Mezzotint portrait of John Bird

Made:
1776 in London
maker:
Valentine Green
artist:
John Lewis

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Portrait mezzotint print from engraving, 'JOHN BIRD of LONDON (1709-1776), 'Who furnished the Chief Observatories of
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Portrait mezzotint print from engraving, 'JOHN BIRD of LONDON (1709-1776), 'Who furnished the Chief Observatories of
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Print (mezzotint). Engraved by Valentine Green after John Lewis; published by Valentine Green, London, 1776. Titled 'JOHN BIRD of LONDON, | Who furnished the Chief Observatories of the World, with the most Capital Astronomical Instruments divided by him after an improved | method of his own, in a manner superior to any executed before, for which, and many other Improvements in the Construction of | Astronomical Instruments, he was honoured with a considerable Recompence from the Commissioners of Longitude. | Died the 31st. March 1776, in the 67th. year of his age.' The print is a half-length portrait of John Bird, shown seated at a table in front of a curtain backdrop. Lying on the table are a beam compass, Bird's publication 'The Method of Constructing Mural Quadrants', and a diagram of a mural quadrant lettered 'J. Bird Sculp'. The composition is enclosed by a simple, rectangular trompe-l’oeil frame. Lettered underneath the image with title, and maker and publication details as follows: 'Lewis Pinxit.'; 'Engraved by V. Green, Engraver to his Majesty, & to the Elector Palatine.'; 'Published Decr. 2, 1776, by V. Green, Engraver to his Majesty &c. Salisbury Street, Strand.'

John Bird began as a clothier but later turned to scientific instrument-making. He established a reputation for constructing, and accurately dividing the scales of, large quadrants for astronomical observatories.

This mezzotint depicts Bird with examples of his intellectual output and tools of the trade: his own diagram of a mural quadrant; his publication 'The Method of Constructing Mural Quadrants'; and a beam compass that would have been used to draw and divide the scale arcs on such instruments. Such was his skill that the Board of Longitude, the government body concerned with the improvement of navigation, requested he share his techniques with other makers. In return they granted him £500, around ten times the annual salary for a skilled tradesman.

One of Bird’s mural quadrants, made for the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, is now in the Science Museum Group’s permanent collection (SMG object number 1935-4). His publication 'The Method of Constructing Mural Quadrants' is also held by the Science Museum Library and Archives (call number Q O.B. BIR BIRD).

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Details

Category:
Art
Object Number:
1857-305
Materials:
mezzotint engraving, paper (fibre product) and printing ink
Measurements:
overall - original print: 367 mm x 255 mm
overall - w/ lining: 390 mm x 287 mm
type:
print
taxonomy:
  • visual and verbal communication
  • visual and verbal communication

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