Images of Hamilton: Jefferson’s Bust of Hamilton

In my post on Monday about Elizabeth Hamilton, I mentioned her affection for a bust of Hamilton created by Giuseppe Ceracchi that Mrs. Hamilton showed visitors to her DC home.  Ron Chernow’s description states:

“…the tour’s highlight stood enshrined in the corner: a marble bust of her dead hero, carved by an Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi, during Hamilton’s heyday as the first Treasury secretary.  Portrayed in the classical style of a noble Roman senator, a toga draped across one shoulder, Hamilton exuded a brisk energy and a massive intelligence in his wide brow, his face illuminated by the half smile that often played about his features.

Interestingly, Jefferson also has a history with the bust of Hamilton created by Ceracchi.  In 1792, Jefferson wrote a letter recommending Ceracchi to his colleagues in 1792, and endorsed him as a “”a very celebrated sculptor of Rome.”

Image 1016 of 1309, Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, March 6,

Jefferson placed two busts, a likeness of himself and his political opponent Alexander Hamilton, opposite one another in the Entrance Hall. Both were modeled by the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi in Philadelphia in 1793 and 1794. In the Life of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Stephens Randall (Jefferson’s grandson and biographer) noted:

“After gazing a moment at these objects, the eye settled with a deeper interest on busts of Jefferson and Hamilton, by Ceracchi, placed on massive pedestals on each side of the main entrance ‘opposed in death as in life,’ as the surviving original sometimes remarked, with a pensive smile, as he observed the notice they attracted.”

Bust of Alexander Hamilton. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.
Image from Monticello 

In Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, Joanne Freeman writes:

“Jefferson went to his grave struggling to cast his relationship with Hamilton in the right light, trying to depict himself as a liberal, right-minded leader rather than the petty and vindictive politician he often appeared to be.  It was concern for his reputation that inspired him to put Hamilton’s bust in the main entrance way to Monticello; there could be no nobler act than to acknowledge the greatness of one’s enemies– and only the greatest of men could defeat such a foe.”

David Bernard Dearinger writes that “Ceracchi’s bust became the best-known image of Hamilton and was used extensively by later artists for posthumous portraits of him.”

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