Rau’s Recurrent Design Elements.
by Joseph Styles
Both a coin designer and a sculptor of medals, Marcel Rau shows a far greater freedom in design in his medallic work than in his work on coins. Specifically, throughout his medallic work Rau evinces three stylistic devices, all three of which have the effect of redefining the spatial integrity of the surface of a medal either by breaking up the apparent space or by suggesting that there is a virtual space extending beyond the physical limits of the medal itself.

1. First: Rau embeds a contrasting geometric form within the design on the face of a medal, emphasizing a (usually) rectilinear subspace inside the circular plane of the medal’s face.


This can be explicit, as on the reverse of his 1946 medal for the centenary of the Liberal party ,


and on the reverse of the South American commercial mission medal

or implicit, as in the lettering on the back of his two 1935 Brussels Exposition medals .



It can, in fact, become quite complex, as in the 1953 Fisch medal , in which the head of Mercury appears in an oval that is placed within a rectangle that appears within the overall octagonal design of the medal itself.


2. Second: Rau frequently cuts through the round plane of a medal with a horizontal element.

 

 

The element he uses for this varies tremendously. It may simply be a very high exergue, as on the reverse of the 1936 medal for the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels ,  

 

 

 

or the obverse of his 1931 medal for the centenary of the Belgian legislature .  

 

 

and the reverse of the Fondation Symetain medal  

 

It can be a wide band across the face of the medal illustrating the central theme, as on the reverse his 1956 piece celebrating the electrification of the Brussels-Luxembourg rail line .

 

In his early aviation medal(1932), it is a stylised clouds band.


It can be extremely subtle, a simple line or phrase of text, as with the words “secretaire perpetual” on the reverse of the 1948 medal Rau designed with Bonnetain (Rau designed the reverse; Bonnetain, the obverse) for Marc de Selys Longchamps on his retirement from Permanent Secretary of the Belgian Royal Academy .

3. Third: far more frequently than his contemporaries, Rau employs part-body figures in his medals.



This is evident, for example, in his 1934 Brussels Bourse design ,

 

 


or in his 1962 medal honoring the Belgian Liberal Party .

 

 

Of course, especially in portrait medals, Rau felt constrained by the idiom to present only the head and neck, and as his medals for the 1930 Belgian Centenary

 

 

and 1958 Brussels World Fair prove, he was very capable of using full-body figures as well.


He simply did not confine himself to the conventional alternatives of “head” or “full body” to the same extent as his contemporaries did. If you look at the little exhibit of “Art Deco Medals” on this website and count the number of medals in which a human figure is shown from the head to between the arm-pit and the knees, you will find that the majority of these medals are in fact by Marcel Rau..




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