Having occasion to have a communication made to Madame Teresa Ceracchi at Rome, & no correspondent there, I take the liberty of asking leave to do it through you. she is the widow of Ceracchi the Sculptor … I have recieved two letters painting her distresses & praying relief from Congress. she says in these that Ceracchi had been charged with the execution of a national monument to perpetuate the foundation of our republic, that he had made all his models in terra cotta, that this work was suspended, & he not paid for his labours, and she prays an indemnity from Congress. she is entirely mistaken in the facts, which were strictly as follows …
To Thomas Appleton, July 5, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Tender-hearted leaders must have a hard heart at times.
The “facts” as Jefferson related them were these: Cerracchi came to America on his own and pestered George Washington into sitting for a sculpting. Cerrachi used that clay bust as the centerpiece for a model and asked Congress to commission the work to honor the first President. Jefferson, no slouch when it came to art, called the model “a work of great genius,” but it had a price tag he knew would never be approved.
The sculptor, hoping to build support, sculpted 20 or so busts of Congressmen, even though he was repeatedly warned away from the project. He impoverished himself in the effort, angrily returned to France, where he was executed for his involvement in a plot against Napoleon. His financially distressed widow had since claimed payment from Congress for her husband’s work.
There was no basis for a claim against the government, but Jefferson didn’t want to turn her down cold. If any of the congressional busts still existed, he would buy them from her, out of his own pocket, at the going rate of $7.50-10.00 each. He would pay seven times that amount for the bust of Washington. Jefferson did not want his involvement known and asked Appleton to convey both the denial and the offer in his own words.
Appleton was a merchant and buyer in Italy. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, the President asked him “to send me one or two gross of the best Florence wine.”