Portrait bust of Benjamin Franklin (Skillin), 1777-1785
Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004
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Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004

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The bust of Franklin portrays him looking to his right, wearing a fur cap, unbuttoned coat, buttoned vest and cravat. He sports long hair that flows past his shoulders. The bust is carved deeply, with careful attention placed on the modelling of the fur cap and clothing. Franklin's face is tight-lipped, with creases around his mouth, nose, and the corners of his bulbous eyes, which look to his right. The bust was probably executed between the years 1777 and 1785, certainly by 1793 (the year of Skillin's death).
It is an icon rather than a portrait, since it was not based on sittings by Franklin nor observation of him. Rather, it is drawn from popular images. Franklin unquestionably wore a fur hat or cap. A 1777 engraving by St. Aubin shows him in a loose, unformed head covering, probably the most accurate depiction. A clay medallion of Franklin by Nini dresses him in a very different, tight hat with a wide fur brim and a button at the top. Other artists seem to have copied from one hat or the other. It is Nini's medallion that appears to be the direct source for Skillin's bust.
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