Jean-Jacques Caffieri

Dates1725 - 1792

For donating his busts of actors and playwrights to the French national theater, the Comédie Française, Jean-Jacques Caffieri, an avid theatergoer, gained free entry for life. His habit of making casts from his marble sculptures and giving them to institutions was fortuitous, for many of Caffieri's marbles were lost in a fire in 1761. Belonging to the third generation of a family of sculptors and bronzeworkers who had come from Italy in the previous century, Caffieri was the younger brother of bronzeworker Philippe Caffieri. Jean-Jacques won the Prix de Rome in 1748 and spent four years in Rome studying ancient art. When he returned to Paris, he became sculptor to Louis XV and provided ornamental designs for metalwork, notably for the staircase at the Palais-Royal, a famous Parisian royal residence. He made his name, however, with a series of portrait busts of contemporaries like Madame du Barry and famous dramatists of the past.

Caffieri insisted on absolute fidelity to the model's features, and his talent lay in making these features come alive. He captured the kindness of astronomer Canon Pingre as well as the fierce countenance of Doctor Borie. French philosopher and art critic Denis Diderot declared Caffieri's Doctor Borie "a good enough likeness to make a patient die of fear."