What is an art medal?


Pisanello, a 15th century Italian artist, is widely accepted as being the father of the modern art medal. Inspired by the coins of the antiquity, he designed the first disc-shaped bifaced sculptures which we call medals.

Albert de Neuville by Georges Petit
Portrait of Albert de Neuville by Georges Petit

Most medals conform to a certain pattern. On the front side, known as the obverse, is a portrait, usually inscribed with the sitters name and titles.

'L'art d'une belle vie' by Georges Petit
'L'art d'une belle vie' is the anagram of the sitters name.

The other side, the reverse, has a motif which offers clues to the interest or status of the person portrayed on the front.


 Edmond Picard by Armand Bonnetain
Edmond Picard by Armand Bonnetain.

The obverse is therefore a "physical" portrait,


Reverse Edmond Picard by Armand Bonnetain

while the reverse provides a "psychological" portrait of the sitter, often expressed in allegorical or emblematical terms.

 

 Orphée by Coudray
Orphée by Coudray
 Coudray

Many medals, however, have allegorical designs on both sides, or plain text on the reverse side. A few medals have designs one side only and are known as uniface.  

 

 

Victor Hugo by Chaplain
Victor Hugo by Chaplain

Medals are an unjustly neglected form of art. Exquisitely made, they celebrate the lives of statesmen, soldiers, scientists, writers and artists.


Visit of King Fouad to Belgium by Devreese
Visit of King Fouad to Belgium by Devreese

They bring back to attention long forgotten people or events

 

 King Leopold II by Demanet
King Leopold II by Demanet

They were made for very different purposes, for example as instruments of political propaganda,  

 

 

Carnegie Hero Fund by Bonnetain
Carnegie Hero Fund by Bonnetain

for honouring the brave and the deserving,

 

 Aviation by Mascaux
Aviation by Mascaux

to be awarded at competitions,

 

 1925 Arts Decoratifs expo by Turin
1925 Arts Decoratifs expo by Turin

to commemorate events or their anniversaries

 

 Elégie by Dautel
Elégie by Dautel

or simply as art objects.


Club du Levrier by Demeyer
Club du Levrier by Demeyer

Designed to be held in the hand, medals represent the ultimate in portable art and are often miniature sculptural masterpieces



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