Clerkenwell-based modellers, casters and, according to the Art Journal in 1866, ‘the only electrotypists who devote themselves exclusively to Fine Art’. Giovanni Ferdinando Franchi (c.1811–74) was born in Lucca, Tuscany, and his son, Giovanni Antonio Franchi, who predeceased him (c.1832–70), in Clerkenwell. Before moving on to the production of electrotypes, the firm had begun as casters of figures in plaster and played a significant role in creating the market for ‘fictile’ ivories (imitations of ivory in plaster); in 1846, they won a medal and five guineas from the Society of Arts ‘for the best imitation of ivory in plaster composition’. Franchi & Son received further medals in 1851 at the Great Exhibition, and in 1873 at International Exhibition, London, and the Universal Exhibition, Vienna. The firm supplied numerous casts for the South Kensington Museum’s (now V&A) Cast Courts including, in plaster, Nicola Pisano’s Pisa Baptistry pulpit (purchased by the museum in 1864 for £116 13s 4d); and in electrotype, Bonanno’s Pisa Cathedral Porta di San Ranieri (purchased in 1864 for £480) and Ghiberti’s Florence Baptistry ‘Gates of Paradise’ (purchased in 1866 for £950). The firm was also responsible for electrotyping, in 1867, the relief panels for the doors of the then main entrance to the museum (designed by James Gamble and Reuben Townroe to drawings by Godfrey Sykes). At G.F. Franchi’s invitation, in the early part of his final year, the business was acquired by Elkington & Co.
Bibliography: Art Union: (i) 1 July 1846, p. 204; (ii) 1 August 1846, p. 239; Art Journal: (i) 1 September 1866, p. 286; (ii) 1 January 1870, p27; (iii) 1 February 1875, p.44; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 163, 164; NPG British bronze sculpture founders; A. Patterson and M. Trusted, The Cast Courts, London, 2018; V&A Art & Design Archives: ‘Science and Art Department board minutes precis (1863–1877), vol. 1, p. 102.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022