Benjamin Franklin’s (1706-1790) lifelong commitment to Freemasonry is well known. After becoming a Freemason in Philadelphia in 1731, he was active in the fraternity for over fifty years. He served as Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1734 and Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1749. In addition to some of the more common prints depicting Franklin as a Freemason, we are also fortunate to have this terra cotta medallion in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection.
Created in 1777 by Jean-Baptiste Nini (1717-1786), it shows Franklin wearing a fur cap and dates to the time he spent in France as an American diplomat. Franklin felt that this portrait was an accurate likeness of himself and by 1779 wrote to his daughter that it helped make his face “as well known as that of the moon.”
These medallions continue to be popular today – they are offered at auctions around the United States on a regular basis. Nini, an Italian sculptor working in Paris, created the medallions using drawings by other artists. Eventually, five versions of the Franklin medallion were made. Nini used terra cotta cast from a wax mold, allowing him to make a large number from one mold.
Medallion, 1777, Jean-Baptiste Nini (1717-1786), France, Special Acquisitions Fund, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 86.12a. Photograph by David Bohl.
Charles Coleman Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1962).
William B. Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin Volume 24 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984).
“Jean Baptiste Nini,” www.benfranklin300.org/frankliniana/people.php?id=34.
“Nini Medallion,” www.fi.edu/learn/sci-tech/nini-medallion/nini-medallion.php?cts=benfranklin.