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Jean Baptiste Nini (1717-1786)
France: Onzain, Chateau de Chaumont
a: Terracotta; b: velvet; linen
a: 1/4 x 4 1/2 in.; b: 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 x 1/4 in.
Special Acquisitions Fund
A: Round medallion shows central profile of Benjamin Franklin wearing fur cap. Inscribed, "B. Franklin / Americain." Also inscribed at the bottom: "Nini / 1777." B: Red velvet cushion backed with linen.
Nini's terra cotta and bronze medallions of Franklin wearing a fur cap were modeled after a portrait by the English artist Thomas Walpole (1755-1840). These plaques were particularly prized by contemporaries, partly because Franklin considered them to be a very exact likeness. In June 1779, he wrote to his daughter, Mrs. Sarah Bache, "The clay medallion was the first of its kind in France. A variety of others have been made since, some to be set in the lid of snuff boxes, 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." A small number of the Nini terra cottas were made and consigned to America in 1779. The ship was wrecked, the cases salvaged, and deposited in a customs warehouse. Later, the cases were sold through merchants. Other cases were found at the Chateau de Chaumont, where they were made, and still others were discovered in a Bordeaux warehouse.