© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
William Sharp, British (1749 - 1824)
After John Singleton Copley, American (Boston, MA 1738 - 1815 London, England)
The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar
Work Type
Physical Descriptions
sheet: 67.5 × 94.6 cm (26 9/16 × 37 1/4 in.)
plate: 66 × 86 cm (26 × 33 7/8 in.)
framed: 83.8 × 104.3 × 4.1 cm (33 × 41 1/16 × 1 5/8 in.)
Acquired in the 19th century
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Standard Reference Number
Le Bl. 29
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gray Collection of Engravings Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Label Text: The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820 , written 2017
Copley and his fellow expatriate Benjamin West revolutionized the genre of history painting in the late 18th century by representing current events in grand, multifigure compositions—a style usually reserved for Classical or religious subjects. In 1818, Copley’s son-in-law, Gardiner Greene, donated several reproductive prints of the artist’s paintings in this new mode after Copley’s death.
The two prints displayed here commemorate important British military victories. In Victory of Lord Duncan (G5705), Copley focused on a famous moment of diplomatic gallantry, when a British admiral asked for his vanquished Dutch counterpart’s hand rather than his sword in surrender. The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar (G4896.A), based on Copley’s largest history painting, depicts Britain’s 1782 defeat of the French and Spanish assault on that land. Copley aspired to paint an accurate report of a specific moment in the battle; to that end, he incorporated life portraits of the officers who were present at the siege into the figural group at right. (Studies for some of these portraits can be found in Room 2240, on Level 2.) The composition also includes references to Classical sculptures: the figure standing with outstretched arm at left is modeled after the Apollo Belvedere.

Publication History

Ethan Lasser, ed., The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2017), p. 134, Plate 70; p. 28, pp. 37-38 as part of Fig. 28 in Ethan W. Lasser's "Harvard's Teaching Cabinet"; p. 59 in María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui's "A Repository of Gifts"

Exhibition History

The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/19/2017 - 12/31/2017; The Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, 04/17/2018 - 07/15/2018

Related Works

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu