A new portrait of Professor Maynard by Benjamin Hope NEAC RP has been unveiled at St John's.

James Maynard-portrait

A new portrait of Professor James Maynard FRS was unveiled on 29 February 2024. The portrait was commissioned by the Governing Body of St John's College to celebrate the award of the Fields Medal in 2022 for Professor Maynard's ‘spectacular contributions in analytic number theory’.

Professor Maynard was delighted with the portrait and thanked Dr Georgy Kantor, Keeper of Pictures, and artist Benjamin Hope NEAC RP for making the experience of sitting for it so pleasurable. He said that his achievements were very much part of – and would be impossible without – the whole academic environment of College and Oxford in general, and he expressed his hope that a painting of a young person in Hall would serve as an inspiration to other young people.

Prior to his distinguished artistic career, Benjamin Hope studied Mathematics and Physics at Cambridge, and has a PhD in Theoretical Nanoscience – making him the perfect choice for this painting. He described the process of painting the portrait:

‘Initially the painting was going to be a straightforward observed portrait of James and I’d even said I was reluctant to try to add meaning through references to mathematics. But then having got to know James better through five sittings – and not being satisfied with what I’d painted – I realised I needed to make big changes. As someone with a mathematical background myself, I decided that I really should do something a little different and make it a painting about James existing in both the real world and the space of mathematical forms and ideas (which to him is, in a sense, even more real). On the train home after the final sitting, I got a whole bunch of ideas that drew on what we’d talked about and the setting we’d been in. Many of these ideas went into the final piece which I constructed back in my studio. This isn’t how I usually work, but partly for that reason, I really enjoyed it.

James Maynard-portrait-medal

'James is very humble and I know he didn’t want the Fields Medal front and centre so initially it wasn’t going to appear at all. But then I decided to include it anamorphically-projected in a nod to Holbein’s Ambassadors, which shows a skull distorted so that it only reveals itself when viewed from a particular spot to the side of the painting. I used the same method that most experts think Holbein used but with a different viewing spot (10 inches to the left, 20 inches below and 10 inches away from the plane of the painting) that will hopefully be more appropriate for the position where the piece will hang. I also added an additional step: the medal is mirror-reflected. This was to make Archimedes look up at James, but I also liked the idea of having one further transformation that might require a modern viewer with a phone to perform.’

Dr Georgy Kantor added:

‘The new portrait of Professor Maynard continues the long tradition of celebrating and creating a pictorial record of the achievements of our Presidents, Fellows and alumni. Portraits on the walls of our Hall celebrate achievements in medieval history, biochemistry, study of modern French literature, experimental psychology and many other fields of study, as well as outside academia, and have been painted by distinguished artists, from Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger to Enoch Zeeman to Ruskin Spear and Bryan Organ. It is a great pleasure to add to this collection a work by Benjamin Hope, who brought to the subject not only his remarkable artistic talent but also an understanding of Mathematics fostered by his own work in science.’

Further information

For a lay person's summary of Professor Maynard's work, see the piece by Professor Stuart White in the 2022 issue of TW, the College's annual publication).

Explore more of Benjamin Hope's work on his website.

Portrait unveiling, St John's, 29 February 2024