An Old Man Dying (Voltaire)
Bernhard Caspar Hardy (1726-1819)
ca. 1795, Polychrome wax in a glass case with silver and gilded frame
This small shrine with a dying figure appears in an almost identical version in the secretaire made by the Cologne cabinetmaker Theodor Commer (1773-1853): the cherry wood cabinet consists of six drawers surmounted by a writing-desk shelf that opens and closes. Two deep panelled doors open above the shelf, on which twenty-four cases with wax portraits (twelve per door) are hung with small hooks. The forty-eight wax portraits, placed in square display cases similar in size to this one, were all executed by Hardy: thirty-three of them were lost and the remaining fifteen were found together with nine more on the German antiques market. It is therefore possible that this figure, taken individually, could be interpreted as a depiction of Voltaire on his deathbed, while in a different context it could be a representation of an emaciated old man, forming part of a cycle of allegories or emblems (for example, the Ages of Man).