Wisdom in wax: eighteenth-century waxworks of Voltaire

In the late 1780s, Londoners had a rare opportunity to see the great writer and philosopher Voltaire with their own eyes for the cost of just one shilling. The fact that he had died eight years earlier was of no concern, for this Voltaire was sculpted entirely from wax.

Voltaire had been rendered in wax by one Mr Sylvester – an ‘eminent Artist’ who had recently trained at the Royal Academy in Paris – and housed in his Wax Work Cabinet. The Cabinet had first been on display in Paris, before moving to ‘Mr. Ansell’s Large Room, Spring Gardens, London’ – a street at the southeast extreme of St James’s, crossing the eastern end of The Mall, a fashionable quarter of the city inhabited by civil servants and politicians. The Cabinet was described as being ‘an assembly of the most distinguished potentates and characters in Europe’ including royalty from across Europe, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Madame du Barre, the goddess Venus, and the Countess de la Motte accompanied by a fortune teller.

Bodleian Library, Bodleian Library Waxworks 3 (12c), ‘For the inspection of the curious grand exhibition of royal wax-work’ (1794).

In January 1786, notices were placed in local newspapers declaring that Mr Sylvester’s Wax Work Cabinet was being moved ‘to that more centrical situation, the Lyceum, in the Strand’, a grander venue just a ten-minute walk from Spring Gardens. The Lyceum had been built in 1772 as an exhibition room for the use of the Royal Incorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain, having been designed by the architect James Paine to rival the ‘grand salons’ of Paris. It quickly became clear, however, that the Lyceum was a financial disaster as it could not compete with the Royal Academy. The building was subsequently sold in 1777, becoming an exchange, exhibition space, debating room, and gallery. It was while the Lyceum was in this state that Mr Sylvester moved his collection of wax works into the Grand Saloon in 1786, but it was not to last long; the Lyceum was put up for auction in March 1790 and though it did not sell, the space was instead repurposed, coming to house a Phantasmagoria that featured a menagerie of exotic animals, Mr Diller’s Philosophical Fireworks, and an Irish giant.

Advertisements for Mr Sylvester’s exhibition of the Wax Work Cabinet at the Lyceum proclaimed that the spectacle was designed ‘for the Inspection of the CURIOUS’ and it was here that Voltaire’s waxwork was prominently displayed alongside a host of other wax curios including ‘an exact Representation of The Seraglio’, the rulers of Germany, Russia, France, Spain, Prussia, Naples, and the Netherlands, and a rendition of the goddess Venus sleeping, though one newspaper reported that the most popular figures were those of the Princess Royal, the Prince of Wales, the Countess de la Motte, le Montrofin, and the Countess du Barre. Indeed, Mr. Sylvester was noted for his specialism in the life-sized reproduction of royal figures, making his inclusion of Voltaire in the midst of such royalty notable, and these noble figures were much admired by spectators. The actor and theatrical manager Henry Irving, for instance, visited the exhibition in November 1790 just before its closure and remarked upon the visit in the following way:

‘The enterprising Mr. Sylvester, always anxious to gratify the Curiosity of a generous Public, has added to his grand Exhibition a Model of the Head of the late Governor of the Bastille. He received the exact likeness from the same Gentleman who sent him the likeness of Baron Trenck, who happened to be on the spot when the Governor was executed, and got permission of the mob to take it off in plaster, which Mask he sent to Mr. Sylvester. N.B. Mr. Sylvester returns his most grateful Thanks to the Nobility and Gentry, and Public in general, for the very great encouragement he has received; and as he means to close his Exhibition very soon, admits Servants and Children at Half Price, viz., Sixpence only. That much admired Figure of the Sleeping Venus at Full Length.’ (Brereton, 1803, p.18)

From this account, it is clear that the exhibition was ever-evolving, adding new figures to an illustrious cast of which Voltaire was a steady constant.

