The Spectacle of Bronze
- MONARCHS -
They were usually depicted in profile, accompained by their attributes, posed in a serene, dignified, authoritarian manner.
The royal couple or their descendents were sometimes depicted: Queen in front of the son, King in front of his consort.
In the late 19th century, medals bearing portraits of the monarchs proliferated as national symbols, often produced in the more accessible form of pendants.
- HISPANIA -
Antoni Parera personified Hispania as a proud, serene allegory:
The Crown to represent the Kingdom of Castile and a Classical Gown for Tradition. A Sword in her hand, as Power, and a Lion by her side as Bravery. Finally, a Spanish coat of arms against a floral background meaning Celebration.
-THE BELGIAN DYNASTY-
Belgium produced numerous medallists, who often portrayed the members of the Belgian royal family: Godefroid Devreese had a prolific production of this type of piece, such as the plaquette entitled The Belgian Dynasty: Four Queens of Belgium, showing the monarchs who had reigned since Belgium had asserted its independence.
- ST. NARCISSUS AND THE PENINSULAR WAR IN SPAIN -
On 3rd January 1810, King Ferdinand VII decreed that a medal be minted to honour the exemplary bravery of the citizens of Girona during the French siege of the city the previous year.
One hundred years later, at the request of Girona City Council, the Spanish Cabinet agreed to issue a commemorative medal in gold, silver (for officers) and bronze (for the troops) to mark the centenary of the Girona sieges. The medal depicted the coat of arms of the "Immortal City" and a reproduction of the cross originally awarded to the defenders of Girona. Narcissus, patron of Girona, is depicted standing in the centre.
- DEATH IN SERVICE OF PROPAGANDA -
This German medal did not merely commemorate a historical event; it also influenced the course of history, impelling the United States to join the First World War.
During the War, the Allies blockaded ports, and Germany, in retaliation, declared that all vessels entering British waters would be sunk without warning. Great Britain and the neutral US did not take the threat seriously and on 7th May, the Lusitania, was torpedoed causing 1.198 deaths (128 Americans).
A few months later, the German medallist Karl Goetz cast the medal depicting a personified figure of Death selling boarding tickets for the Lusitania as a satire of the hypocritical policy of carrying passengers on a ship laden with arms.
- WAR ORPHANS -
In Belgium, during the First World War, benevolent schemes emerged to assist orphans and defenceless infants.
The National War Orphans Charity organised campaigns such as La Fleur de l'Orphelin (1917) - owners of flowering plants donate their bloom to be sold in aid of the disadvantaged.
Cards were also put on the market, to be exchanged for a small pendant by Belgian medallist Godefroid Devreese, with an orphan girl selling flowers on the obverse.
- HELPING THE NEW-BORN -
The Nourishment for Children (1916) evokes the plight of orphaned infants who owed their lives to wet nurses.
The keyhole-shaped piece shows a seated woman nursing a baby.
The proceeds from the sale of the two formats, a plaquette or a smaller pendant, went to the orphans' charity.
In the spirit of the late 19th century Catalan "Renaixença" (Rebirth) movement, conservationists ran a campaign to reconstruct the monastery of Santa Maria in Ripoll and restore it to its 11th century splendour under the legendary Abbot Oliva. The monastery was re-consecrated on 2 July 1893, on which occasion this medal was issued.
Series of portraits:
La Monnaie commissioned French medallist Ernesta Robert-Mérignac to make a series of plaquettes entitled "Coiffes des provinces de France", using female portraits to personify places, with each one showing the bust of a young woman in her regional costume on the obverse, and a well-known feature of the same on the reverse.
Heinrich Kautsch dedicated this plaquette to his friend, the sculptor Albert Bartholomé showed on the right side of the piece, wearing a cap and an artist's smock, with his arm reaching out to the left, holding a hammer in his hand as a symbol of his trade.
The medallist used his trademark Art Nouveau font, much in vogue at the time, with gentle, rounded characters and a certain undulating movement.
