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.

  • yellowish plaster cast of head of man in profile, atop circular plaster background

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

    Cat. 14

    French painter (1787–1870)

  • bronze profile of man atop rough circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 21

  • bronze head of woman with cap in profile atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 22

  • bronze head of woman with hair wrapped in profile, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 23

    This idealized portrait medallion records the features of David’s first love, Cecilia Odescalchi, a young noblewoman he met while studying in Rome (1812–16). Their ill-fated relationship concluded abruptly with Cecilia’s removal to a convent, where she soon died. Although dated 1815, the portrait is adapted from a bas-relief made by the artist in 1828. Even in death, Cecilia remained David’s muse, and her likeness can be found in many of his sculptures, including the Christening Cup.

  • bronze head of young man in profile atop circle of bronze ringed with writing

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

    Cat. 24

  • bronze head of man with thick hair in profile, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 25

    French poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802–1885)

  • bronze head of man with sideburns in profile, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 26

  • bronze of head of man in profile with curly hair atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 27

    French novelist (1802–1870)

  • bronze front view of head of man, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 28

    German dramatist and poet (1768–1823)

  • bronze front view of head of man with neat facial hair atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 29

    French painter (1791–1824)

  • bronze head of woman in profile with hair pulled up, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 30

    French novelist (1796–1881)

  • bronze front view of man with thick hair, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 31

    French poet and playwright (1810–1857)

  • bronze bust of man in profile atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 32

  • bronze head of man in profile with long hair and sideburns, atop circle of bronze with writing

    François Arago, 1832
    Bronze
    15 cm diameter
    Private collection

    Cat. 33

    French astronomer, mathematician, and politician (1786–1853)

  • bronze head of man in profile with sideburns, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 35

    German painter (1774–1840)

  • bronze head of man in profile with very long hair and sideburns, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 36

    Italian musician and composer (1782–1840)

  • bronze head of woman in profile with hair in bun and side locks, atop circle of bronze with writing

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

    Cat. 38

    French poet and novelist (1796–1871)

  • bronze profile of young man with long hair in profile atop circle of bronze with writing

    Rosa Bonheur, 1854
    Bronze
    17 cm diameter
    Private collection

    Cat. 46

    French painter (1822–1899)

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