The closure of the exhibition at the Lyceum did not signal the end of the Wax Work Cabinet, however. A newspaper advertisement from 1794 noted that the exhibition had moved to ‘No. 341, near Catherine-street, in the Strand’ and was now being run by Mrs Sylvester, the former proprietor’s wife. The Cabinet appears to have been well-travelled between its departure from the Lyceum and its arrival on the Strand, with the advertisement noting that the exhibition – including Voltaire – had been ‘displayed with so much éclat at Dublin, Edinburgh, and most of the principal Towns in England, and approved of by the most curious Connoisseurs, and chiefly by the most eminent Artists in most parts of Europe’. And, as was ever the case, the Cabinet continued to evolve and grow in size, now totalling fifty-two figures and including renderings of recent events such as the British naval victory over the French on 1st June 1794. The advertisement reported that the additions and alterations made by Mrs Sylvester had been well received, being ‘deservedly esteemed by an impartial Public, to be the first productions of the kind’.

This was not the first time that Voltaire had been rendered in wax and it certainly would not be the last. He had been the subject of the very first waxwork crafted by the now famous Marie Tussaud in 1777 when she was just 16 years old, for instance. Tussaud had made the cast of Voltaire’s face just two months before his death, and the resulting waxwork was initially displayed in the Salon de Cire sat at a desk surrounded by books. Voltaire himself had insisted on sending his own clothes to dress the waxwork and onlookers often remarked that his model was significantly scruffier than others on display (Pillbeam, 2006, p.29). Tussaud later brought both the Voltaire mould and waxwork to England, where they remain today, and one catalogue for her London exhibition remarked that ‘the most admirable specimen of her talent in the present collection is the portrait model of the most famous wit Voltaire’ (Pillbeam, 2006, p.173). Clearly her wax rendering of Voltaire was a big hit.

Tussaud’s uncle, Philippe Curtius, also created a wax figure of Voltaire but for a much more sombre purpose, this time to be used in his funeral procession. Here, the model of Voltaire lay on a sarcophagus placed in a funeral chariot that was drawn by twelve white horses, offering mourners one last chance to glimpse the writer before his burial. Unfortunately, heavy rain caused the vermillion robes in which the waxwork had been clothed to run, turning the effigy a somewhat grotesque shade of purple. So well-received was this figure, however, despite its ghoulish hue, that Curtius instigated a boom for wax effigies in funeral processions, with tourists attending funeral processions specifically to view the waxworks on display, as if they were carnivalesque floats. The advertisements for the Cabinet certainly were not wrong when they described the audience for waxworks as curious.

Waxworks of Voltaire were also made in miniature. In c.1790, for example, Francesco Orso created a set of miniature waxworks that included Voltaire, the only example of his waxwork to survive today. Orso was not so concerned with accuracy here as he was allegory and genre, situating his miniature Voltaire in a pastoral scene besides the other spiritual fathers of the French Revolution – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin – and two children. This peaceful scene exudes an air of new beginnings and the blossoming of Spring after a long, hard winter. Other miniature waxworks of Voltaire were more gruesome, such as the 55 x 48.5 cm wax relief of Voltaire on his death bed produced by Samuel Percy in England in the late-eighteenth or early-nineteenth century, modelled on an earlier example by Philippe Curtius. Here, Voltaire is not delightfully posed in an allegorical pastoral scene but instead lies awkwardly across a green canopied bed as a maid enters to the left, raising her hands in horror at the sight. This was not a waxwork designed to glorify a great man as much as it was a scene intended to invoke an emotive response, with the artist depicting Voltaire as a frail, pained, and pitiful figure lacking any dignity in his final moments. Even more disturbing is a waxwork produced by Kaspar Berhard Hardy in c.1780, again of Voltaire on his deathbed. This time, the wider scene of the bedroom has been stripped away and the waxwork centres on Voltaire’s face and upper body, reclining ungracefully, his expression pained, as he takes his last breaths. Again, we see no glory in this 24 x 7 x 23.5 cm cased waxwork figure, no triumphal or defiant display in the face of his own mortality, but rather a pained and frightened Voltaire fearfully awaiting his death. There is an intimacy here, and a humbling of a great literary figure, stripping back the layers of celebrity to reveal a mere mortal, not so dissimilar to the viewer.

But why should waxworks of Voltaire have created such a draw for visitors? What was it about lifelike waxworks that proved to be such an attraction? And did visitors attach any emotion to their viewing of such figures? In the advertisement for Sylvester’s exhibition, Voltaire is described as ‘that justly admired French Genius, who died in Paris in the Year 1778, aged 85, and has been in his Life-time an intimate Friend to Pope, Congreve and Young’. He was not only an admired individual but also an influential one. Certainly, this celebrity could have been enough of a draw in and of itself, offering the public the chance to see great figures for themselves, with their own eyes.

