The entertaining French sculptor Claude Michel—called Clodion— spent nine years in Italy (1762–71), where he attended the French Academy in Rome and studied important collections of antiquities. Instructed by Charles-Joseph Natoire, director of the French Academy, to study sculpture by making clay copies instead of drawing, Clodion soon perfected a type of highly finished small terracotta sculpture popular with eighteenth-century collectors. Minerva combines the features of several ancient marbles, most importantly the Minerva Giustiniani in the Vatican. Clodion depicts the goddess of wisdom and the arts wearing a helmet, Greek chiton and mantle draped over her left shoulder and wrapped around her waist. Her raised right hand once held a spear (now lost). Her lowered left hand steadies a shield with quilted padding and arm straps on the inside; a delicately incised head of Medusa appears on the other side, probably added to the damp clay before finishing, along with Clodion's signature at the base.
Signature: Incised on dress in back: Clodion / in Roma / 1766
Everard Rhoné , Paris (until 1861; his sale, Paris, May 13–18, 1861, no. 526) ; Arthur Rhoné ; Madame C , Paris (until 1930; sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, Decmeber 5, 1930, no. 47); Private collection, France (until 1952; sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, December 6, 1952 no. 68); [ Wildenstein and Co., Inc. . New York, until 1975; sold to MMA ]