Germain Pilon (about 1525-90) was a monumental sculptor whose skills were exploited especially by the French queen Catherine de' Medici (reigned 1559-74). In 1572 Pilon was appointed 'Controller General of the art of sculpture for the making of coins and their reverses', and ordered to make wax models which would be followed by the engravers of coins, medals and jetons at the Paris Mint. It is likely that his modelling of this powerful portrait was connected with this role. René de Birague was an Italian whose success as governor of Lyon caught Catherine's eye. His role in planning the massacre of Protestants on St Bartholomew's Day led to his appointment as chancellor. Pilon had made the tomb of René's wife and it is likely that he was responsible for making the model for the Monnaie du Moulin's 1577 struck commemorative medal of René himself.
Through his Italian birth and his connection with the scholarly city of Lyon, the cradle of French medal-making, René would have been familiar with cast medals; it is suggested that he asked Pilon to make a bronze cast of the wax model that had been made for the struck medal, and thereby creating this unusually large medal - of which this is the only signed example.