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MEDAL (Fr. medaille, from Lat. metallum)

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Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 2 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MEDAL (Fr. medaille, from Lat. metallum), strictly the term given to a memorial piece, originally of metal, and generally in the shape of a coin, used however not as currency but as an artistic product. " Medallion " is a similar term for a large medal, but is now usually restricted to a form of bas-relief in sculpture. The term " medal " is, artistically, extended by analogy to pieces of the same character not necessarily shaped like coins. The history of coins and medals is inseparable, and is treated under the general heading of NUMISMATICS. That article may be supplemented here by an account of (I) the more recent progress in the art of the medallist, and (2) the use of medals for war decorations. 1. The medal—as it is understood to-day—enjoys a life entirely independent of the coin on the one hand, and, on the other, of the sculptured medallion, or bas-relief; and its renaissance is one of the chief phenomena in art during the period since about 1870. It is in France that it has risen to the greatest perfection. Its popularity there is well-nigh universal; it is esteemed not only for memorials of popular events and of public men, but also for private celebrations of all kinds. No other nation approaches in excellence—in artistic feeling, treatment, and sensitiveness of execution—the artists and the achievements of France. In England, although the Royal Academy seeks to encourage its students to practise the art, the prize it offers commonly induces no competition. The art of the medallist is not properly appreciated or understood, and receives little or no support. The prevailing notion concerning it is that it consists in stamping cheap tokens out of white metal or bronze, on which a design, more or less vulgar, stands out in frosty relief from a dazzling, glittering background. These works, even the majority of military and civic medals, demonstrate how the exquisite art of the Renaissance had been degraded in England—Almost without protest or even recognition —so that they are, to a work of Roty or Chaplain, what a nameless daub would be to a picture by Rembrandt or Velasquez. It is probable that Jacques Wiener (d. 1899), of Belgium, was the last of the medallists of note who habitually cut his steel dies entirely with his own hand without assistance, though others in some measure do so still. Although most modern workers, exclusively medallists, have themselves cut dies, they now take advantage of the newest methods; and the graveur en medailles has become simply a medailleur. His knowledge of effect is the same—though the effect sought is different: in earlier times the artist thought chiefly of his shadows; now he mainly regards his planes. Otherwise his aims are not dissimilar. At the present day the medallist, after making conscientious studies from life (as if he were about to paint a picture), commonly works out his design in wax, or similar substance, upon a disk of plaster about 12 or 14 inches The great majority of the artistic medals at present in the world (in the great. collection of France there is a total of not fewer than 200,000 medals) are cast, not struck. There is in them,a charm of surface, of patina, of the metal itself, which the struck medal, with all the added beauties which it allows of delicate finish and exquisite detail, can hardly give. But the production of the cast medal is much slower, much more uncertain, and the number of fine copies that can be produced is infinitely smaller. All the early medals were cast, being first modelled in wax, and then cast by the cire perdue (waste wax) 1 The method of preparing the dies, &c., is the same for medals as for coins, save that for larger and heavier work more strokes are required, as in the case of L. Coudray's popular " Orphce "—rather a sculpture-relief than a medal. The dies are capable of a great yield before becoming quite worn-out; it is said that no fewer than three million copies were struck of Professor J. Tautenhayn's Austrian jubilee medal of the Emperor Francis Joseph. In France, Thonelier`9 perfected machine, substituting the lever for the screw, has been in use for coins since 1844; but for the striking of medals the same old-fashioned screw-press is retained which had till then been employed both for coins and medals since the time of Louis XI V. In its present form the machine consists of an iron or bronze frame, of which the upper part is fitted with a hollow screw wherein works an inner screw. This screw, moved by steam or electricity, drives the dies, set in iron collars, so that they strike the blank placed between them. This machine can deliver a strong blow to produce a high relief, or a delicate touch to add the finest finish. In the Paris Mint large medals can be struck with comparative ease and rapidity. A hydraulic press of nearly two million pounds pressure is utilized for testing the dies TI process, and were usually worked over by the chaser afterwards; indeed, it was not until the beginning of the 16th century that dies, hitherto used only for coins executed in low relief, were employed for larger and bolder work. The medallists of those days always cast in bronze or lead, and only proceeded to use silver and gold as a luxurious taste began to demand the more precious metals. There is little doubt that the material to be preferred is dull silver ( mat or sable—sand-blasted), as the work, with all its variations of light and shade, can be better seen in the delicate grey of the surface. The medal, properly considered, is not sculpture. Vasari was happy in his definition when he described the medallic art as the link between sculpture and painting—that is to say, painting in the round with the colour left out. Less severe than sculpture, it need not be less dignified; it is bound down by the conventions of low relief, and by compulsions of composition and design, dependent on shape, from which sculpture, even when the relief is the lowest, is in a great measure free. In the medal, otherwise than in sculpture, elaborate perspective and receding planes are not out of place. The genius of the modern Frenchman rebelled against the rule that commonly governed the medal during the decadence, and has triumphed in his revolt, justifying the practice by his success. The modern medal and the plaquette aim at being decorative yet vigorous, reticent and dignified, delicate and tender, graceful and pure; it may be, and often is, all these in turn. Imagination, fancy, symbolism, may always be brought into play, allied to a sense of form and colour, of arrangement and execution. By the demonstration of these qualities the artist is to be differentiated from the skilful, mechanical die-sinker, who spreads over the art the blight of his heavy and insensitive hand and brain. So with portraiture. Accurate likeness of feature as well as character and expression are now to be found in all fine works, such as are seized only by an artist of keenly sensitive temperament. It is thus that he casts the events and the actions of to-day into metallic history, beautifully seen and exquisitely recorded; thus that the figure on the medal is no longer a mere sculpturesque symbol, but a thing of flesh and blood, suave and graceful in composition, and as pleasing in its purely decorative design as imagination can inspire or example suggest. It is thus that the art, while offering easy means of permanent memorial, has afforded to men of restricted means the eagerly seized opportunity of forming small collections of masterpieces France.