New portrait to mark Hooke’s place in history

January 12, 2012
New portrait to mark Hooke’s place in history

Chroniclers of his time called him ‘despicable’, ‘mistrustful’ and ‘jealous’, and a rivalrous Isaac Newton might have had the only surviving portrait of him burnt, but, three centuries on, Robert Hooke is now regarded as one of the great Enlightenment scientists.  

It was Hooke’s dispute with Isaac Newton over credit for Newton’s work on gravity that tainted more than two hundred years of historical writing about Hooke, as it is chronicled that he fought for greater credit than Newton offered for the guiding principles which were later detailed in Newton’s Principia.

Despite the folklore, however, there is now no doubt that Hooke had a profound influence on the history of physics, not least through the law of elasticity which he drew up while working as Robert Boyle’s assistant in 1660; a law of physics that now bears his name.

Now, thanks to Rita Greer, a history painter, who has undertaken a project to memorialize Hooke, a portrait of the scientist will be hung at the Institute of Physics (IOP) in London.

The hanging of the portrait is the centrepiece of a day of talks, on Thursday 12 January, which has been organized to commemorate Hooke’s life.

Following Hooke’s death in the early 1700s, Newton was appointed President of the Royal Society and it was during his time in this capacity that, it is thought, the only portrait of Hooke was destroyed – it is unclear whether the portrait was destroyed on Newton’s command or simply left to perish.

With no visual sources for reference, Greer has used written sources – including the chronicles of both John Aubrey and Richard Waller – to create a likeness of Hooke with details fitting to his position in the history of science.

The image set to be hung at IOP shows Hooke holding a quill and a book in his right hand and a spring in his left. The spring represents one of Hooke’s defining successes – Hooke’s law of elasticity.

Hooke’s law states that the extension of a spring is in direct proportion to the load applied to it – a law which many materials obey and which culminated in the development of a balance spring.  Balance springs subsequently enabled the development of portable timepieces – the first watches.   

The history artist Rita Greer says, “Robert Hooke, brilliant, ingenious seventeenth century scientist was brushed under the carpet of history by Sir Isaac Newton and his cronies. When he had his Tercentenary there wasn't a single memorial to him anywhere. I thought it disgraceful as Hooke did many wonderful things for science.

"I have been working on a project to put him back into history where he belongs – up with the greats.  I have been on the project for eight years and this portrait for IOP is no.8 in the series, with others memorials already in place at a range of high-profile locations in both Oxford and London."

Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS, a former President of the IOP and former Astronomer Royal, says, “Robert Hooke was a brilliant man of many parts of which one was physics. He was also remarkable for many advances and discoveries for which he did not receive adequate credit.

“With her fine portraits of Hooke, Rita Greer is going some way towards redressing the balance and bringing Hooke's image to a wider audience. I think that Hooke would have been pleased with her persistence, as we are at the IOP."

Robert Hooke was a key part of the group that went on to form the Royal Society, becoming the first Curator of Experiments for the Society in 1662. 

Hooke has many physics-related credits to his name, including the construction of the vacuum pumps used in Boyle’s gas law experiments, building some of the earliest Gregorian telescopes and observing the rotations of Mars and Jupiter, deducing the wave theory of light, and being the first to suggest that matter expands when heated and that air is made of small particles.

However, as a polymath, Hooke was probably best known in his own lifetime for a publication called Micrographia in which is printed Hooke’s drawings from observations using a microscope, the most famous of which is a drawing of a flea.

Explore further: Story of Newton's encounter with apple goes online

Related Stories


May 16, 2011

The Sloan Low-mass Wide Pairs of Kinematically Equivalent Stars (SLoWPoKES) catalog was recently announced, containing 1,342 common proper motion pairs (i.e. binaries) – which are all low mass stars in the mid-K and ...

Recommended for you

Flexible ferroelectrics bring two material worlds together

January 17, 2017

Until recently, "flexible ferroelectrics" could have been thought of as the same type of oxymoronic phrase. However, thanks to a new discovery by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in collaboration ...

