1780's Benjamin Franklin Sèvres Portrait Copper Medallion
Copper circa 1780's copper portrait medallion of Benjamin Franklin bearing the familiar Sèvres profile bust of Franklin facing left. Large uniface medallion measuring 80 mm in diameter.
This portrait of Franklin is referred to as the Sevres portrait as it was used extensively on Sèvres porcelain pieces manufactured in France beginning in the late 1770's. At the time Franklin was in France as Plenipotentiary of the United States seeking recognition, military assistance and an alliance between the two nations against England. Franklin became a much beloved figure in France and a wide variety of portrait pieces of Franklin were created during this period.
This image is not truly a Sèvres portrait despite the common usage of the term. This portrait was first used by Wedgwood as early as 1769 to create black basalt porcelain portrait medallions at the Wedgwood Potteries in England. At this earlier date, Frankin was in England and a close associate and friend of Josiah Wedgwood. Given this history, it is highly likely that this portrait was actually created from life by the accomplished Wedgwood artist and sculptor John Flaxman.
The maker of this medallion is unknown, but it matches closely with the style and size of a large Franklin copper medal bearing this same Sèvres portrait medal unearthed from the 1789 cornerstone of the Philadelphia Library. The American Philosophical Society has a medallion of similar design in their important and extensive Franklin collection, but there example is of a smaller diameter and white metal (lead and tin mxture) composition. Given all of the medal's characteristics and history, it is highly likely that this medallion was created in France in the 1780's during Franklin's lifetime
The medallion was cast or struck in copper and then the entire field/ background of the medallion was hand-finished; meticulously and finely stippled by hand creating depth and a cameo affect in the medal's appearance. This example is a unique and historic relic of Franklin's importance both in France and the United States, especially with the hand stippling.