Description

From the time of his initial arrest in 1763 for committing seditious libel, the radical politician and newspaper editor John Wilkes (1725–97) recognised the symbolic power of Magna Carta. Although his engagement with the Great Charter was often superficial, by invoking it he enhanced his public reputation as a defender of liberty. Based on an anonymous engraving, this Derby porcelain figurine was one of the many types of object used to promote Wilkes’s cause. Hand on hip, Wilkes poses nonchalantly among symbols of English liberty. The plinth upon which he leans has two scrolls, one inscribed ‘Magna Carta’ and the other ‘Bill of Rights’; at his feet a putto holds a Phrygian cap and a treatise on government by John Locke (1632–1704). The figurine was reissued several times during the 18th century, demonstrating how the invocation of Magna Carta by Wilkes could bring both commercial and political success.

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