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Art & Design

Jean-Jacques Caffieri, Bust of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, 1786, Museum Appropriation Fund

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Jean-Jacques Caffieri

gallery location RA504.European2

Bust of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Caffieri French, 1725-1792
Bust of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, 1786
64.8 x 43.2 x 25.4 cm (25 1/2 x 17 x 10 inches)
Museum Appropriation Fund 30.042

Busts of distinguished men were acquired by collectors as symbols of their own intellectual and political identities. Displayed on mantels and niches in salons and studies, they served as inspiring decoration and as points of conversation. In this bust of the poet and satirist Jean-Baptiste Rousseau (1670–1741), the artist combines a realistic likeness with lively effects of dress and, particularly, of hair. Portrayed posthumously, the writer was banished from France for his caustic commentaries on public figures and died in exile in Brussels. To commemorate him, Jean-Jacques Caffieri relied on two sources: a painting in which Rousseau wore an impressive and fancifully knotted wig, and an engraving that showed him informally attired in an open-neck shirt and coat. The skeptical glance and smile that accompany these opposing conventions of costume reveal the personality of a man whose opinions and verses amused, offended, and challenged contemporary society.

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