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Portrait of an Astronomer
Gabriel Revel

A man stares out of the painting as if deep in thought, one finger inserted between the pages of a book. His arm rests on a celestial globe, suggesting that he is an astronomer. Globes like this were often decorated with constellations and zodiac signs relating to ancient Greek gods and goddesses. (Another one can be seen in Holbein’s Ambassadors, also in the National Gallery.) The classical column beside him is another nod to the ancient Greek world, and the scientific discoveries passed down from its philosophers to modern astronomers.

We're not sure who the sitter is – he is unlikely to be the Frenchman René Descartes (1596–1650), whose name is written on a folded piece of paper to the right. He could be the astronomer Adrien Auzout (died 1691), who worked at the newly built royal observatory in Paris.

The inscription incorrectly attributes the work to either Pierre or Nicolas Mignard, but it is now thought to be by another seventeenth-century French artist, Gabriel Revel.

Key facts
Artist Gabriel Revel
Artist dates 1643 - 1712
Full title Portrait of an Astronomer
Date made about 1670
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 110.9 x 95.3 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Presented by Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, 1913
Inventory number NG2929
Location in Gallery Not on display
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