Peter Perez Burdett - Biography


Burdett was born 1734 or 1735 in Eastwood in Essex, the son of William and Elizabeth Burdett. He inherited a small estate and the name Perez from his maternal grandfather who was the clergyman in Eastwood. Little is known about his early life until Burdett met Joseph Wright of Derby early in the 1760s and he was able to borrow money from him to fund his map making. Burdett was a model for several of Wright's paintings and he was able to benefit from his friendship and finance whilst Burdett explained the finer points of perspective to Wright.

In about 1766 Wright painted A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun (sometimes called simply The Orrery). The painting depicts a public lecture about the solar system, with a lamp—in place of the sun—illuminating the faces of the orrery and the faces of the audience. Consistent with the astronomical theme, the partially illuminated faces may represent the phases of the moon. The figure to the left of the philosopher has been clearly identified as Burdett whilst the man to the right is thought to be Washington Shirley, the Earl of Ferrers who Burdett stayed with at Staunton Harold which is just within Leicestershire. The Earl was, like Burdett, interested in science and he did briefly own this painting.

By 1767 he had produced a map of Derby at a scale of one inch to one mile. With this map Burdett was the second successful claimant of a 1759 challenge made by the Society of Art for those who created county maps at this scale. He produced the aquatint Two Boys Blowing a Bladder by Candle-light.

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