The son of a goldsmith, Giuseppe Ceracchi was born on July 4, 1751 in Italy. At a young age, the boy showed interest and talent in sculpting and he was sent to Rome to study under Tommaso Righi – an Italian sculptor known for his neoclassical style. When he was 22 years old, Giuseppe moved to London to study under Royal Academy founder and Italian artist Agostino Carlini. While he was never a member of the Academy, he exhibited many works at the art institution.
In 1790, Giuseppe became aware of a plan by the newly formed Congress of United States of America to erect a statue of George Washington and a monument to the newly formed country. He quickly made his way across the ocean in an attempt to be commissioned for the work. Within a year, he became good friends with James Madison (who was at that time a congressman from Virginia), who called him “an artist celebrated by his genius” (U.S. Treasury). Unfortunately for Giuseppe, Congress never followed through on its plan.
During his years in America, Giuseppe carved busts of at least 27 different revolutionaries and founding fathers including George Washington, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Each of the busts was carved in a neoclassical style and resembled sculptures from the time of the Roman Empire. He became known for his accurate and lifelike portrayals. In fact, “many of Washington’s contemporaries considered this portrait [of President Washington] among the most lifelike to be made” (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Giuseppe’s sculpture of Secretary Hamilton became the “iconic likeness of [Alexander] and was used extensively by artists for posthumous portraits” (U.S. Treasury). In 1795, Giuseppe returned to Europe and lived the rest of his life sculpting busts of influential persons.