Sir Walter Raleigh (1552?-1618)

Terracotta head-and-shoulders bust, in contemporary late-16th or early 17th century dress including hat, signed on the reverse 'Michl. Rysbrack 1757'.

This is one of eight busts of British worthies - three now being in the NMM - made by Rysbrack for Sir Edward Littleton for Teddesley Hall, his new house near Stafford (now demolished), which he was furnishing in the neo-classical style.

They essentially comprised four pairs: Raleigh and Bacon (SCU0005), Shakespeare and Pope, Cromwell (SCU0014) and Milton, and Newton and Locke. Lord Hatherton (the Littleton barony dating from 1835) consigned these - excluding Shakespeare - and other Rysbracks that his ancestor had purchased, with the related Rysbrack letters about them, to Spink's for exhibition and sale in July 1932. Spink's related illustrated catalogue by Mrs Arundell Esdaile ('The Art of John Michael Rysbrack in Terracotta') fully transcribes the letters - a few of which are also in the Museum (ref. HSR/Z/7) - and is otherwise comprehensive.

The Cromwell may date to as early as 1732, when Vertue saw one of him in Rysbrack's workshop. Previous Museum notes identify that of Pope as possbly 1735 and in the National Portrait Gallery; Milton as 1738, now at Stourhead (based on Rysbrack's Westminster Abbey monument and another bust done for William Benson); Newton (1739), now at Trinity College, Cambridge; Locke (1755?) in the Royal Collection. That of Shakespeare is unlocated but the V&A has one that may at least be a version.

Raleigh and Bacon were conceived as a pair and the most expensive at 25 guineas each, though the sources for the Raleigh are not certain and it was not started until the Bacon had been sent off in June 1757: the others were all 16 guineas each. These two, with the Cromwell, were purchased for the Museum at Spink's by Sir James Caird. In 1930 he had already bought from Hatherton, also through Spink, Hogarth's portrait of Inigo Jones (BHC2810), which Sir Edward Littleton had commissioned for Teddesley as another British notable.

Raleigh was a favoured courtier of Elizabeth I from 1582, and a soldier, adventurer and patron of American colonization and exploration under her and James I. He was also a fine and important writer, his 'History of the World' being largely composed while imprisoned under James I, who eventually executed him as a traitor primarily to appease Spanish interests after the failure of his ventures to find the legendary kingdom of El Dorado in central America. Raleigh had a clear understanding of the role of seapower and once wrote; ' For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself' ('A Discourse on the invention of Ships...' etc).

Object Details

ID: SCU0043
Collection: Sculpture
Type: Bust
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Rysbrack, John Michael
Date made: 1755-7; 1757
People: Raleigh, Walter
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Overall: 610 mm x 508 mm x 75 kg

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