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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An example of a medal that was awarded by Cecilia Gonzaga to political allies, a common practice in medieval Europe. This particular example was designed by Pisanello in 1447.

A medal, or medallion, is generally a circular object that has been sculpted, molded, cast, struck, stamped or some way rendered with an insignia, portrait or other artistic rendering. A medal may be awarded to a person or organization as a form of recognition for athletic, military, scientific, academic or various other achievements. Medals may also be created to commemorate particular individuals or events, or even as works of artistic expression in their own right; artists who focus their talents on the creation of medals or medallions are termed a medalist. There are also devotional medals which may be worn as a matter of religious faith. Medals are popular collectible items either as a form of exonumia or of militaria phaleristics.

The word 'medal' is derived from the Latin medalia, which was a copper coin.[1] 'Medallion' comes from the French word médaillon, a term applied to round food rationings because of their similar shape to a médaille, and has come to be applied to particularly large medals.[2] Medallions are occasionally referred to as "table medals" because they are too large to be worn and can only be displayed on a table top, desk or cabinet. Medals may also be produced in a rectangular shape, though these would more correctly be described as a placque, and a smaller version as a plaquette. In colloquial use, a medallion is sometimes improperly used to refer to a pendant of a necklace.

There are idioms that exist in both British and American English that are sarcastic in nature and which asks if a man believes he "deserves a medal", or has a man demand he should "get a medal", for his actions or suffering. The statements imply that his achievements or deprivations are more significant than they actually are, and in turn exaggerating his situation to a point of ridiculous merit.



Various prize medals. One may see the obverse designs, suspension rings and ribbons, and are typical of medals intended to be drapped over the head and hung from the neck.

The main or front surface is termed the obverse, and may contain a portrait, pictorial scene or other image along with an inscription. The reverse, or back surface of the medal, is not always used and may be left blank or may contain a secondary design. It is not uncommon to find only an artistic rendering on the obverse, while all details and other information for the medal are inscribed on the reverse. The rim is found only occasionally employed to display an inscription such as a motto, privy mark, engraver symbol, assayer’s marking or a series number.

Medals that are intended to be hung from a ribbon also include a small suspension piece at the crest with which to loop a suspension ring through. It is through the ring that a ribbon is run or folded so the medal may hang pendent. Medals pinned to the breast use only a small cut of ribbon that is attached to a top bar where the brooch pin is affixed. Top bars may be hidden under the ribbon so they are not visible, be a plain device from which the ribbon attaches or even decorative to compliment the design on the medal; some top bars are elaborate and contain a whole design unto themselves.

Bronze has been the most common material employed for medals, due to its fair price range, durability, ease with which to work when casting and the ample availability, but a wide range of other media have also been used. Rarer metals have been employed, such as silver, platinum and gold, when wishing to add value beyond the mere artistic depiction, as well as base metals and alloys such as copper, brass, iron, aluminum, lead, zinc, nickel and pewter. Medals that are made with inexpensive material might be gilded, silver plated, chased or finished in a variety of other ways to improve their appearance. Medals have also been made of glass, porcelain, coal, wood, paper, terra cotta, enamel, lacquerware and plastics.

Military medals and decorations

The Victoria Cross is a British military decoration, though at times is referred to improperly as a medal.
For a full treatment on military decorations, please see the article Military awards and decorations.
For a full treatment on orders as military decorations, please see the article Order (decoration).

The first known instance of a medal being awarded comes from the historian Josephus who, writing long after the event, accounts that in the fourth century BCE the High Priest Jonathan led the Hebrews in aid of Alexander the Great, and that in return for this, Alexander "sent to Jonathan... honorary awards, as a golden button, which it is custom to give the king's kinsmen." Another early example of medals is found used by the Roman Republic, which adopted an elaborate system of military awards that included medals called phalerae to be issued to soldiers and units for a variety of achievements.

In Europe, from the late Middle Ages on it was a common practice for sovereigns, nobles and other influential people to commission medals to be given simply as gifts to their political allies. The purpose was to either maintain or gain support of an important person with a medal that was elaborately decorated by a skillful artist, as art was highly sought after and valued, or with a medal made of precious metals, such as silver or gold. The gift-type of medals were usually made about three inches or smaller and produced of all kinds of metals, the cost correlating to the status of the recipient, and are often found to included a portrait or a personal emblem of the donor. Such medals were not intended to be worn, although some particularly prized examples were set as pendants upon necklaces nonetheless. Medals made to commemorate specific events, including military battles and victories, continued to be commissioned and awarded in the Roman fashion, and from this grew the practice of pinning such military medals onto one's uniform.

Many military decorations are often mistakenly referred to and confused with true medals. 'Military decoration' is an all-encompassing term that includes medals, but is generally applied to the other types of awards that do not meet the qualification of a true medal. The technical difference is that these other decorations take on a different shape, such as a cross or star, other than the generally circular one that is required. This difference does not necessarily imply any lessened honour for military decorations, as the Victoria Cross demonstrates, which is technically a decoration, as it is the highest British award for bravery in war.

