Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Important Portrait of 17th Century Mathematician John Pell, Brother of Thomas Pell, is "Rediscovered"

[Editor's Note: On October 21, 2005 I received a wonderful note from Robert Pell-deChame pointing out that, of course, the portrait that is the subject of this posting has not actually been lost. My inartful effort to make precisely such a point by placing the reference to "Rediscovered" in quotation marks clearly was not enough. Click here to read my October 24, 2005 posting providing additional information.]

On May 19, 2005, I published to the Historic Pelham Blog a posting entitled "Scholarly Book About the Father of John Pell, 2nd Lord of the Manor of Pelham, Is Published". In it, I provided a brief and enthusiastic review of a lengthy and scholarly book that addresses the life (and, especially, the mathematics career) of John Pell (1611 - 1685). Pell was the brother of Thomas Pell, first Lord of the Manor of Pelham, and the father of John Pell, second Lord of the Manor of Pelham. I now have a fascinating story of one man's recent "rediscovery" of the existence of a famous portrait of John Pell (1611 - 1685).

Eddie Mizzi with The Geometric Press in Oxford, England has an abiding interest in mathematics history. On Friday, September 30, 2005 he was doing research in the British Library when he ran across reproductions of two portraits of mathematician John Pell and his son, John Pell (second Lord of the Manor of Pelham). The 17th century portrait of the elder Pell was executed by Sir Godfrey Kneller a German-born Baroque Era portraitist who worked in England. Kneller was born in 1646 and died in 1723. He studied under Ferdinand Bol and Carlo Maratta. His students included noted painter Johann Broeckhorst. During his career he painted ten reigning European monarchs and was knighted for his work by William III. According to one biography, "he was also head of the Kneller Academy of Painting and Drawing 1711 - 1716 in Great Queen Street, London. He died of fever in 1723 and his remains were interred in Twickenham Church."

A Pell family member (Robert T. Pell) reportedly acquired the portrait from French descendants of mathematician John Pell's wife in Paris in 1934. Amateur historian and author Howland Pell obtained reproductions of the two portraits and reportedly provided the reproductions to the British Library also in 1934.

After seeing the two portrait reproductions while doing research at the British Library, Mr. Mizzi began corresponding via email with a number of people including me. I provided him with an obituary of Howland Pell and information about a descendant of Howland Pell as he sought to track down the portrait of mathematician John Pell.

Within a week, Mr. Mizzi located the original Kneller portrait of mathematician John Pell. He spoke with New York resident Howland Rogers, a grandson of Howland Pell, who set him on the right track. He contacted the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, a repository of many important Pell family papers and artifacts. He learned that the Kneller portrait is, indeed, in the collection of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.

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