Portrait Medallions

David is often credited with the nineteenth-century revival of cast bronze portrait medals, a genre invented during the Renaissance. Owing to the larger size and single-sided compositions of David’s examples, they are usually called medallions. Over a period of roughly forty years, the sculptor used the medallic form to produce a portable pantheon of some five hundred contemporaries. This hoard of (mostly) illustrious men and women was mass-produced by Parisian foundries, pirated and hawked on the streets of many European cities, and coveted by consumers of celebrity. Casts of the portraits also exist in plaster, porcelain, and other metals such as lead. None of the medallions were commissioned, and David received no financial benefit from their reproduction. Eminently mobile artworks, they blurred the line between public monument and private objet d’art. With notable exceptions, the medallions present portraits in profile, a standard composition that stems from ancient coins. Although profile views typically evoke stillness and linearity, the high relief and expressive surfaces of David’s medallions produce complex and shifting light effects. These effects are heightened in examples such as the Alfred de Musset, where the figure is caught in a three-quarter view.

Victor Schnetz, 1828
Plaster cast
12 cm diameter
Collection Dr. Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher

Cat. 14

Jean-Antoine-Dominique Ingres, 1826
Bronze, irregular edges
9.7 cm diameter
Collection Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schlossberg

Cat. 21

François-Marius Granet, 1827
Bronze
12.8 cm diameter
Collection W. Mark Brady, New York

Cat. 22

Cecilia Odescalchi, ca. 1828
Bronze
15.5 cm diameter
Inscribed, roma; dated, 1815; stamped on reverse, 349
Private collection

Cat. 23

Eugène Delacroix, 1828
Bronze
10.5 cm diameter
Foundry mark, Richard
Private collection

Cat. 24

Victor Hugo, 1828
Bronze
10.7 cm diameter
Foundry mark, Eck et Durand
Collection Frances Beatty and Allen Adler

Cat. 25

Émile Deschamps, 1829
Bronze
12 cm diameter
Collection Carol and Herbert Diamond

Cat. 26

Alexandre Dumas, 1829
Bronze
15 cm diameter
Foundry marks, Richard frères; Eck et Durand; stamped on reverse, 165
Private collection

Cat. 27

Frédéric Louis Zacharie Werner, ca. 1830s
Bronze
15 cm diameter
Private collection

Cat. 28

Théodore Géricault, 1830
Bronze
14.8 cm diameter
Stamped on reverse, three illegible nos.
Collection Wheelock Whitney III

Cat. 29

Louise Swanton-Belloc, 1830
Lead or pewter
13 cm diameter
Collection Dr. Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher

Cat. 30

Alfred de Musset, 1831
Bronze
15.9 cm diameter
Collection Frances Beatty and Allen Adler

Cat. 31

The Abbé de Lamennais, 1831
Bronze
Approximately 15.5 cm diameter
Private collection

Cat. 32

François Arago, 1832
Bronze
15 cm diameter
Private collection

Cat. 33

Caspar David Friedrich, 1834
Bronze
Approximately 17.7 cm diameter
Foundry mark, Eck et Durand; stamped on reverse, 321
Private collection 

Cat. 35

Niccòlo Paganini, 1834
Bronze
15.6 cm diameter
Collection Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schlossberg

Cat. 36

Mélanie Waldor, 1835
Bronze
13.3 cm diameter
Collection Dr. Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher

Cat. 38

Rosa Bonheur, 1854
Bronze
17 cm diameter
Private collection

Cat. 46