Fine and decorative art

Fine and decorative art

The fine and decorative art collection preserve the splendour of our 500 year old organisation. They tell us how physicians saw themselves and the world around them in both the past and present.

The museum collection holds an internationally significant collection of over 5,000 oil paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures. They are mainly portraits of college presidents, fellows and individuals associated with the history of medicine and the RCP from its foundation in 1518 to the present day. In 1596 the RCP announced that any member or 'noble person' could display his portrait or coat of arms on payment of £10. Unfortunately, almost all the early portraits were lost when the RCP was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. From the 18th century a deliberate policy of building up the portrait collections began, but it was not until the 1940s that a portrait of every out-going president had been commissioned after their term of office. We continue to collect and commission contemporary works of art and portraiture which relate to personalities from medicine past and present. 

Portrait of William Harvey
Portrait of William Harvey (1578-1657) by unknown artist, 1650
Portrait of Dame Carol Black
Portrait of Professor Dame Carol Black by Jeff Stultiens, 2006

The RCP hold works of art from prominent British painters including Mary Beale, Allan Ramsey, Johann Zoffany, Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Millais, Luke Fildes and Raymond Piper.  Some of the most famous paintings in the collection include a portrait of William Harvey c. 1650, William Hunter demonstrating at the Royal Academy by Johann Zoffany, and Jeff Stultien’s presidential portrait of Dame Carol Black.

Silver and decorative art

The RCP also holds an extensive decorative art collection, with a particular emphasis on silver. Silver has always been at the centre of RCP ceremonies as well as fine dining. Several of our most iconic items are still used in membership and fellowship ceremonies today. Only a few pieces pre-date the Great Fire of London in 1666 because of a robbery the previous year. William Harvey's demonstration rod survived along with Baldwin Hamey's inkstand bell, which is rung every year at the RCP’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). Other significant objects include the silver-gilt mace made by the goldsmith, Anthony Nelme in 1683. It shares the design of the House of Commons mace and is carried today during presidential processions along with the caduceus – the president's symbol of office. The caduceus is a silver rod topped by four carved snakes and inset with the RCP coat of arms.

We also have a considerable collection of furniture, stained glass, crests and sculptures. To find out more, you can explore our online catalogue.  You can also find our portrait collection on Art UK.

To find out more, we recommend: 

  • Physicians and their Images, by Ludmilla Jordanova (2018)
  • Curiosities from the College Museum, by Sir Richard Thompson (2018) 

To uncover a wealth of information about the collections held at the RCP, search our  archive and museum catalogue. If you would like to view a collection item in person you can book a research appointment.