I stumbled upon the following napkin (yes, a napkin) and was wondering who the lady on the picture is:

enter image description here

She is surrounded by some basic mathematical functions, as well as physical equations which relate to some drawings (mostly mechanics, and specifically dynamics).

The napkin is not related to any particular event (a dinner linked to some historical events in science for instance) so it may very well be that this is something a graphical artist came with - without any links to science.

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    $\begingroup$ The producer pretends she's Marie Antoinette, see here (Sorry for the link that seems an advertisement, if it's not appropriate I'll remove the comment) $\endgroup$
    – user6530
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ @user6530: as yes indeed - can you please post this as an answer? (she does not really look exactly like Marie-Antoinette though) $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ And why with the equations? $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Mary: that was the reason which actually triggered the question: I was expecting that she was a scientist. $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ Apart from the falsely attributed image, it bothers me that some parts have obviously been copy-pasted together, at least the top right sketch. Wouldn't buy! $\endgroup$
    – smcs
    Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 12:41

2 Answers 2


This is a stylized picture of a generic pretty lady of the mid 1700's, created in the mid 1800's to illustrate a sentimental poem in a book collection of such for the amusement of genteel young ladies. It is not a portrait of any particular person. A modern equivalent would be the cover illustration on an airport novel.

The original of this image, captioned "Lady of the Court of Louis XVth", appears in Fisher's drawing room scrap-book 1848 illustrating the poem "The Message" by Miss A. D. Reynett. See here for bibliographic info. Another version (in The Gallery of Engravings, a.k.a. The Peoples Gallery of Engravings, Second Series, ed. by Mrs Milner ) appears here. Reynett's initials are given here; she is probably the Reynett described here.. The fine print at the bottom shows the engraving was by H. Robinson (see also here), after a drawing by J.J. Penstone.

I think it is unlikely this is Marie Antoinette, who was famously a person of the court of Louis XVI, or of Émilie du Châtelet.

For what it's worth, the poem itself says:




When thou, dear Bird, art privileged to stand
On the white fingers of that fairy hand,
Forget not then, thy Master's fond behest,
Who pines far off, and knows nor joy nor rest.
Say that I trust her, who was borne away
By nearer friends, to shine in conquest's ray;
Say, though the tinsel chain of Fashion bind
Her outward form, I know her heart and mind;
Say that I love her, tho' we meet no more;
Say that I prize her, tho' hope's dream is o'er ;
Say that I think of her — where'er I go ;
Say that I sigh for her, in joy or wo;
Say when I stand amidst the gayest throng ;
Say when I listen to the sweetest song;
Say when I feel soft music's magic tone,
I hear her, see her, think of her, alone;
Say, ( tho’ I dare not breathe my thoughts aloud,
A solitary soul - amidst the crowd;)
That her loved form, which fills at once my heart,
Holds me, for ever, from that crowd apart:
My guardian Angel breaks all earthly spells,
And purifies the temple — where she dwells!

Note: I had just learned about Google image search, and on my first try-out got numbers of hits, some with captions citing "Gallery of engravings, vol. 1" (in English, on some Spanish- and Russian-language equivalents of Pintarest). Once I realized "Gallery of engravings" could be a publication title I went to Hathi Trust.

As for the larger question of "so what"? This image, a sentimental drawing of a stylized un-named pretty lady of the mid 1700s, was created and published in the mid 1800s, came into the public domain, and entered collections of stock images in the internet era. Now, in the last decade, a napkin seller has used a formula-defaced version of this image as a napkin design, declaring it to be an image of Marie Antoinette. It is possibly evidence of a kind of geek-chic mentality of the 2010's, perhaps meant to be evocative of the napkins at a place like the Scottish Cafe where Borsuk and Ulam caroused (but I suspect that cafe had cloth napkins, not paper ones).

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, amazing finding (how did you even got to that book?). As a side note, not being a native speaker of English, I am not sure whether "(...) who was famously a person of the court of Louis XVI" conveys accurately enough that Marie-Antoinette was the wife of Louis XVI (and therefore Queen of France and Navarre) $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ I thought Ulam & Co wrote on the marble tabletops ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 0:20

Possibly Émilie du Châtelet who was certainly of the right historical period (1706-1740, compared with Louis XV's reign of 1715-1774).

Her best remembered achievement was a translation of Newton's Principia which (according to Wikipedia) is still considered to be the standard French translation.

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    $\begingroup$ She doesn't look at all as Émilie du Chatelet. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with @José Carlos Santos, and the formulas on the napkin are consistent with a "commentary to Newton" which she wrote. For example, the explanation of binomial formula (top right corner). It uses Leibniz notation, as one would expect from a commentary (rather than translation). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandreEremenko What in the poem "The Message" connects with du Chatelet? Was she a bird fancier? Did her suitor go off to the wars? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ @kimchi lover: I was not commenting on the other answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 17:40

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