Tag Archives: Joshua Kirby

Joshua Kirby (1716 – 1774)

Joshua Kirby died on June 21, 1774 and is buried at St. Anne’s, Kew.


His gravestone is no longer especially legible, and my pictures certainly don’t help.

2013-07-07 09.49.35

Here is my attempt at a transcription.

Joshua Kirby FRS-AS/ died 21st June 1774 Aged 58 / Sarah his wife / died [ ] August 1775 / Aged 57 Years / William Kirby / Son of the above / Joshua & Sarah / died 13th July 1771 / Aged 28 Years / / CGH Kirby Son of / William and Elizabeth Kirby / died an Infant / 29th October 1767 / Elizabeth wife of / William Kirby died January / 1796 Aged 49 Years

Update: Here is another view of the armorial at the top of the gravestone.



St. Anne’s, Kew

The church of St. Anne on Kew Green was dedicated in 1714, having been built on land donated by Queen Anne, and is celebrating its tercentenary in 2014. Over the course of the three centuries, the church has been enlarged, renovated and altered numerous times. The church website has a useful sequential plan.

The church began as a modest chapel in what is roughly the central portion of the modern façade.

It was then enlarged in 1770 with the addition of two aisles, the northern one being used as part of the church, and the southern aisle as a charity school. This enlargement was designed by Joshua Kirby, and paid for by George III. The southern aisle was later incorporated into the church.

Kirby died in 1774 and was buried near the new southern wall of the church he had re-designed only a few years before, and this portion of the foot print of the building has not altered since then.

Near Kirby’s grave is that of his long-time friend, Thomas Gainsborough:

St. Anne’s also holds the graves of Jeremiah Meyer, miniature painter to the King, and Johan Zoffany.

Zoffany and Kirby

The German artist Johan Zoffany (1733—1810) had a colorful life. Raised in the court of the princes of Thurn und Taxis, he showed an early interest in drawing and studied art first in Germany, and then in Italy where he spent six or seven years at Rome from the time he was seventeen. When he returned to Regensburg, he was soon appointed court painter. His life took a dramatic turn when he made a sudden, unsuitable, and, indeed, unsuccessful marriage, abandoned Germany and went to London in 1760. The kind of art that was popular in Germany was not to the taste of patrons in London, and Zoffany re-invented himself as a portrait painter, a line in which he became very successful, his sitters soon extending as far as the Royal family. Doubtless he was helped by his court polish and German background. At some point in the 1760s he became friends with Joshua Kirby, but the details are elusive. Mary Webster, in her monumental book on Zoffany, repeatedly affirms their friendship, but does not mention when and how they met. However, the art world in London was small, and the art world at court even smaller, so Kirby and Zoffany would certainly have had many opportunities to meet.

In 1772, Zoffany had planned to go with Joseph Banks as an artist on Captain Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas, but the project foundered on Banks’ excessive requirements for men and equipment. Instead, Zoffany went to Italy with a commission from Queen Charlotte to paint the famous gallery in Florence. Zoffany spent seven years on the task, returning with a picture, and a bill, that did not please the King and Queen. Zoffany stayed in London for a few years before going out to India, where he was enormously successful and made a good fortune. However, life in India was not good for his health, and he returned to England in 1789 and was based there for the rest of his life. He died in 1810 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Anne’s at Kew, along with Gainsborough and Kirby.

One of Zoffany’s portraits from the late 1760s is the rather charming The Reverend Randall Burroughes and his Son Ellis of 1769. Burroughes was a wealthy clergyman from Norfolk and Ellis, his only son was born in 1764.

The book young Ellis is engaged with is Joshua Kirby’s Perspective of Architecture (1761). Zoffany’s copy of this book was auctioned off with the rest of his belongings when he left for Florence in 1772. Zoffany’s portraits were careful compositions arranged to present an idealistic view. In the case of the Burroughes, not only is the setting contrived, but even the representation of the book. Mary Webster notes, “With characteristic pictorial licence, Ellis is shown turning over the frontispiece, designed by Hogarth, but the engraved plate of an arch that can be seen beneath is in reality Plate IV of the second volume of Kirby’s work” (170).





Webster, M. (2011). Johan Zoffany. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hogarth’s Disciple

Another of Paul Sandby’s satires against William Hogarth and his line of beauty in 1753 was The Analyst Besh-n in his own Taste.

Joshua Kirby is the alarmed figure on the right, identified in the caption as `a Disciple droping the Palate and Brushes thro’ concern for his Masters forlorn State’.

It is probably worth noting that none of this prevented Paul Sandby and his brother Thomas from both subscribing to Kirby’s Method of Perspective.

Hogarth’s Fiddler

When William Hogarth published his book, Analysis of Beauty, in late 1753, he was swiftly subjected to an astonishingly virulent satirical print campaign by Paul Sandby, one of the most accomplished satirical artists of the time after Hogarth himself. Well-known as a close associate of Hogarth, Joshua Kirby was depicted in several of these prints. In the one below the fiddler standing on the stage behind the “Mountebank” Hogarth is usually identified as Kirby.

The caption reads, in part, “W: his Fidler standing in the Line of Beauty”.

Click through to the British Museum site for a larger image.