There is, however, as Michelle E. Bloom has noted, something captivating about waxworks simply for their ability to blur boundaries (Bloom, 2003, pp.xi-xiii). No longer is the spectator sure of the dividing line between human being and inanimate form, life and death, celebrity and normality. The viewer knows that the Voltaire they are seeing is a mere artistic representation, that the real Voltaire has been dead for many years, and yet there is something so lifelike about the waxwork that it is as if the veil between life and death has been lifted, just for a moment. Indeed, waxworks had their origins in funeral effigies rather than art, being carried atop royal coffins across medieval and early modern Europe in order to provide onlookers with one last chance to catch a glimpse of someone of status. These effigies would often be displayed by the tomb of the deceased royal or elsewhere in the church after the funeral, becoming a popular attraction that visitors would sometimes have to pay to view. For many who had never seen a royal figure before, such displays of effigies in churches provided the rare opportunity to see the majesty of royalty for themselves, to get up close to a member of the royal family in a way that they never could have done in life, momentarily dismantling social divides.

Waxworks thus seem to be intimately intertwined with possibility. For many, it is unlikely that they will ever meet a celebrity. Yet a waxwork provides the opportunity to at least stand shoulder to shoulder with their likeness. At the same time, waxworks break down the barrier between celebrities and normal people. These were not attempts, necessarily, to glorify; waxworks did not smooth wrinkles, remove scars, or reverse time as lofty marble busts may have done. Instead, they portrayed the subject in intimate and realistic detail. When viewing a Voltaire waxwork, therefore, the spectator was not viewing a great marble effigy designed to instil a sense of grandeur – such as Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Seated Voltaire – or a trinket sized piece of memorabilia – like the statuettes featured in a recent study by Antoine Lilti – but rather a humbling glimpse of the real man behind the vast writings, warts and all. Such realistic representations were not always well received. Antonio Canova and commentator on the visual arts James Ralph both thought that waxworks were undignified, ‘expressing neither figure like statuary nor colour like painting’ (Craske, 1997, p.192-94).

But perhaps the purpose of the waxwork was never meant to be art. Perhaps instead the place of the waxwork was firmly entrenched in the juxtaposing notions of celebrity and humility. The ability to look a great celebrity in the eyes, to stand in their presence, and yet see them exactly as they were (a human being just like the viewer) was perhaps equally as emotive, albeit in a different way, as viewing a painting produced by a great master of a beautiful and idealised figure.

(L) Jean-Antoine Houdon, Seated Voltaire, ca.1779-1795, (R) Voltaire waxwork at Madame Tussaud.

Waxworks create a world of make-believe that somehow feels very real. The viewer knows that the slightly iridescent flesh and glassy eyes they are staring at have been shaped by human hands and yet there is the unnerving sense that when one turns ones back on a waxwork it may just come alive. To view figures like Voltaire in this way, to gaze upon them more intently than one ever could in polite society, and to note the most intimate details of their faces, blurs the boundary between normality and celebrity, life and death, mortality and immortality. It offers a unique and humbling chance to see notable figures as the human beings that they are or were and, as the advertisement for the Wax Work Cabinet proclaimed, was undeniably an experience for the curious.

Zoe Screti, Astra Foundation Research Fellow in Manuscript Studies at the Voltaire Foundation

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Falconet: a sculptor’s quest for influence

Portrait of Falconet

Portrait of Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716–1791) (Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne the Younger, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Etienne Maurice Falconet came out of nowhere. We have no record of the years he is reported to have spent as an apprentice in a master’s shop. Although Parisian by birth, he did not belong to any of the established artistic dynasties. At eighteen, he is said to have worked at a chair-maker’s shop, heralding the type of artisanal livelihood that so many now unknown sculptors embraced in the burgeoning luxury trade of early eighteenth-century Paris. But soon enough he managed to ease his way out of chair-making and into the fortunate selection of young sculptors to compete for and achieve membership of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. What happened next, Falconet’s reinvention of himself as a modern philosophe, can be considered a singular achievement by any standards.