—In France the example of Oudin6, coming after that of David d'Angers, did much to revolutionize the spirit animating the modern medallist, but Chapu, by his essentially modern treatment, did more. To Ponscarme (pupil of Oudine) is chiefly due the idea of rendering mat the ground as well as the subject on the medal, the suppression of the raised rim, and the, abandonment of the typographic lettering hitherto in vogue, together with the mechanical regularity of its arrangement. Degeorge, with his semi-pictorial treatment, was followed by Daniel Dupuis,' whose delicate and playful fancy, almost entirely pictorial, makes us forget alike the material and the die. J. C. Chaplain is unsurpassed as a modeller of noble heads, including those of four presidents of the French Republic—Macmahon, Casimir-Perier, Faure and Loubetand his allegorical designs are finely imagined and admirably worked out (see Plate) ; but L. Oscar Roty (pupil of Ponscarme) is at the head of the whole modern school, not only by virtue of absolute mastery of the technique of his art, but also of his originality of arrangement, of the poetic charm of his symbolism and his allegories, the delicate fancy, the exquisite touch, the chasteness and purity of taste—wedding a modern sentiment to an obvious feeling for the Greek. Though expressly less virile. than Chaplain, Roty is never effeminate. To Roty belongs the credit of having first revived the form of the plaquette, or rectangular medal,, which had been abandoned and forgotten along with many other traditions of the Renaissance (see Plate). Alphee Dubois, Lagrange, and Borrel must be mentioned among those who are understood to engrave their own dies. Followers are to be found in Mouchon, Lechevrel, Vernon, Henri Dubois, Patey,' Bottee (see" Plate) -all sterling artists if not innovators. Medallists of more striking originality but less finish, and of far less elegance are Michel Cazin, Leviliam (who loves as much as Bandinelli to make over-display of his knowledge of muscular anatomy), Charpentier, and their school, who aim at a manner which makes less demand of highly educated artistry such as that of Roty or of Chaplain. It is learned and accomplished inits way, but lumpy in its result; breadth is gained, but refinement and distinction are in a great measure lost. It may be added—to give some idea of the industry of the modern medallist, and the encouragement accorded to him—that between 1879 and 1900 M. Roty executed more than 150 pieces, each having an obverse and a reverse. Austria.—The two leading medallists of the Austrian school are Josef Tautenhayn (see Plate) and Anton Scharff, both highly accomplished, yet neither displaying the highest qualities of taste, ability and " keeping," which distinguishes the French masters. About 330 pieces have come from the hand of Antori Scharff. Stefan Schwartz, Franz Pawlik,Staniek, Marschall and J. Tautenhayn, junior, are the only Other artists who have risen to eminence. Germany.—A characteristically florid style is here cultivated, such as lends itself to the elaborate treatment of costume, armorial bearings, and the like; but delicacy, distinction, and the highest excellence in modelling and draughtsmanship—qualities which should accompany even; the most vigorous or elaborate designs—are lacking'in a great degree. Professors Hildebrand and Kowarzik have wrought some of the most artistic works there produced. Belgium.—Although sculpture so greatly flourishes in Belgium, medal work shows little promise of rivalling that of France. The influence of the three brothers Wiener (Jacques, Leopold and Charles) —good medallists of the old school—has not yet been shaken off. The remarkable architectural series by the first-named, and the coinage of the second, have little affinity with the spirit of the modern medal. Lemaire has perhaps done as well as any, followed by Paul Dubois, J. Dillens (a follower of the French), G. Devreese and Vincotte (see Plate)—whose plaquette for the Brussels Exhibition award (1887) is original, but more admirable in design thanin finish. Holland.—In Holland not very much has been done. Patriotism has called forth many medals of Queen Wilhelniina, and the best of them are doubtless those of Bart van Hove and Wortman. Baars is a more virile artist, who follows Chaplain at a distance. Wienecke is interesting for the sake of his early Netherlandic manner; the incongruity is not unpleasant. Switzerland.—The medal is also popular in Switzerland. Here Bovy is the leader of the French tradition and Hans Frei of a more national sentiment. The last-named, however, is more remarkable as a revivalist than as an original artist. Great Britain.—In England only two 'medallist's of repute can be counted who practically confine themselves to their art—G. W. de Saulles, of the Royal Mint, best known by the Diamond Jubilee medal of Queen Victoria and by his medal of Sir Gabriel Stokes, and Frank Bowcher (see Plate) by that of Thomas Huxley. These artists both cut their own dies when necessary. Emil Fuchs, working in England: in the manner of the French medallists, but with greater freedom than is the wont of the older school, has produced several examples of the art: the medals commemorative of the South African War and of Queen Victoria (two versions), all of 1900; and many portrait medals and plaquettes of small size have come from the same hand. Besides these, the leading English sculptors have produced medals—Lord Leighton, Sir, Edward Poynter, Hamo Thornycroft, T. Brock, Onslow Ford, G. Frampton and Goscombe John; but, practising more continually in sculpture, they do not claim rank as medallists, nor have they sought to acquire that class of dexterity which constant habit alone can give. Alphonse Legros, who has cast a certain number of portrait medals, is usually included in the French school. United States.—Among American medallists Augustus St Gaudens (see Plate) is perhaps the most prominent; but he is not, strictly speaking, a medallist, but a sculptor who can model in the flat. (M. H. S.)
End of Article: MEDAL (Fr. medaille, from Lat. metallum)
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