits left by Dr.Maty in his Will to the Society, one of Descartes, & the other of Fontenelle.” [Royal Society Journal Book Original, JBO/29, p.154, meeting of 7 November 1776]. The gift does not feature in Council Minutes of that year or the annual list of presentations printed in Philosophical Transactions. The donor Matthew Maty’s duties in dealing with foreign correspondence as Royal Society secretary, and for the British Museum, gave him a special interest in continental men of science: as did his own Huguenot background and connections by marriage.

C. R. Weld’s catalogue of the Society’s pictures provides an attribution to H. Rigaud, presumably intended as Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743). [Descriptive catalogue of the portraits in the possession of the Royal Society, by Charles Richard Weld (London, Taylor and Francis, 1860), p.27]. Subsequent catalogues note the presentation date of 1776, but Norman Robinson’s catalogue connects the piece to Voiriot, as a copy work.

Associated place

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