Contemporary apocrypha of course reinforce the idea of the hypnotic charm exuded by his works, and leave the man out of the picture. Chance discoveries in the gardens of Versailles and furtive work in the studio of his master Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne are all part of the legend: Lemoyne is reported to have barged in on Falconet during waged hours, catching him red-handed modelling an independent work, his Milo of Croton. Lemoyne then cheered him on. ‘The young Falconet offered himself to Lemoyne as servant, valet, anything he liked’, is how Denis Diderot, one of his closest friends and allies, recalls a decisive encounter between the two. Falconet’s mode of introduction to Lemoyne was a selling point, and it would have involved intricacies of parentage, speech, demeanour and manner.

Vue Perspective du Sallon de l'Academie Royal de Peinture et de Sculpture au Louvre, a Paris

Vue Perspective du Sallon de l’Academie Royal de Peinture et de Sculpture au Louvre, a Paris

The remainder of Falconet’s life story, now less apocryphal, shows that the man was unusually adept at winning over the well-connected and powerful. No other artist of his time seemed better able to tap into the wishes and convictions of his beneficiaries or contemporaries: to his Parisian masters, he was a renegade with an admiration for the Provençal sculptor Pierre Puget, while at the Académie royale, he was a social riser, author of a lecture on the art of sculpture written with a clarity and forcefulness worthy of a literate amateur member. He was a sumptuously decorative artist to Madame de Pompadour, who appointed him to the post of modeller for the recently created Sèvres National Porcelain Manufactory. He was the Boucher of sculpture to fashionable Parisian art collectors, and the Jean-Jacques Rousseau of sculpture to Diderot, his friend at the radical Salon d’Holbach. A bibliophile who, by the early 1760s, had accumulated a stunning facility with classical literature, Falconet culled from the stoics a persona of utter restraint, with living and dressing habits to match.

This was all before 1766, when, aged fifty, he emigrated to St Petersburg where he played a French homme d’esprit and confidant to Catherine II of Russia, who commissioned him with what would be his magnum opus as a sculptor: the landmark equestrian statue of Peter I in St Petersburg, known in street parlance as the ‘Bronze horseman’. Was this all really because his sculptures were so well done? As Diderot quipped in his Jacques le fataliste, we may believe it to be true, or decide it is a falsehood, and we would not be wrong in either case.

Inauguration of the Bronze Horseman monument to Peter the Great

Inauguration of the Monument to Peter the Great, A. K. Melnikov, A. P. Davydov, 1782

1 December 2016 marked three centuries since the birth of this remarkable actor of the Enlightenment stage. Art history, the discipline that through the twentieth century rediscovered him as a proto-romantic rebel, seems of late to have ignored his sculpture. He was not one to sympathize with those men of letters who reviewed works at the Salons where he exhibited his marble sculptures, even though these men were inventing modern art criticism. Conversely, their parliamentary reformism did not inform his manicured, seductive sculpture by any perceivable or logical rationale. Perhaps one day more will come of comparing his work to Diderot’s materialism and complex rethinking of the links between artistic activity and moral realities, illusion and artifice in art.

For now, the way one understands the socio-cultural and aesthetic modernity breaking through in eighteenth-century France is more Chardin or David than Falconet. By contrast, Falconet’s writings, which were recuperated from oblivion by Yves Benot and Anne Betty Weinshenker (Falconet: his writings and his friend Diderot, published in 1966), continue to represent a challenge, almost a missing link to fledging Enlightenment cultural battles. But theory too seems to have represented for Falconet a means of bending and refashioning his circumstances for the better. After starting on his Russian mission in 1766, Falconet practically gave up sculpture in order to devote himself to his written polemics. This new obsession led to his falling out with Diderot, who was wary of Falconet’s plans to publish a series of letters they had exchanged since 1765.


After this, Falconet set out to extract from the letters a body of critical commentary that, in 1781, became published simply as a collection of polemical pieces. Only in these pieces does Falconet deploy a more strident persona: an iconoclast that attacks false privilege and the condescension of literary luminaries writing inanely on art. It is left to the discerning connoisseur and the critical art historian to quarrel over how to credit Falconet’s successes. Was it a result of his sheer vocation for modelling and carving marble figures, or should we also see other factors at work? Power-grabbing is one thing to consider, as Jacques-Louis David made clear in his commentary on a heated argument from 1793 on power abuses at the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. In David’s report, he recalled how a young former student of Falconet committed suicide after a falling-out with the sculptor. Whatever this may say to us, Falconet had a tenacious way of making sure he stayed on the winning side.

For a deeper analysis of the sculptor’s life at the famous Académie, see my book The Profession of sculpture in the Paris Académie.

