Clodion (Claude Michel) (French, 1738–1814)
H. 18 3/4 in. (47.6 cm)
Purchase, Charles Ulrick and Josephine Bay Foundation Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.312.6)
The entertaining French sculptor Claude Michelcalled Clodion spent nine years in Italy (176271), where he attended the French Academy in Rome and studied important collections of antiquities. Instructed by Charles-Joseph Natoire, director of the French Academy, to study sculpture by making clay copies instead of drawing, Clodion soon perfected a type of highly finished small terracotta sculpture popular with eighteenth-century collectors. Minerva combines the features of several ancient marbles, most importantly the Minerva Giustiniani in the Vatican. Clodion depicts the goddess of wisdom and the arts wearing a helmet, Greek chiton and mantle draped over her left shoulder and wrapped around her waist. Her raised right hand once held a spear (now lost). Her lowered left hand steadies a shield with quilted padding and arm straps on the inside; a delicately incised head of Medusa appears on the other side, probably added to the damp clay before finishing, along with Clodion's signature at the base.