Benjamin Franklin Medallion 1777, by Jean-Baptiste Nini, 113.5 mm. Betts p. 247; Nini 94. Terracotta. 193.53 g.
This high relief bust in a tall fur hat was modeled in real life by Urbino-born artist Nini when Franklin was the American envoy to the Court of King Louis XVI. On the truncation is the fictitious coat of arms honoring his famed experiments that proved the electrical nature of lightning. Franklin was guest at the chateau of Master of Forests Jacques Donatien Le Ray du Chaumont, Nini's patron when he posed for this exceptionally life-like portrait. He wrote of it in a letter to Emma Thompson in 1777, noting his "thin gray strait hair," describing himself as "very plainly dress'd," one of his attractions to his many French admirers. Few of these medallions reached the U.S. until the late 19th century as many were lost in a shipwreck off Noirmoutier and the first made it to America after 1876.