An exceptional Masonic certificate
A Masonic certificate from Les Neuf Sœurs Lodge for painter Claude-Jacques Notté (1752-1837). This exceptional document bears Franklin’s signature as “Vénérable Maître” (“Worshipful Master”) and is one of very few existing documents relating to the American founding father’s Masonic activity.
Between 1776 and 1789, Les Neuf Sœurs Lodge was a jewel of French Freemasonry. From the sculptor Houdon to the painters Greuze and Vernet, from the composer Piccinni to Voltaire, the Lodge united members from the literary and artistic elite of the late eighteenth century. This document features the signatures of prominent literary and artistic figures of the 1780s, including those of Élie de Beaumont (lawyer), the naturalist Lacépède, Claude Guyot-Desherbiers (magistrate and legislator, grandfather of Alfred de Musset), Niccolò Piccinni (composer), as well as those of painters Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Joseph Vernet.
Benjamin Franklin and Freemasonry
Franklin joined the Masonic order, in Pennsylvania, at the age of 25. Well established in the milieu of Parisian salons, he was most likely already well acquainted with Les Neuf Sœurs Brothers. But it wasn’t just his affinity for culture or his masonic zeal that drove him to begin frequenting the Lodge. The astute American ambassador understood the important emerging role of intellectuals in the formation of public opinion. He realized that members of the Lodge could provide him with significant support as he continued his efforts to develop his new nation. The Lodge welcomed him warmly and even elected him “Vénérable” (“Worshipful Master” or president) twice. He played an important role in Voltaire’s initiation in 1778 — a significant event in the Paris “philosophical Party” during the reign of Louis XVI. Benjamin Franklin was thereby an active Freemason during many different periods of his life. American and French Lodge archives have conserved vestiges of his engagement. This 1785 certificate for the painter Claude-Jacques Notté, signed by Franklin as “Worshipful Master” of Les Neuf Sœurs, is certainly one of the most important.
An explanatory text written by Pierre Mollier
This framed reproduction is accompanied by a bilingual booklet written by Pierre Mollier, and translated into English. The booklet includes a formal analysis of the document — an inventory of characteristics and techniques, a transcription (and translation) of the text, a list of signatures, and an analysis of the document’s illustration. The booklet also recounts Benjamin Franklin’s long Masonic career, the importance of Les Neuf Sœurs during the age of Enlightenment, and the link between Benjamin Franklin and the Neufs Sœurs Lodge.
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