Bust of Claude Adrien Helvétius
Jean Jacques Caffìéri (1725-1792)
This bust depicts the French philosopher and writer Claude Adrien Helvétius. He was the son of Queen Maria Leszczynska's physician and belonged to a Swiss family. Claude-Adrein's original surname was Schweitzer, which he later Latinised to Helvétius. He published his most important work, De l'esprit, in July 1758, which included materialist and sensist content typical of the Philosophes. The work was criticised in academic circles of the Sorbonne and by both Jesuits and Jansenists, and he had to take refuge in Prussia for some time following condemnations by the Archbishop of Paris and the French parliament. Commissioned by the philosopher's widow, this bust was exhibited at the Salon of 1773. In keeping with the tradition of representational portraits, Caffiéri gave his model an importance that reflects his significant standing: both in the half-length presentation and the ample drapery, as well as in the noble bearing of the head and the gaze that indicates confidence. The rendering of his physiognomy is precise, showing a double chin, a slightly aquiline nose, and hair tied back with a large bow.