Crossing Boundaries: A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery

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Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery, 1766

Crossing Boundaries

Joseph Wright of Derby took an interest in the industrial revolution and the enlightenment and painted a series of paintings displaying scientific and academic subjects. A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery preceded An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump and followed Three Persons  Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight. All three of these paintings depict people observing science or studying, are candlelit, and caused a stir in opinions. Joseph Wright of Derby shows scientific miracles in a way which was previously only used for religious paintings. The painting shown also goes by the longer name "A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the sun". This title reflects the idea of scientific miracles, such as artificial light, overtaking religious symbolism. Instead of the figures having a religious epiphany they are experiencing a conversion to science.

Joseph Wright of Derby's painting challenged the set hierarchy that favored classical history and mythological subjects. The public was previously only exposed to paintings of biblical heroes, and greek gods. Wright transitions from his classic landscapes, portraiture, and christian themes and attempts to revolutionize subject matter. Wright advocated for the importance of science and knowledge through the concentration of the subjects surrounding the orrery. Their interest highlights the idea that science and reason help advance society. He also includes two young girls leaning on the orrery which shows belief in the future involvement of women in intellectual matters. The people in the painting are crossing the academic boundaries that constrained them, and art, before the enlightenment.

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