The sitter, shown here at the age of 31, was the eldest son of Theophilus, 9th Earl of Huntingdon and his wife Selina, daughter of Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers. He succeeded to the earldom at the age of 18 on the death of his father in 1746. When the sitter died aged 61, suddenly at table, the Gentleman's Magazine described his virtues as being those 'of society' and 'more useful than dazzling'. Lively and agreeable in his youth he apparently lacked the motivation for high office in the political or diplomatic arena.
The Greek inscription on the bust can be roughly translated as the exhortation to 'Live! That is the sum total of all philosophies', or 'Live! That is the point of all words', a belief the Earl held. The sitter met Wilton in Florence in 1754, where the sculptor, who acted as a guide for English visitors to the Uffizi and Pitti collections, showed him statues and busts in the Uffizi Gallery. This bust was almost certainly that seen by Horace Walpole at Donington Park (then in Leicestershire and now in Lincolnshire) in 1768 and described as being in the Drawing Room there in the 1788 inventory. It was one of a number of works commissioned by the 10th Earl from Wilton, whose patrons also included Lord Chesterfield.
Joseph Wilton was born in London; the son of an ornamental plasterer. He was educated in Hertfordshire before training in France under Flemish sculptor Laurent Delvaux and French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. In 1747 he moved to Rome, where he sold casts and copies of antique sculpture. He moved to Florence in 1751. After his return to England in 1755 he supplied casts and copies to the Duke of Richmond’s academy of art in Whitehall and he and Italian painter Giovanni Battista Cipriani became the academy’s directors. In 1760, Wilton won a competition to design a monument to Major-General James Wolfe for Westminster Abbey. He served as Sculptor in Ordinary to King George III and Keeper of the Royal Academy. Wilton died in London, aged 81.
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