Sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi was born in Rome on 4 July 1751. He was apprenticed to Tommaso Righi and then continued his studies at the Accademia di San Luca. He went to London in 1773 with a letter of introduction from Matthew Nulty, an Irish antiquarian in Rome. He was employed by fellow Italian sculptor Agostini Carlini, a founding member of the Royal Academy. Living in Carlini’s lodgings in Dean Street, Soho, he modelled architectural ornament panels for Robert Adam.
In 1778, he sculpted the statues of Temperance and Fortitude for the Strand façade of Somerset House. Between 1776 and 1779, he exhibited a series of portrait busts at the Academy. He went back to Rome in 1781 where he got into trouble for his Jacobin sympathies. In Rome he befriended Goethe as they dwelled in the same building in Via del Corso (Goethe commissioned him to make a bust of Johann Joachim Winckelmann).
Between 1790 and 1792 he made two visits to the new American Republic. During these visits he executed busts of leaders of the American Revolution, including Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington (with Roman haircut and toga: although politely refused by the sitter, it was later used as a model of Washington for works by other sculptors and engravers). He returned to Florence about 1794.
He moved to Paris in 1799. Having been accused of involvement in the plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise, an attempt against Napoleon’s life in which a device dubbed the ‘machine infernal’ was exploded and innocent life lost, he was arrested and guillotined on 30 January 1801.