Andreas Planta

Rev. Andreas Joseph Planta (1717—1773) had an interesting background. His family was prominent in the Grisons region of Switzerland/Italy (depending on your period), tracing their lineage back to the twelfth century, and a family of the same name and locale was also prominent in Imperial Rome. Andreas himself became a pastor in Castasegna, a rare example of an Italian-speaking Protestant parish. After a period as Professor of Mathematics at Erlangen, in 1752 or 1753 he came to London as pastor to the German Reformed Church at Savoy. In 1758 he was also appointed as a part-time assistant librarian at the British Museum and in the 1760s was engaged as a tutor in Italian to Queen Charlotte.  One of the duties of the British Museum staff was to escort visitors around the collection, and in 1765 Planta showed the Museum to the Mozart family, resulting in a gift of manuscripts of several of the young Wolfgang’s works to the collection.

In 1770 Andreas, or Andrew as he went by in England, was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, his citation reading,

Andrew Joseph Planta of the British Museum MA, & Minister of the German Reformed Church at the Savoy, a Gentleman of good learning, and well versed in natural knowledge, being desirous of becoming a member of the Royal Society; we recommend him, of our Personal acquaintance, as likely to be a valuable & useful member.

His proposers, several of whom had connections to the British Museum, were:

  • Rev. Gregory Sharpe (1713—1771);
  • Gowin Knight (1713—1772), First Librarian of the British Museum;
  • Henry Baker (1698—1774);
  • Jerome De Salis (1709—1794) (the De Salis family was equally prominent in Grisons);
  • Joseph Ayloffe (1709—1781);
  • Matthew Duane (1707—1785), trustee of the British Museum;
  • Charles Morton (1716—1799), Librarian of the British Museum;
  • Samuel Harper (c. 1732—1803), under-librarian at the British Museum;
  • Mathew Maty (1718—1776), librarian at the British Museum;
  • Richard Penneck (1728—1803), Keeper of the Reading Room at the British Museum;
  • Rev. Henry Putman (1725—1797);
  • Joshua Kirby (1716—1774), and;
  • John Bevis (1695—1771).

Andreas Planta married Margarete Scartazzini Debolziani when a pastor in Castasegna. Of their children, son Joseph in turn became Librarian at the British Museum (and his son Joseph a prominent diplomat), Elizabeth was governess to the notorious Mary Bowes, and Margaret and Frederica were English tutors to the princesses.

The Modern Druid

In the 18th century, Britain’s security and prosperity depended on ships; the Navy for security, and shipping trade for prosperity. Continuance of the fleets of shipping depended on adequate timber supply, and most especially, oak.

The English Oak had long been a symbol of rural strength and solidity, but now it was taking on a patriotic tinge as well. Taking 150 years to reach maturity, capable of living for a thousand years, towering to 125 feet, and providing shade and shelter under its widespread branches, the oak was a well-known and loved species. It was also a vital one. A new ship could consume 2000 trees.

The natural widespread growth of the oak not being particularly conducive to ship timber, there was a need to shape the growth of the trees for straightness and height. To the rescue in 1747 came James Wheeler, Gent, of Higham in Suffolk with “The Modern Druid, containing instructions founded on physical reasons, confirmed by long practice, and evidenced by precedents, for the much better culture of Young Oaks more particularly, than what they have been subject to by any late discipline: with various reflections interspersed on the occasion.” He addressed his book “To the nobility and the gentry of Great Britain, Proprietors of Woods, Chaces, Wasts, Parks, or Pastures, or any kindly Soils Productive of the OAK”

Wheeler waxed loquacious, even by eighteenth-century standards. Here is one sample sentence, from the opening of Chapter III:

The state and also intended manner of my proceeding being before intimated, it will not be improper to mention an experiment, to corroborate a very material article advanced in the foregoing Chapter: That I may leave no scruples behind unobviated; which otherwise may be brought in evidence of my weakness—instead of my displaying the wisdom of nature—Wherefore I attempted to make proof statically, whether those very Oaks last mentioned, by means of having had their bark-slit on bough debarking; did grow the more in their circumference, and latitudinal girt than otherwise they would have done.

It is a curious book, a mixture of careful and specific advice, philosophical ruminations, excessive disquisition on the subject of oak sap, and a paean to the oak as a way for landowners to preserve the value of their holdings. His main argument is that lopping off lower branches to encourage straight growth does terrible damage to a tree (at least in the case of the oak) and recommends bark-cutting (stripping off a couple of inches of bark from a branch to let it die off slowly) and bark slitting (cutting vertical slits in the bark of the trunk to relieve the excess sap).

I know almost nothing about Wheeler. In the book, he mentions his poor health, and, although he did not die until 1763, his will was written a full ten years earlier, and makes much of his maidservant for nursing him through his “several illnesses”. He left the bulk of his property to his “kinswoman” Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Doyly of Dedham in Essex, and makes particular note of the disposition of his woods and timber. Presumably he had no children of his own.

The text of the book is largely unrelieved by ornamentation, but it does have a fine frontispiece showing the oak as “The Glory and Protection of Britain”. The plate was engraved by James Mynde from a picture by Joshua Kirby.