This plaster bust presents a formal portrayal of Alexander Monro primus. He is depicted wearing a wig, in contemporary dress (in contrast to the classical garments of some of the other busts in the collection) and it is possible that his outer garment is his academic robe.

It is possible that this bust is a copy of John Flaxman's marble bust of Monro which is held in the collections of the University of Edinburgh. John Flaxman (1755 - 1826) was a sculptor, decorative designer and illustrator whose most famous work was the neo-classical Fury of Athamas.

Both Flaxman's bust of Monro and the plaster bust in the RCPE's collection display considerable similarities with Allan Ramsay's portrait of Monro which is in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland. This portrait was also replicated as an engraving by J. Basire. This engraving subsequently appeared on the frontispiece of the 1781 edition of The Works of Alexander Monro, which was edited by Monro's son, Alexander Monro secundus. In both images, particularly the portrait, the depiction of Monro, including the fine details such as the folds in his coat and necktie, are highly similar if not identical to those depicted in the bust. Monro also appears in the roundel portraits in the Great Hall in a depiction which shows some similarities with this bust.

Alexander Monro primus (1697-1767)

Alexander Monro primus was the son of an army surgeon who studied at the University of Edinburgh (1710-1713), before travelling to London, Paris and Leiden to further his medical studies. Monro returned to Edinburgh in September 1719 and the following year he was appointed Professor of Anatomy by the town council. Significantly, Monro, unlike his predecessors, was clearly defined as a university chair and many historians view this appointment as marking the beginning of the University of Edinburgh's medical school.

From 1720 until 1758 Monro taught an annual anatomy course running from October to May and consisting of over 100 lectures. The course was popular from the beginning and by the 1740s it was attracting almost 150 students per annum. During this period Edinburgh came to rival medical centres such as Leiden and began to attract students from as far away as America. Monro's anatomy course was initially taught in the Surgeons’ Hall anatomy theatre; however Monro and his students came under suspicion of grave robbing which led to a public riot outside the Surgeons’ Hall. Consequently, Monro’s teaching moved to a more secure location within the University of Edinburgh.

In 1729 Monro established the Hospital for the Sick Poor, which provided six beds in a rented house in Robertson’s Close, off Cowgate. Significantly, the hospital provided the opportunity for Edinburgh medical students to obtain a clinical training, a move which may have been influenced by Monro’s time studying with Herman Boerhaave in Leiden. In 1736 the establishment was chartered as the Royal Infirmary by George II and in 1741 it moved to a larger building designed by William Adam.

Monro’s major work was The Anatomy of the Humane Bones, a commentary on his anatomical demonstrations. This popular work was translated into French (1759) and went through eight editions during his lifetime, followed by three more after his death. Further to this Monro also wrote on the nervous system and the reciprocal motion of the heart.

In 1781 he was awarded an MD (honoris causa) by the University of Edinburgh. He died in 1767 and is buried in Greyfriars. However, his family continued to dominate the Edinburgh medical school. Monro’s son (Alexander Monro secundus) and grandson (Alexander Monro tertius) both subsequently held the Chair of Professor of Anatomy. In total therefore the Monro dynasty held unbroken control of the position (initially the Chair of Anatomy, which became the Chair of Medicine, Anatomy and Surgery in 1777) for a total of 126 years.