The three versions of the Medal of Honor. Each displays a unique medal upon a star-shaped badge.

An order tends to be the most elaborate of military decorations, typically awarded for distinguished services to a nation or to the general betterment of humanity. Orders are distinguished from other forms of decoration in that they often imply membership in an organization or association of others that have received the same award. This practice originates with the mediaeval fraternities of knighthood, some of which even exist into the present and are still awarded to persons. While these modern orders have no roots in knighthood, they still tend to carry over the terms of their historic counterparts, and terms such as knight, commander, officer, members and so on are still commonly found as ranks. A military order may use a medal as its insignia, however, most tend to have a unique badge or a type of plaque specifically designed for an emblem.

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government, and is an example a decoration that is modeled as a military order, even though not expressly defining itself as one. It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."[3] Each of the three branches of the American armed forces has a unique picture displayed on a medal, which is in turn displayed upon a star-shaped heraldic badge. The medal of the U.S. Army depicts the head of Minerva, the U.S. Navy medal shows a scene of Minerva doing battle with Discord and the U.S. Air Force depicts the Statue of Liberty upon its medal.

Military decorations, including medals and orders, are usually presented to the recipient in a formal ceremony. Medals are normally worn on more formal occasions suspended from a ribbon of the medal's colours on the left breast, while a corresponding ribbon bar is to be worn for to common events where medals would be inappropriate or impractical to wear.

Peter Pace in dress uniform 2005.jpg Szlaszewski Stefan.jpg Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge KG, GCB.JPG Georgeiiofgreece.jpg
General Peter Pace. Colonel Stefan Szlaszewski. Field Marshal The Rt. Hon. The Lord Inge. George II, King of the Hellenes.


A large bronze cast medallion, some 9.5 by 8.7 centimetres in measurement, created by the celebrated medalist Valerio Belli in the sixteenth century.

Generally circular, table medals are issued for artistic, commemoration or souvenir purposes, not for commerce. Tokens and Table Medals of coin-like appearance are part of the Exonumia subcategory of Numismatics, while Orders, Decorations and Medals are considered Militaria (military related). In the U.S. Military, modern medals are often referred to as challenge coins.

The Nobel Foundation, the organization awarding the prestigious Nobel Prize, presents each winner "an assignment for the amount of the prize, a diploma, and a gold medal..." This example of a medal would be displayed on a table or in a cabinet, rather than worn by the winner.

The Carnegie Hero Foundation is the issuer of a bravery medal, most commonly issued in the US and Canada but also in the UK. This large bronze table medal features Andrew Carnegie's likeness on the obverse and the name of the awardee and citation engraved on the reverse. It is usually issued for lifesaving incidents.

Also related are plaques and plaquettes. While usually metal, table medals have been issued in wood, plastic, fibre and other compositions. The US Government awards gold medals on important occasions, with bronze copies available for public sale.

Competition medals

A silver medal was awarded to the winner of each event during the 1896 Summer Olympics. Recent Olympic medals are suspended as a pendant from a ribbon, and are awarded in gold, silver and bronze.

Medals have historically been given as prizes in various types of competitive activities, especially athletics.

Traditionally, medals are made of the following metals:

  1. Gold (or another yellow metal, e.g. brass)
  2. Silver (or another grey metal, e.g. steel)
  3. Bronze

These metals designate the first three Ages of Man in Greek mythology: the Golden Age, when men lived among the gods; the Silver age, where youth lasted a hundred years; and the Bronze Age, the era of heroes. (The current age is called the Iron Age.) Note that the metals are progressively more prone to corrosion and also decreasing in rarity and thus value.

This standard was adopted at the 1904 Summer Olympics. At the 1896 event, silver was awarded to winners and bronze to runners-up, while at 1900 other prizes were given, not medals.

Medals as art

The first great artist to create medals was the Italian painter Antonio Pisano, known as Pisanello, who modelled and cast a number of portrait medals of princes and scholars in the 1440s. Many other artists followed his example, in Italy, the Low Countries, Germany and France. In the seventeenth century medals were extensively used to commemorate events and glorify rulers. In the eighteenth century prize medals became common. In the 19th century art medals became popular. In the early part of the century David d'Angers produced a great series of portrait medals of famous contemporaties and in the latter part of the century Jules-Clément Chaplain and Louis-Oscar Roty were highly regarded. The early twentieth century saw art medals flourish, particularly in France, Italy and Belgium while later in the century Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland produced much high quality work. The Sanford Saltus medal is the most prestigious award for art medals in the USA. It has most recently been won by Ron Dutton.

Colonial Expo 1896.jpg Medal xvolsona paris1900.jpg
1896 Colonial Exposition medal,
by Louis-Oscar Roty.
1900 Exposition Universelle medal,
by Jules-Clément Chaplain.

