Artist: Clodion (Claude Michel) (French, Nancy 1738–1814 Paris)
Culture: French, modeled in Italy (Rome)
Dimensions: Height: 18 3/4 in. (47.6 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Charles Ulrick and Josephine Bay Foundation Inc. Gift, 1975
Accession Number: 1975.312.6
The entertaining French sculptor Claude Michel—called Clodion— spent nine years in Italy (1762–71), 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.