James Smithson Memorial Plaque

ID: 11812 or AI-11812 or 10226-A

Creator: Unknown

Form/Genre: Photographic print

Date: c. 1900

Citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 21, Folder: 6

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  • Plaster model for James Smithson memorial plaque commissioned by the Smithsonian Board of Regents in 1896. James Smithson (c.1765-1829), founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution, died in Genoa, Italy, in 1829. He was buried in the nearby English cemetery, and a memorial plaque was placed at his grave site in 1896 by the Regents. After the turn of the century, the Smithsonian was notified of plans to move the cemetery to allow quarrying at the site. In 1904, Smithsonian Regent Alexander Graham Bell brought Smithson's body to the United States.
  • Three copies of the Smithson Tablet or memorial plaque were made in bronze and two copies were made in Carrara marble. The artist for the plaque design was William Ordway Partridge of New York City. The plaque features a carved profile of James Smithson with the inscription, "James Smithson -- FRS -- Founder of the Smithsonian Institution -- Washington. Erected by the Regents of the Institution 1896." Initially, two bronze copies were cast in 1896. One was placed at the Smithson grave site outside Genoa and one was installed in the nearby Church of the Holy Spirit.
  • The memorial plaque at the grave site was later stolen and replaced with a facsimile of Carrara marble in 1900. That plaque was brought to Washington, D.C., in 1904, when Smithson's remains were moved to the Smithsonian and remains in the Crypt Room of the Smithsonian Castle today. The bronze in the Church of the Holy Spirit was lost during World War II; the church was gutted by fire and many artifacts were lost. A replacement marble facsimile was carved by Rafaello Romanelli of Florence and installed in 1963. A third bronze copy of the memorial plaque was cast and sent to Pembroke College, Oxford University, where Smithson attended school, in 1898, where it remains today.


  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Romanelli, Rafaello
  • Partridge, William Ordway 1861-1930
  • Smithson Memorial Tablet


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


See also negative #53254 and #53255

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 21, Folder: 6

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


c. 1900

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Art
  • Benefactors
  • Memorials
  • Art objects


Genoa (Italy)


  • Photographic print
  • Object

ID Number

11812 or AI-11812 or 10226-A

Physical description

Color: Black and White; Size: 8w x 10h; Type of Image: Object; Medium: Photographic print

Full Record

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