Eric Gill (1882-1940) was originally apprenticed as an architect and later became a self - employed wood engraver, letter-carver and sculptor. Some of his earliest creations were typefaces, of which Gill Sans, used for the central section of Penguin book covers, is the most famous. Some of Gill's best known works are the carvings for the new headquarters of the BBC in Langham Place, commissioned in 1932 with the subject 'Ariel', from Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Gill's first commission for the RSL was to carve the name "Radcliffe Library" above the entrance of the new building on South Parks Road. The entrance is no longer in regular use but the carving is still visible today above the closed doors.
In 1935 Gill received a commission from Hubert Worthington, architect of the new wing of the library, to carve oak panel reliefs to be set into the sliding doors of the Rare Books Room (now the office of the Keeper of Scientific Books). The six panels depict famous Oxford scientists, detailed below, with representations of their most famous or influential works.
Much of the actual work was done by Gill's pupil, Don Potter (1902 -- 2004), who later became known himself as a carver, ceramicist and teacher at Bryanston School; his own pupils included Terence Conran
Roger Bacon (1220? - c.1292)
English philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Roger Bacon was educated at Oxford and Paris, where he lectured for many years.
One of the most original and bold thinkers of the Middle Ages, Bacon did much to foster experimental physics and chemistry, and he made valuable contributions to the science of optics. He foresaw the magnifying property of convex lenses, and anticipated spectacles and the telescope. In his Opus (revised 1267)he illustrated the curvature of the eye. He also foresaw the extensive use of gunpowder and the possibility of mechanical boats, diving bells and flying machines. His nickname was Doctor Mirabilis ('Wonderful teacher').
Bacon is holding a copy of his Opus Majus in the carving.
Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691)
Robert Boyle was a British chemist, physicist and philosopher who made a speciality of chemistry. On a visit to Ireland he also became interested in anatomy. From 1654 he lived in Oxford, established a laboratory, and became leader of a small scientific society.
About 1659, assisted by Robert Hooke, Boyle invented the 'machina Boyleana', the forerunner of the modern air-pump, and by means of experiments with the elasticity, weight and compressibility of air, established Boyle's law about 1660-62. The law states that the volume of a gas varies inversely with its pressure.
In 1661 Boyle published The Skeptical Chymist, in which he overthrew the Aristotelian conception of the four elements and substituted the modern idea of an element as a substance that cannot be decomposed into simpler ones. This book was the foundation stone of modern chemistry, and Boyle can be said to be the originator of the 'experimental method'.
In 1660 Boyle was instrumental in founding the Royal Society of London.
Robert Hooke (1635 - 1703)
English physicist and microscopist Robert Hooke was a Christ Church graduate. He was employed in 1655 by Robert Boyle to construct the Boylean air pump. Five years later Hooke discovered his law of elasticity, which states that the stretching of a solid body is proportional to the force applied to it. This law laid the basis for studies of stress and strain and for understanding of elastic materials.
Hooke constructed one of the most famous of the early compound microscopes. His Micrographia* is the earliest work devoted entirely to an account of microscopical observations and the first book on the subject in English. Hooke examined the biological structures of insects, minerals and vegetable matter. The book contains remarkable observations on the wheel barometer, hygrometer, crystal structure, thermal expansion, and combustion. Hooke gave the first description of cells as seen in a section of cork - the first use in the English language of the word 'cell' with this meaning. Many of the plates in the Micrographia, including the celebrated one of the flea, were so notable that they were being reproduced and copied for the next two hundred years.
In 1663 Hooke devised an experiment for measuring the force of falling weights, and this understanding of the physics of falling bodies undoubtedly helped to pave the way for Isaac Newton's discoveries.
In 1665 Hooke was appointed Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, London, and Secretary of the Royal Society.
William Harvey (1578-1657)
William Harvey was an English physiologist and physician who discovered the true nature of the circulation of the blood and of the function of the heart as a pump. Before his discoveries it was believed that blood ebbed and flowed through the body by the contraction of arteries, and little advance had been made since Aristotle.
The publication of de motu cordis (1628), in which he announced his discovery of the circulation of the blood, was sufficient to ensure Harvey a place of first importance in the history of science and medicine. The book has been called the most important in the history of medicine. Harvey proved experimentally that in animals the blood is impelled in a circle by the beat of the heart, passing from arteries to veins through pores (i.e. the capillaries, seen by Malpighi with the microscope in 1660). Chapter 13 contains the famous demonstration in which Harvey shows the function of the valves, and the engravings show four figures of the veins in the forearm. He showed that if an arm is ligated to make the veins swell, then by drawing a finger along the vein with some pressure one can push blood inward in the valve but not outward.
By his discovery Harvey revolutionized physiological thought, and inspired a whole new generation of scientists who sought to emulate his methods in the study of animal functions.
Sir Christopher Wren (1632 - 1723)
Sir Christopher Wren's career at Oxford spanned science, mathematics, astronomy and architecture.
He became professor of astronomy and Fellow of Wadham in 1661, and did not turn to architecture until 1662, when he designed the chapel at Pembroke College, Cambridge, followed by the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 1662-69. His rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral lasted from 1675 to1710.
While at Oxford Wren ranked high in his knowledge of anatomy, and his abilities as a demonstrator in that subject were acknowledged by Thomas Willis in his Cerebri anatome. This book was undoubtedly one of the most illustrious associations of author and artist as Christopher Wren was a student under Willis and assisted him as both dissector and illustrator. The work contains an accurate account of the nervous system, with outstanding descriptions of the cranial nerves and arteries at the base of the brain - the 'circle of Willis'. Many of the drawings, including the 'circle' were the work of Wren.
In 1663 Wren joined the first medical research 'team' deliberately assembled in Britain. Willis decided to research the structure of the human brain, in the hope of understanding man's psychological processes. His assistants were Christopher Wren, Richard Lower and Thomas Millington.
Wren played a prominent part in the formation of the Royal Society of London, which arose out of informal gatherings of a brilliant group of the experimental scientists at Oxford.
Johann Jacob Dillenius (1687 - 1747)
J.J.Dillenius was a German botanist who first qualified in medicine in Giessen, Germany. Having been unsuccessful in obtaining a post in botany, he came to England in 1721 and was appointed to the Sherardian Chair in Botany at Oxford in 1728.
Dillenius produced his most notable works at Oxford - Hortus Elthamensis, 1732, which contains descriptions and drawings of the plants in the Sherard Garden at Eltham, and Historia Muscorum, 1741, the most important pre-Linnaean work on cryptogamic (non-seed bearing) plants.
In 1736 Dillenius showed Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, around the physic garden in Oxford. Although he was not entirely convinced by Linnaeus's binomial system of plant classification, he was evidently much impressed, and offered Linnaeus half of his professorial salary to remain in Oxford. Unfortunately, Linnaeus did not accept this generous offer, but he did dedicate his own Critica Botanica to Dillenius, and later named the flowering-plant genus Dillenia in his honour.
Dillenius is shown holding an illustration of Amaryllis formosissima.