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Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

1777

Giovanni Battista Nini

(Italian, 1717-1786)

Terracotta

Diameter: 11.4 cm (4 1/2 in.)

Bequest of James Parmelee 1940.578

Description

Scholars debate whether Nini met Benjamin Franklin personally or based the nine versions of his portrait on drawings by artist Thomas Walpole (British, 1755-1840). In this particular cast, Nini presents Franklin with a fur hat, which may be an allusion to French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, suggesting a comparison between the inventor and the philosopher and their roles in revolutionary politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Nini copied Franklin's fur hat from a portrait of Rousseau by Allan Ramsay (Scottish, 1713-1784). The small crest below Franklin's left shoulder shows a bolt of lightning striking an iron bar held by a hand-- a reference to Franklin's discovery of the lightning rod and electricity.
--Molly Bloom (August 2013)

See also
Collection: 
Sculpture
Type of artwork: 
Sculpture
Medium: 
Terracotta

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