Portrait medallion of Benjamin Franklin (Nini/Walpole), 1777
 Photo courtesy of Benjamin...
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Photo courtesy of Benjamin Franklin Cabinet, Chevy Chase, Md.

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The Italian artist/manager of the Chaumont factory, Jean Baptiste (or Giovanni Battista) Nini, based his portrait of Franklin on a drawing by the amateur, Thomas Walpole, the young son of an associate of Franklin.

The bas-relief medallion is enclosed by a narrow ovolo 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. His hair is shorn, 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...AMERICAIN. Both the name and the inscription are preceded and followed by an arrangement of four raised dots. 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.

The potter 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.

An etched and engraved profile portrait dated 1793 by John Scoles in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG.80.120.A) is clearly related to the Walpole portrait. The Blérancourt collections are believed to contain an example of the terra cotta (No. CFAa207), 16.5 cm wide, which may be a variant of this.

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