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

    French painter (1787–1870)

  • 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

    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.

  • 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

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

  • 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

    French novelist (1802–1870)

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

    Cat. 28

    German dramatist and poet (1768–1823)

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

    Cat. 29

    French painter (1791–1824)

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

    Cat. 30

    French novelist (1796–1881)

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

    Cat. 31

    French poet and playwright (1810–1857)

  • 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

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

  • 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)

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

    Cat. 36

    Italian musician and composer (1782–1840)

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

    Cat. 38

    French poet and novelist (1796–1871)

  • Rosa Bonheur, 1854
    Bronze
    17 cm diameter
    Private collection

    Cat. 46

    French painter (1822–1899)