Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Edmond Halley 1656 - 1742 1710c.

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt, Circle of 

Portrait of Edmond Halley 1656 - 1742, Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt, Circle of
Oil on canvas
18th Century
36 x 28 inches 91.4 x 71.1 cm
The Earls of Loudon, Loudon Castle, Ayrshire.
J.Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, Vol.1 (Text), p. 120 & Vol.11, Plate 318.
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This image of Halley, relates to a head and shoulders portrait by Kneller, that is now only known from an engraving. -1 However, our portrait has a particular iconographic significance since it not only celebrates an important achievement of Halley's illustrious career but also alludes to his critical friendship with Sir Isaac Newton . The sitter, who rests his left arm on a book inscribed NEWTON, is depicted pointing to a map of Britain that has it seas and channels marked.

Halley had first met Newton in 1684 when they discussed planetary motion and Halley quickly persuaded him to weld together the different strands of their work in a great treatise - the results of which were to alter the whole course of physical science. On 2 June 1686, although impecunious, Halley undertook to print Newton's work at his own expense and in a letter to him of 5 July 1687 was able to to announce its completion. A Discourse concerning Gravity was read by Halley before the Royal Society on 21 April 1686 in preparation for the publication of the Principia.

Halley presented a copy of Newton's Principia to King James II with a discourse of his own On the true Theory of the Tides. A central part of the Principia was Newton's work on the cause of the tides as deduced from the principle of gravitation.

Halley himself undertook by the King's orders in June 1701 a thorough survey of the tides and coasts of English Channel. His chart of the English Channel was published the following year. He also supplied the Admiralty with details of how further measurements could be taken and how it was possible to deduce positions on the enemy's shore which were inaccessible. As relations with France deteriorated some contemporaries believed that the charting of the Channel was a cover for to obtain information about French ports and shipping.

In 1720 Halley was appointed to the post of Astronomer Royal in succession to John Flamstead. He quickly obtained a grant for refitting the Observatory, which included a transit instrument and a large mural quadrant.
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