18th Century Terracotta Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Nini, circa 1777
18th Century Terracotta Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Nini, circa 1777
18th Century Terracotta Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Nini, circa 1777
18th Century Terracotta Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Nini, circa 1777
18th Century Terracotta Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Nini, circa 1777

18th Century Terracotta Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Nini, circa 1777

1777 Italy

Offered by Raymond Horneman

£2,150 gbp
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The Italian artist, Jean Baptiste (or Giovanni Battista) Nini, based his portrait of Franklin on a drawing by Thomas Walpole, the young son of an associate of Franklin. The bas-relief medallion is enclosed by a narrow moulding with the interior filled from rim to rim with a relief profile portrait of Franklin's head and shoulders, facing left, wearing a close-fitting fur CAP and he is dressed in a coat open at the neck, at which the ruffles of his neckwear are partially visible.
The medallion is inscribed in serif Roman capitals around the inner edge of the moulded border: B. Franklin, American. Under the tranche of the shoulder is a shield bearing a lightning rod and thunderbolt, with a crown as its crest. The mark impressed under the shoulder is Nini/F1777.
Nini worked for Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, Franklin's pro-American landlord. Thomas Walpole, the amateur artist who provided the composition, was the son of an English banker residing in Paris and an acquaintance of Franklin's. Beneath Franklin's shoulder, Walpole included a small impressed shield with a lightning rod and a thunderbolt surmounted by a crown, an early reference to Anne Robert Jacques Turgot's Latin motto quoted so often in France: "He Snatched Lightning from the Sky and the Scepter from Tyrants."
Franklin sent one of these medallions to his daughter Sarah and her husband Richard Bache, who commented that the medallion was reckoned a better likeness than the print after Cochin that Franklin had also sent to his family. In June of 1779 Franklin wrote to his daughter Deborah in Philadelphia: "The clay medallion you say you gave to Mr. Hopkinson was the first of the kind made in France. A variety of others have been made since of different sizes; some to be set in the lids of snuffboxes, and some so small as to be worn in rings; and the numbers sold are incredible. These, with the pictures, busts, and prints, (of which copies upon copies are spread everywhere), have made your father's face as well-known as that of the moon...It is said by learned etymologists, that the name doll, for the images children play with, is derived from the word IDOL. From the number of dolls now made of him, he may be truly said, in that sense, to be i-doll-ized in this country."
Other copies are held by:
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia (58.S.74; given to Charles Willson Peale between 7/1778 and 10/1779 by M. Gerard, first French Minister to US).
The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.66.12 and NPG.66.13).
Philadelphia Museum of Art (1986-26-290.
National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 722.

Giovanni Battista Nini, (Jean-Baptiste), was born in Urbino in March 1717 and died on 2 May 1786 at Chaumont-sur-Loire. He was a sculptor, engraver and medalist. Eventually he moved to Paris where he began to successfully produce portrait terracotta medallions. In 1772 he moved to Chaumont-sur-Loire, where he became head of the ceramics studio founded by Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont . He continued his portrait work on medallions until his death in 1786 and during this period created more than one hundred and ten portrait terracotta medallions which capture the likeness of contemporary personalities. Nini worked in the tradition of artists like Edme Bouchardon and Jean-Antoine Houdon and created portraits of Louis XV, Catherine II of Russia, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin to mention but a few. Nini is renowned for his virtuosity and finesse of execution and his portraits are some of the most vivid of the period.
Dimensions
Height 0.50 inch (1.27 cm)
Width 4.50 inch (11.43 cm)
Depth 4.50 inch (11.43 cm)
Raymond Horneman

Raymond Horneman
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