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Science, Religion and Politics: The Royal Society at the National Portrait Gallery
Sir Christopher Wren by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1711Oil on canvas. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
LONDON.- A new display at the National Portrait Gallery to mark the 350th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Society celebrates a critical moment in the development of modern science. The display of 20 works, drawing from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery and including two loans from the Royal Society, show the key figures in the early history of the Royal Society such as Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, Samuel Pepys and Sir Isaac Newton.

The Royal Society was founded on 28 November 1660 when a dozen men gathered to hear the young Christopher Wren give a lecture on astronomy. In the discussion that followed they decided to form 'a Colledge for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning.' They drew on the ‘new philosophy' devised by Sir Francis Bacon to pursue knowledge through the observation of nature, the systematic collection of data and the testing of hypotheses through experiments. Two years later Charles II made it his Royal Society, and in the 350 years since it was founded its Fellows have been responsible for our understanding of gravity, evolution, the electron, the double helix and the internet and have made a huge contribution to the modern world.

This display of oil paintings, prints, miniatures and a medal focuses on the founding of the Royal Society by showing the founder members and early fellows. The presentation considers the broad concept of ‘science', the great variety of scientists in the later seventeenth-century, the relationship between science and religion and the place of science in Restoration society.

Portraits of more recent fellows of the Royal Society are also currently on display at the Gallery. A portrait of the current President of the Royal Society, Lord Martin Rees by Benjamin Sullivan, and a portrait of President Elect of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse by Jason Brooks can be viewed in the Contemporary Collection Lerner Galleries on the Ground Floor.

The Royal Society, the national academy of science of the UK and the Commonwealth, is at the cutting edge of scientific progress. The society supports many top young scientists, engineers and technologists, influences science policy, debates scientific issues with the public and much more. Throughout its history, the Society has promoted excellence in science through its Fellowship and Foreign Membership, which has included Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Hodgkin, Francis Crick, James Watson and Stephen Hawking.

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