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Sculpture, Bribery, and the Founding Fathers
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Washington declined this gift, imploring Ceracchi to take the busts back. Williamson could not possibly suppose that Mr. Ceracchi had offered such a compliment by way of a bribe; for the man in public station who could accept of a bribe, or betray his trust ought never to have his likeness made, except from a block of wood.
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Undeterred, Ceracchi continued to sculpt terra-cotta pieces as molds for future marble iterations. Some were opposed to its political imagery, objecting to images of George Washington on coinage and in public spaces.
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Others strongly supported this imagery. On April 11, , commissioners from the newly established federal district of Washington D.
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Without going into the Question of right to apply the money to defray the expence of Mr. Ceracchi returned to Europe but continued to advance his cause, writing letters to Washington, Jefferson, James Madison , and Alexander Hamilton inquiring about the future of the monument. In order to address concerns about a monument of George Washington built during his presidency, Ceracchi replaced the figure of Washington with the Goddess of Liberty. This marble bust of President George Washington was originally modeled in terra-cotta circa by Italian Sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi.
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When he returned to Philadelphia in the fall of , Ceracchi continued to pursue the monument but faced a mounting resistance. Ceracchi contacted President Washington again to ask for more sittings because alterations were required for the marble bust. When Ceracchi hinted that the bust was a gift for First Lady Martha Washington , Washington stated that they could not accept it as a gift. However, Ceracchi did gift completed marble portraits to others sculpted, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
Because the government could no longer sponsor the monument, Ceracchi devised a subscription campaign in early Ceracchi held a meeting at his home and invited a number of potential patrons to fund his project.
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Ceracchi sought to obtain one thousand yearly subscriptions at thirty six dollars a share. Although it is unknown how many bought shares, President Washington took four shares and pledged to continue the subscription for ten years.
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When Ceracchi finally realized that his monument plans would never come to fruition, he became angry and sent irascible letters demanding payment to all those that had accepted his gifts of marble statuary, including Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. This marble bust of explorer Amerigo Vespucci was originally modeled in terra-cotta by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi.
The question remains: after the controversy and fall out between the two men, how did a bust of Washington end up in the White House Collection? Ceracchi returned to Europe in late , where his misfortune continued. He was arrested on November 11, , for his participation in an assassination plot against Napoleon at the Paris Opera and was executed by guillotine on October 11, Many of his works were modeled on the original but carved by others.
It is known that variations of the Ceracchi bust were produced in Italy during the first half of the nineteenth century after Ceracchi left his terra-cotta busts to the Florentine Pisini brothers before returning to America in Ceracchi likely modeled these latter works in terra-cotta before when he left the terra-cotta models to the Pisini brothers.
Related The Appleton House: Book 1 of the House collection
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