J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Joseph Pope’s Orrery in “The Philosophy Chamber”

Eventually, Joseph Pope’s orrery went to Harvard College. I’ll tell that story in more detail sometime, but today I’m highlighting how the machine is on display once more as part of the Harvard Art Museums’ new exhibit, “The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820.”

As this Harvard Gazette article explains, the Philosophy Chamber housed the college’s finest scientific instruments, biological and anthropological specimens, and artistic treasures in the early republic. The new exhibit is an attempt to recreate that assemblage.
The exhibition features more than 100 works displayed in four thematic sections, including a loose reconstruction of the Philosophy Chamber itself. Included are full-length portraits by John Singleton Copley; exceptional examples of Native Hawaiian feather work and carving by indigenous artists of the Northwest Coast; a dazzling, large-scale orrery (a model of the solar system) by Joseph Pope; mezzotints after the work of expatriate American artists; and Stephen Sewall’s mural-sized copy of the Wampanoag inscription on the landmark known as Dighton Rock, an 11-foot boulder located in Berkley, Massachusetts. The objects are drawn from a number of private, academic, and public collections in the United States and the United Kingdom…
The exhibit opens today. In conjunction with it, on Tuesday, 23 May, at 3:00 P.M., Prof. Jane Kamensky will deliver a free lecture about Copley’s experiences in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

On the following two days, 24-25 May, admission to the museums, and this exhibit, is free. Of course, those days are also Harvard University’s Class Day and Commencement, so Cambridge might be a little crowded.

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