First-ever X-ray image capture of material defect process

January 17, 2017

From blacksmiths forging iron to artisans blowing glass, humans have for centuries been changing the properties of materials to build better tools – from iron horseshoes and swords to glass jars and medicine vials.

Theory lends transparency to how glass breaks

January 16, 2017

Over time, when a metallic glass is put under stress, its atoms will shift, slide and ultimately form bands that leave the material more prone to breaking. Rice University scientists have developed new computational methods ...

A novel way to put flame retardant in a lithium ion battery

January 16, 2017

(—A team of researchers at Stanford University has found a novel way to introduce flame retardant into a lithium ion battery to prevent fires from occurring. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, ...

Self-assembling particles brighten future of LED lighting

January 16, 2017

Just when lighting aficionados were in a dark place, LEDs came to the rescue. Over the past decade, LED technologies—short for light-emitting diode—have swept the lighting industry by offering features such as durability, ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (6) Jan 12, 2012
R. Hooke was actually the first, who recognized the dense aether model of AWT. In 1687 he wrote the following remark:
"All space is filled with equally dense material. Gold fills only a small fraction of the space assigned to it, and yet has a big mass. How much greater must be the total mass filling that space."
In addition, Hooke was probably first, who opposed the Newton in the matter of gravitational law. Newton originally believed, the gravity force is indirectly proportional to the distance of objects, not square of that distance. The opinion of Hooke was based on the ancient works of old Arabian geometers, who proposed the inverse square law in 9th century already. Newton was opponent of Hooke in nearly all aspects of physics, so he denied the ISL many years, until he was convinced with astronomical observations and with shielding gravity theory of his friend Fatio de Duillier. Newton was so upset with his defeat, he interrupt his publications for twenty years.
1 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2012
We can see, the disputes between proponents of aether model and model of empty space are of very long history. The formally thinking physicists like the Newton tend to consider space-time empty like observers of transverse waves at the water surface (the modern view of general relativity) and corpuscular theory of light. The empiricists (i.e. phenomenological physicists) like the Hooke or Huygens supported rather the model space formed with particle matter and they considered light as a waves of this environment.

Today it's evident, both groups of physicists have their piece of truth. The particle model of vacuum allows both absolute, both relative model of space-time. The light is composed of both waves, both wave packets (i.e. particles). The schematic model allows derivation of more exact predictions, the nonformal models allows more insightful predictions. The fact, Hooke becomes recognized right now is connected with increasing rate of failures of formal models in recent time.
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2012
Robert Hooke, brilliant, ingenious seventeenth century scientist was brushed under the carpet of history by Sir Isaac Newton and his cronies.
The Newton was very systematic in denial of R. Hooke heritage. For example, when he became a chief of Royal Society, he ordered to remove all portraits of his opponents, like the Hooke, Liebnitz and others, so we actually have no faithful portrait of Hooke today. In the light of these facts the labelling of Hooke as a "despicable", "mistrustful" and "jealous" sounds pretty ironic with respect to psychopathic Newton's behaviour.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2012
at last people are beginning to recognize the brilliance of Robert Hooke. Jealously between people is something we all run into, so perhaps Newton was just being human?
1 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2012
so perhaps Newton was just being human?
Newton was not a happy man. He was dour, sour and made absolutely no attempt to befriend anyone. Whenever someone happened to get too close to him, he retired to his study. IMO it's because Isaac Newton suffered with Asperger's syndrome http://www.aether...ists.gif
not rated yet Jan 14, 2012
Apparently, link to opinion of "experts" is necessary, or Blakut will not believe me..
not rated yet Jan 15, 2012
at last people are beginning to recognize the brilliance of Robert Hooke. Jealously between people is something we all run into, so perhaps Newton was just being human?

Newton was being an ass. His history in that area is also quite extensive.

As well, his history as the world's last great alchemist is also unknown by most people.

Odd, isn't it..that a true alchemist ends up being the ex-checker of the Royal Mint? For it is that exact bit of information that got him the job.

But you see..Hooke was ALSO a true and VERY accomplished alchemist and Hooke wanted to SHARE alchemical information.

Now it may become a bit more clear as to what happened.....

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.