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.

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  • Title: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
  • Creator: Giovanni Battista Nini (Italian, 1717-1786)
  • Date Created: 1777
  • Physical Dimensions: Diameter: 11.4 cm (4 1/2 in.)
  • Provenance: James Parmelee (Washington, DC), upon his death, held in trust by the estate., Estate of James Parmelee, by bequest to the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1940.
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: CC0
  • External Link: https://clevelandart.org/art/1940.578
  • Medium: terracotta
  • Inscriptions: inscribed along the circumference: B. FRANKLIN. AMERICAIN; inscribed below: NINI F 1777 [with coat-of-arms].
  • Department: European Painting and Sculpture
  • Culture: France, 18th century
  • Credit Line: Bequest of James Parmelee
  • Collection: Sculpture
  • Accession Number: 1940.578

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