George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Giuseppe Ceracchi, 31 October 1791

From Giuseppe Ceracchi

Philadelphia October 31. 1791.

Sir,

I take the liberty to enclose to you a Copy of a Memorial which I have the honor of presenting this day to Congress—Give me leave to submit it to the Friend and Patron of the fine Arts as well as to the President of the United States. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servant

Joseph Ceracchi

LS, DLC:GW.

The son of a Roman goldsmith, sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi (1751–1801) himself displayed artistic talents at an early age and studied under Antonio Canova in Rome before leaving for London in 1772–73. He probably heard of the resolution of the Continental Congress of August 1783 authorizing an equestrian statue of GW (see note 2 to enclosure, below) while living in Vienna in the early 1780s. After completing various projects in Europe, Ceracchi embarked for the United States in October 1790 to solicit a congressional commission (Cerrachi description begins Giuseppe Cerrachi: Scultore Giacobino, 1751–1801. Rome, 1989. description ends , 45; Desportes, “Ceracchi in America,” description begins Ulysse Desportes. “Giuseppe Ceracchi in America and His Busts of George Washington.” Art Quarterly 26 (1963): 140–79. description ends 142–45). He arrived in Philadelphia in the spring of 1791 with a letter of introduction from the American bankers at Amsterdam and lodged in the same boardinghouse as James Madison. That summer he sent Thomas Jefferson a description of his proposed monument to “American Liberty” and prepared a large terra-cotta model of it, which was displayed in Philadelphia that fall, and a smaller one later exhibited in New York. While Congress considered his proposal, Ceracchi modeled the busts of potential political supporters (see note 1 to enclosure, below; Jefferson to Madame de Tessé, 27 Aug. 1789, source note, Nicholaas & Jacob Van Staphorst & Nicholas Hubbard to Jefferson, 11 Oct. 1790, and Ceracchi to Jefferson, 29 July 1791, Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 15:363–64n, 17:590, 20:702; Ceracchi to Alexander Hamilton, 16 July 1792, Hamilton to Robert Troup, 25 July 1795, n.6, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 12:36–37, 18:504; Desportes, “Ceracchi in America,” description begins Ulysse Desportes. “Giuseppe Ceracchi in America and His Busts of George Washington.” Art Quarterly 26 (1963): 140–79. description ends 146–49, 164).

GW refused to accept ownership of the marble busts of Ariadne and Bacchus that Ceracchi offered him in 1791, but he did display them in the presidential mansion for three years as a favor to the artist. GW also reluctantly posed for the sculptor in the winter of 1791 or early spring of 1792 for the purpose of modeling a terra-cotta bust from which copies could later be made (Desportes, “Ceracchi in America,” description begins Ulysse Desportes. “Giuseppe Ceracchi in America and His Busts of George Washington.” Art Quarterly 26 (1963): 140–79. description ends 141–42, 148, 149). Ceracchi returned to Amsterdam in the summer of 1792 with the bust after Congress refused to support his project (see note 2 to enclosure, below). He did not execute GW’s bust in marble until 1794, and in August or September of that year he brought it with him to Philadelphia. The following year Ceracchi again persuaded GW to sit for him, in order to alter the marble bust from life, and it was then that he signed the piece, “CERACCHI FACIEBAT PHILADELPHIA 1795.” Even though GW explicitly informed Ceracchi that he would not accept it as a present, the bust remained in the presidential mansion until the spring of 1795, when GW had it returned after receiving a bill for $1,500 for it from the sculptor. Before leaving Philadelphia, Ceracchi sold the piece to the Spanish minister to the United States, José de Jàudenes y Nebot, and it was subsequently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Cerrachi description begins Giuseppe Cerrachi: Scultore Giacobino, 1751–1801. Rome, 1989. description ends , 63; Desportes, “Ceracchi in America,” description begins Ulysse Desportes. “Giuseppe Ceracchi in America and His Busts of George Washington.” Art Quarterly 26 (1963): 140–79. description ends 150, 160–62, 166–68).

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