Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Giuseppe Ceracchi, 23 July 1800

From Giuseppe Ceracchi

Paris, 4 Thermidor Year 8 [i.e. 23 July 1800]. Mr. Bohlen, in repeated letters sent through Amsterdam, having advised him to write to TJ on the subject of the monuments to be built in America to the glory of liberty and to the memory of George Washington, he takes this occasion “to renew my correspondance and presente to you the sentiments of my estime.” He is certain that TJ will not have forgotten his work on this subject and would only “apply” to “an Artist of superior merit” since “mediocrity in public works, would decrease the public expectation.” Reviewing “the principles which gided my ideas in what i exibited in Philadelphia,” he notes that his first model for a monument combined the equestrian statue of Washington desired by Congress with a monument to American liberty that illustrated the “deeds of the Nation.” He subsequently decided that “it was improper; to let the Nation act a secondary part; an error that will be inadvoidable when tow principals subject are put in competition.” On his second visit to the United States he created a second model in which Liberty was “the protagonist of my poem” surrounded by statuary groups representing important national events. This work was to have a “grandeur of Stile and variations of wonders” that would produce a beautiful effect in spectators, and if TJ had been in Philadelphia at the time he would have been among those people who acclaimed it. A subscription was commenced in which even Washington himself agreed to take part, but a “malignant Spirit” that Ceracchi could not comprehend destroyed that plan and the artist was “sacrificed.” He believes that the United States must have two monuments, one in marble showing the foundations of American independence and the other a bronze statue of Washington. He closes with friendly sentiments to TJ and asks to be remembered to Madison, Monroe, and others of his acquaintance.

2d Dft (Archives Nationales, Paris: Series F7, Records of Police Générate); 3 p.; at head of text: “Ceracchi to Mr Jefferson”; heavily emended; endorsed in French in an unidentified hand as No. 45 of a series. Dft (same); labeled as No. 44. Recorded in SJL as received 12 Oct. 1800. Probably enclosed in John Bohlen to TJ, 2 Oct. 1800, which has not been found but is recorded in SJL as received on 12 Oct.

Bohl and John Bohlen were merchants at No. 7 North Water Street in Philadelphia. They collected payment for Ceracchi’s bust of TJ (Cornelius William Stafford, The Philadelphia Directory, for 1797 [Philadelphia, 1797], 29; Stafford, Philadelphia Directory, for 1800 description begins Cornelius William Stafford, The Philadelphia Directory, for 1800, Philadelphia, 1800 description ends , 22; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:961, 1013; Ceracchi to TJ, 11 May 1795; Joseph Marx to TJ, 29 May 1796; TJ to Marx, 4 June 1796). Letters to TJ from the firm of B. and J. Bohlen dated 27 Feb., 23 July, and 31 Aug. 1799, received on 28 Feb., 8 Aug., and 12 Sep., respectively, and one from TJ to the company on 19 Aug. 1799 are recorded in SJL but have not been found.

Congress in 1783 had authorized an equestrian sculpture to honor George Washington, and in 1791 Ceracchi made preliminary designs for an ambitious monument to American liberty that was to represent important events of the Revolutionary War and include several allegorical groups of sculpture around a statue of Washington. Again in the United States in 1794–95, Ceracchi once more tried to solicit public funding for the monument, which in its new form portrayed Liberty as a chariot-borne goddess. Failing to obtain a congressional appropriation for the work, the sculptor commenced an ambitious subscription program, but Ceracchi, deciding that he had been misled, returned to Europe in 1795. Already exiled from Florence due to his Jacobin proclivities, he thought that Paris provided the best setting, in terms of costs and availability of materials, for creating the grand monumental works he envisioned. He had communicated with TJ once since his departure from the United States, a letter of 8 Mch. 1797, received from Paris on 29 June, that is recorded in SJL but has not been found (Ulysse Desportes, “Giuseppe Ceracchi in America and his Busts of George Washington,” Art Quarterly, 26 [1963], 141–79; Ceracchi to TJ, 11 Mch., 13 Nov. 1794, 9 Mch., 11 May 1795).

In a case that may have involved entrapment by police agents, Ceracchi was implicated in the “Conspiration des Poignards” or “Dagger Conspiracy,” a plot to assassinate Bonaparte at the Paris Opéra on 10 Oct. 1800. Arrested with three other men, Ceracchi lost any hope for clemency when another attempt was made on Bonaparte’s life in December, and on 31 Jan. 1801 the artist was executed (Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, 395, 488; Jean Tulard, Napoleon: The Myth of the Saviour, trans. Teresa Waugh [London, 1984], 98).

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