The Quest for John Willett

Tucked away in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium is a sculpture of the late John Willett. Sculpted in 1763 by Flemish artist Michael Rysbrack before his death in 1770.

John Willett, a Magistrate, has been sculpted reading a book presumed to be related to his career. He’s also leaning on a column and dressed in a toga-style outfit. Though sculpted in 1763, Willett actually died in 1745, almost exactly 20 years before his sculpture was created. We assume the sculpture commissioner was Ralph Willett, his nephew, as it is his will that expresses his wish to keep the statue of his uncle in the Grand Entrance Hall of Merley House.

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Ralph’s father – Henry Willett – died in 1740 at 60 years old, leaving behind a 21-year-old Ralph. Ralph’s mother died in 1725 and his younger brother, Henry Jr died in 1733 so when his father died, Ralph was without immediate family. Because of his desire to have the sculpture of his uncle remain permanently at Merley House, it can be assumed that John Willett became somewhat of a father figure in Ralph’s life.

After weeks of talking about the sculpture and researching the history of Merley House, it was incredible to see the statue in person. Placed in a little alcove on the top of the stairs and standing at over 6ft without the extra height, John Willett stands incredibly tall.

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Of course, we couldn’t resist doing a few touristy activities while we were there! Brussels is a beautiful city that screams culture. The cobbled streets and the outdoor seating is quaint amongst the tall and architecturally beautiful buildings, giving Brussels a real European feel. We hope you enjoy our photos and you aren’t too jealous!

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