From Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart2
ALS: American Philosophical Society
Ce dimanche 22. 7bre 1782
J’ai enfin obtenu du Sculpteur dont j’avois eu L’honneur de Vous parler, deux esquisses de Medailles assez grandes. J’ai priè aussi un peintre de Mes amis de dessiner Le meme sujet et je Crois qu’il y a bien Reussi.3 Quel jour Voulez Vous, Monsieur, que Nous4 allions a Passi pour avoir L’honneur de Vous presenter les ouvrages. Ou Si Vos affaires Vous appeloient a paris et que Vous Voulussiez Vous donner la peine de venir chez Moi Vous y trouveriez tout Reuni en me prevenant La veille. Mais la Seule grace que j’aye a Vous Demander C’est de Ne Vous gener nullement, trop heureux Si je puis avoir Secondé Vos idées.5
J’ai L’honneur d’etre avec Les Sentimens Les plus Respectueux Monsieur Votre tres humble et obeissant Serviteur
architecte du Roi Rue st Marc.
Notation: Brognard 22 7bre. 1782.
2. A member of the Académie royale d’architecture since 1781, Brongniart (1739–1815) was one of the most prominent architects in Paris. He had designed hôtels for the duc d’Orléans and the prince de Condé, and would later design the Père-Lachaise Cemetery and the Paris Bourse. DBF; Jane Turner, ed., The Dictionary of Art (34 vols., New York, 1996); Almanach royal for 1783, p. 523. Brongniart’s brother Antoine-Louis had written BF in 1778: XXVI, 253.
3. Once BF received Livingston’s encouragement to have a medal struck commemorating the victories of Yorktown and Saratoga, he wasted little time in searching for an artist to execute his design; see XXXVI, 644; XXXVII, 432, 732. He evidently employed Brongniart to serve as his agent. The two artists from whom Brongniart had obtained sketches were Augustin Dupré and Esprit-Antoine Gibelin. Dupré (1748–1833) was a goldsmith and medalist who was well known as an engraver of arms; in 1791 he would replace Duvivier as the chief engraver of the Paris Mint. Gibelin (1739–1813) was known primarily as a painter and muralist, and had executed important commissions for several public buildings including at least one that Brongniart designed; see the DBF and The Dictionary of Art for both artists. Despite the claim by Dupré’s biographers that he and BF were friends, we have found no evidence that they were previously acquainted.
4. Brongniart was probably accompanied by Cadet de Vaux; see Cadet’s letter of Jan. 13.
5. BF’s original idea, conceived just after Yorktown, was to depict the infant Hercules in his cradle strangling two serpents, while Minerva as nurse, representing France, sat by with her spear and helmet: XXXVI, 644. As the sketches demonstrate, the conception had evolved by the time the artists were given their instructions. In all three sketches Minerva is actively defending the infant against an attacking leopard, representing England. Gibelin placed a crown on the leopard’s head, while Dupré situated Hercules on his father’s shield rather than in a cradle. BF selected Dupré to engrave the dies.
For the history of the infant Hercules emblem see Winfried Schleiner, “The Infant Hercules: Franklin’s Design for a Medal Commemorating American Liberty,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, X (1976–77), 235–44. See also Lester C. Olson, Benjamin Franklin’s Vision of American Community: a Study in Rhetorical Iconology (Columbia, S.C., 2004), pp. 147–55; Carl Zigrosser, “The Medallic Sketches of Augustin Dupré in American Collections,” APS Proc., CI (1957), 535–50.