– Tomas Macsotay

Sculptors in the Paris Académie’s mould, and how to (mis)understand them

For some decades now an incongruous mix of tourists and Italian schoolchildren have been milling around the once quiet interior of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. In the eighteenth century this was the place where a group of young French artists frequently attended mass. An almost imperceptible remnant of this once thriving artistic community survives: on a pillar separating two side chapels is a funerary stele erected in honour of Nicolas Vleughels who, between 1724 and his death in 1737, served a lively term as the king’s appointee to the French royal artists’ residence in Rome, the Académie de France.

Nicolas Vleughels funerary stele, San Luigi dei Francesi,  Rome.

Nicolas Vleughels funerary stele, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.

The memorial was funded by Vleughels’s young widow and art dealer, Thérèse Gosset, and its carving fell to Michel-Ange Slodtz who, years before, had arrived as a young man and student at Vleughels’s ‘maison d’étude’. Whilst Slodtz studied with Vleughels and achieved acclaim in Rome, both at the Academy and as an independent master, others, such as François Boucher and Edmé Bouchardon returned to Paris to gain membership of the prestigious Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture while enjoying unparalleled international renown.

Nowadays, the remote world of academism and eighteenth-century drawing instruction could appear as a construct of an intolerant era, catering to the representational concerns of Court and the ruling elite by demanding that promising and impressionable young artists bend to the authority of a set of preordained models and rules of art. This is, however, an oversimplified view, and one that I explore in my recently published book, The Profession of sculpture in the Paris Académie.

macsotay-bookcoverIf the statutes of the Academy were unmistakably a microcosm of ancien régime polity, governed by title, hierarchy and order, the Academy’s internal workings, either in Paris or Rome, tell a different story. Members of the Academy re-examined the position of artists inside their own practices, making on-the-spot criticisms of aspiring candidates’ works and projects but looking, much as in contemporary conversation, to strike a balance between an ideal of sound judgement and moments of wit and sociable self-indulgence. As this academic method matured, sculpture grew sensuous and graceful, both vital and conventional without deciding either for originality or against it. Vleughels, above all, was a resourceful man at the dawn of a modern age. He dispatched his best sculptor to carve a portrait bust of the Pope, persuaded his students to stage a Molière play during Carnival and, above all, fired their passion for experimentation with the dramatic and unfamiliar. Vleughels’s belief in discipline, balanced by an eye for things fashionable, clearly inspired their respect and friendship.

Half a century on, such cynical liberty irked French revolutionaries. After 1790 public service was to replace the intimate social exercises that constituted, paradoxically, a stage where artists could rehearse the drama of their ‘emancipated’ lives. The image of the self-serving clique, which revealed a reality never far behind collaborative bonhomie, was from then on a perpetual public affront. But this criticism either flagrantly missed the point about the potential vibrancy of the body of artists and art-lovers, or had no use for it.

Nicolas Vleughels funerary stele (detail).

Nicolas Vleughels funerary stele (detail).

One can imagine how critics of the Academy might have responded to Slodtz’s monument (now sadly eclipsed by the adjacent Caravaggio altarpieces depicting the life of St Matthew) at the San Luigi dei Francesi:  they would have seen an inflated, wig-wearing petit maître. On the other hand, looking more carefully at the stele and the way the conspiratorial infant, outfitted with palette and trampling a bundle of reversed torches in the tradition of Eros Tanathos, sneaks his way around the wan physiognomy of the mentor, the monument seems to act as a metaphor of the energetic community Vleughels created. Slodtz, for his part, went on to produce a series of tomb monuments of unparalleled audacity, owing his promising start in no small measure to Vleughels’s evident flair for teaching.

–Tomas Macsotay

A grand projet misfires

In 1770 a group of Voltaire’s friends decided over a boozy dinner that a subscription should be started to commission a monumental statue of France’s most famous living writer. The chosen sculptor was Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, the tercentenary of whose birth falls this coming January. Pigalle’s work was widely admired, and he was a favourite of Louis XV, who sent Frederick the Great a marble copy of the sculptor’s Mercure attachant ses talonnières, a work that may seem somewhat bland to modern eyes but was hugely popular at the time.

Musée du Louvre

Musée du Louvre

Pigalle was also known for conventional allegorical figures in neo-classical style, sometimes borrowing the features of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress.

