Metropolitan Museum of Art Cast Collection




Plaster cast of a portrait-bust of Voltaire. Original is housed in the Louvre, France, circa 1778.

Publication Date


Type of Artwork

Portrait bust

Time Period/Geographical Region

Renaissance Europe

Height (cm/in)

66.04 cm / 26 in

Width (cm/in)

48.26 cm / 19 in

Depth (cm/in)

30.48 cm / 12 in


Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Sculpture


In February 1778, the Enlightenment philosopher and writer Voltaire returned from 20 years in exile in Switzerland, and sat for the artist Jean-Antoine Houdon, who made a cast of his face. From this cast, Houdon made a series of sculptures including portrait busts and a seated figure, each with the distinctive features of Voltaire's face taken from life. This type of bust was known as "à la française," or "in the French manner" due to its ornate, old-fashioned wig and style of dress. Later that year, in May 1778, Voltaire died at age 83, and Houdin made his death mask. Numerous versions of Houdon's busts exist, including one at the Louvre Museum in Paris, which may be the model for this plaster bust. A similar plaster copy is located in the collection of Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson had once displayed a Houdon original.



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