The Neapolitan Giacomo Merculiano had a large production of animal-themed drawings. He made the official medal for the Club Saint Hubert du Nord with a hunting dog in right profile shown in an elegant resting position, a view of the city in the background, and the name of the association at the top.
In 1915, the Rural Association of Uruguay commissioned Eusebi Arnau to make a series of medals (issued in gold, silver, and bronze, in different weights and diameters) for the Montevideo National Exhibition of Champion Farm Animals to be used as awards in the horse, cattle, swine, goat, and poultry categories. The medals all had the same obverse, but each reverse depicted different species. The manufacturer was Tammaro, the main metal workshop in Uruguay, founded in 1888 by Luis Tammaro.
The task of the artist-medallist is to achieve equilibrium between the different but complementary functions of obverse and reverse.
It is actually quite unusual, however, to find medals with inter-responding sides; a noteworthy exception is a work by Belgian medallist Godefroid Devreese entitled "Food Parcel for an Imprisoned Soldier".
- FRANCE INITITATES THE RENEWAL OF THE MEDAL -
The emancipation of the medal began in France with a work that marked a rupture with the past: the effigy of Joseph Naudet (1867) by Hubert Ponscarme.
He introduced 3 innovations:
- He eliminated the rim encircling the field of the medal.
- He abandoned the usual practice of polishing the background.
- He chose an appropiate typeface to the subject of each medal.
Louis Oscar Roty, also contributed to the transformation process of the medal, by modifying its form and content:
- He questioned the round format and opted for the plaquette.
- He avoided the notion of "ideal symmetry".
- He integrated landscape into the background of the composition.
- He treated the legend of the medal intertwining the text among foliage.
- MEDALLISTS PLAYING A KEY ROLE IN THE FRENCH DECORATIVE ARTS RENEWAL -
Alexandre Charpentier (1856-1909) defined himself as a bas-relièfeur. He was one of the few artists to apply medal art to other disciplines and to enlarge its range of possibilities.
Charpentier's medal art alternates between smooth execution and less elaborate finishes, with softer contours giving way to an unexpected "non-finito".
- THE MEDAL IN BELGIUM -
In the 1890s a change in style occurred. It was reflected in composition, form, and the introduction of new decorative motifs.
Godefroid Devreese is undoubtedly the greatest medallist of the time in Belgium.
Fernand Dubois thanks to his training as a sculptor gave a notably sculptural quality to the medals he created. He is considered one of the main exponents of Art Nouveau despite the fact that his medals do not actually qualify as Art Nouveau objects.
The medal was placed in an independent category at the World Fair held in Brussels in 1910, considering the medal as a work of art in its own right.
In 1888 a new style was slowly emerging, combining neo-Gothic and faux-medieval features with exotic elements. This was the first step towards an aesthetic renovation. The emergence of the great Catalan Art Nouveau sculptor and medallist Eusebi Arnau and a few years later, Antoni Parera, meant that the Catalan medal had achieved the same quality as its French counterpart.
The high priest of Catalan Art Nouveau was undoubtedly Antoni Gaudí with his architectural works and furniture, but not medals, at least as far as we know. This medal style in Catalonia did not have the same force or enjoy the same freedom of expression as, for example in France. The works by sculptor Josep Llimona come closest in quality to those found in France.
A more international event was the advent of Art Deco, with its denuded forms, hieratic figures, and penchant for the geometric. Fewer Art Deco medals were produced in Catalonia. So the Great Moment of the Catalan Medal culminated with the Art Nouveau movement and continued to exist in a weaker form alongside Noucentisme and Art Deco throughout the 1910s and 1920s.
All works belong to the Rossend Casanova Collection, Barcelona, except when otherwise indicated.
This exhibition was curated by Rossend Casanova at Casa Masó, Girona, and produced by the Fundació Rafael Masó. The online presentation was curated by Cristina Pinsach.
The Fundació Rafael Masó is supported by Ajuntament de Girona, Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya-Demarcació de Girona, Col·legi d'Aparelladors Arquitectes Tècnics i Enginyers d'Edificació de Girona, Universitat de Girona, and the Masó and Aragó families.