Musée du Louvre

Musée du Louvre

But it was in his portraits that Pigalle showed his originality. Whereas his teacher Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne and Lemoyne’s other famous pupil Jean-Antoine Houdon produced idealised portraits,

Voltaire by Lemoyne

Voltaire by Lemoyne

Voltaire by Houdon (Musée Angers)

Voltaire by Houdon
Musée Angers

Pigalle offered a more modern realism. His self-portrait in terracotta is remarkable.

Musée du Louvre

Musée du Louvre

His statue of a naked Voltaire could have been equally striking. He chose to present his subject as a classical nude, but without any idealisation, and there is much to admire in the rendering of the dynamic pose and the naturalism of the anatomy. Voltaire approved the head that Pigalle modelled in the eight days he spent at Ferney (the body was created later using an old soldier as a model), but in the transfer from clay to marble, completed in 1776, the likeness was lost and the head sits awkwardly on the body. Moreover, the decision to depict Voltaire naked had drawn widespread condemnation almost from the start. In the end the work remained in Pigalle’s studio until the early nineteenth century.

A sad outcome for a project that Voltaire, despite his many objections, was clearly flattered by, as is revealed in his correspondence and some works in volume 71C of the Œuvres complètes published this summer.

In a letter to Mme Necker, who organised the subscription, he feigned surprise but also couldn’t resist getting in a dig at his long-standing enemy Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

A moi chétif une statue!
Je serais d’orgueil enivré.
L’ami Jean Jaque a déclaré
Que c’était à lui qu’elle était due.
(D16289, 13 April 1770.)

A few days later he wrote to Marmontel expressing his unworthiness but also betraying his worry that other enemies would cause problems:

Vite, qu’on nous l’ébauche, allons, Pigal, dépèche,
Figure à ton plaisir ce très mauvais chrétien,
Mais en secret nous craignons bien
Qu’un bon chrétien ne t’en empêche.

The proposed inscription for the work was ‘A Voltaire vivant’, reflecting the fact that no similar monumental sculpture had ever been commissioned of a living subject, but Voltaire suggested, typically playing on the old story of his bad health, that it should read ‘A Voltaire mourant’ (D16318, 27 April 1770).

When the time came for Pigalle to visit Voltaire to begin the work of creation, he brought with him a letter from D’Alembert penned in high-flown language:

‘C’est mr Pigalle qui vous remettra lui-même cette lettre, mon cher et illustre maître. Vous savez déjà pourquoi il vient à Ferney, et vous le recevrez comme Virgile auroit reçu Phidias, si Phidias avoit vécu du temps de Virgile et qu’il eût été envoyé par les Romains pour leur conserver les traits du plus illustre de leurs compatriotes.’
(D16368, 30 May 1770.)

Voltaire wrote a poem, which he called Lettre à Monsieur Pigalle (published in OCV, vol.71c, p.437-39), in which he addresses Pigalle as Phidias and, with unconscious prescience, asks the sculptor:

Que ferez-vous d’un pauvre auteur
Dont la taille et le cou de grue,
Et la mine très peu joufflue
Feront rire le connaisseur?

On Pigalle’s arrival at Ferney Voltaire composed another poem, for Mme Necker, in which he continued the theme:

Vous saurez que dans ma retraite
Est venu Phidias Pigal
Pour dessiner l’original
De mon vieux et petit squelette.
(OCV, vol.71c, p.444-45.)

The project drew contributions from royalty and the stars of the world of literature, including even Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose two louis Voltaire spitefully refused to accept until his objections were finally worn down by his friends. But it was all in vain. It is not clear if Voltaire ultimately recognised that the sculpture was an artistic failure, but he was certainly aware of the outcry against it at the time. In a letter to Feriol of 24 November 1770 (D16781) he wrote of his play Le Dépositaire (also published in OCV, vol.71c) and the condemnation of it by his perennial enemy Fréron:

‘A l’égard du dépositaire, je pense qu’il faut aussi mettre ce drame au cabinet. La caballe fréronique est trop forte, le dépit contre la statue trop amer, l’envie de la casser trop grande.’
The sculpture was preserved, first at the library of the Institut de France, and then, from 1962, at the Louvre.

On a more positive note, the time that Voltaire spent with Pigalle at Ferney gave the writer the technical information he needed to write his essay Fonte (OCV vol.72), an important stage in his Biblical criticism.