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Medal". Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "Medallion". Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  3. ^ "Code of Federal Regulations". Department of the Army. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MEDAL (Fr. medaille, from Lat. metallum), strictly the term given to a memorial piece, originally of metal, and generally in the shape of a coin, used however not as currency but as an artistic product. "Medallion" is a similar term for a large medal, but is now usually restricted to a form of bas-relief in sculpture. The term "medal" is, artistically, extended by analogy to pieces of the same character not necessarily shaped like coins. The history of coins and medals is inseparable, and is treated under the general heading of Numismatics. That article may be supplemented here by an account of (1) the more recent progress in the art of the medallist, and (2) the use of medals for war decorations.

1. The medal - as it is understood to-day - enjoys a life entirely independent of the coin on the one hand, and, on the other, of the sculptured medallion, or bas-relief; and its renaissance is one of the chief phenomena in art during the period since about 1870. It is in France that it has risen to the greatest perfection. Its popularity there is well-nigh universal; it is esteemed not only for memorials of popular events and of public men, but also for private celebrations of all kinds. No other nation approaches in excellence - in artistic feeling, treatment, and sensitiveness of execution - the artists and the achievements of France. In England, although the Royal Academy seeks to encourage its students to practise the art, the prize it offers commonly induces no competition. The art of the medallist is not properly appreciated or understood, and receives little or no support. The prevailing notion concerning it is that it consists in stamping cheap tokens out of white metal or bronze, on which a design, more or less vulgar, stands out in frosty relief from a dazzling, glittering background. These works, even the majority of military and civic medals, demonstrate how the exquisite art of the Renaissance had been degraded in England - almost without protest or even recognition - so that they are, to a work of Roty or Chaplain, what a nameless daub would be to a picture by Rembrandt or Velasquez.

It is probable that Jacques Wiener (d. 1899), of Belgium, was the last of the medallists of note who habitually cut his steel dies entirely with his own hand without assistance, though others in some measure. do so still. Although most modern workers, exclusively medallists, have themselves cut dies, they now take advantage of the newest methods; and the gr zveur en medailles has become simply a medailleur. His knowledge of effect is the same - though the effect sought is different: in earlier times the artist thought chiefly of his shadows; now he mainly regards his planes. Otherwise his aims are not dissimilar. At the present day the medallist, after making conscientious studies from life (as if he were about to paint a picture), commonly works out his design in wax, or similar substance, upon a disk of plaster about 1 2 or 14 inches in diameter. From that advanced model a simple mould, or matrix, is made, and a plaster cast is taken, whereupon the artist can complete his work in the utmost perfection. Then, if a struck medal is required, a steel cast is made, and from that a reduction to the size required for the final work is produced by means of the machine - the tour a reduire. It is this machine which has made. possible the modern revival, and has revolutionized the taste of designers and public alike. It was invented by Contamin, who based it upon that tour d portrait which Houlot produced in 1766, and which helped to fame several engravers now celebrated. This machine was first exhibited in Paris in 1839, and was sold to the Munich Mint; while a similar invention, devised at the same time by the English engraver Hill, was acquired by Wyon for £2000, and was ultimately disposed of to a private mint in Paris. From that city comes the machine, based by the French inventor M. Ledru upon the two already referred to, now in use at the Royal Mint in London. A well-served medallist, therefore, need trouble himself nowadays about little beyond the primary modelling and the final result, correcting with his own hand only the slightest touches - refining, perfecting - but sometimes merely confining himself to giving his directions to the professional engraver.1 The great majority of the artistic medals at present in the world (in the great collection of France there is a total of not fewer than 200,000 medals) are cast, not struck. There is in them a charm of surface, of patina, of the metal itself, which the struck medal, with all the added beauties which it allows of delicate finish and exquisite detail, can hardly give. But the production of the cast medal is much slower, much more uncertain, and the number of fine copies that can be produced is infinitely smaller. All the early medals were cast, being first modelled in wax, and then cast by the cire perdue (waste wax) 1 The method of preparing the dies, &c., is the same for medals as for coins, save that for larger and heavier work more strokes are required, as in the case of L. Coudray's popular "Orphee" - rather a sculpture-relief than a medal. The dies are capable of a great yield before becoming quite worn-out; it is said that no fewer than three million copies were struck of Professor J. Tautenhayn's Austrian jubilee medal of the Emperor Francis Joseph. In France, Thonelier's perfected machine, substituting the lever for the screw, has been in use for coins since 1844; but for the striking of medals the same oldfashioned screw-press is retained which had till then been employed both for coins and medals since the time of Louis XIV. In its present form the machine consists of an iron or bronze frame, of which the upper part is fitted with a hollow screw wherein works an inner screw. This screw, moved by steam or electricity, drives the dies, set in iron collars, so that they strike the blank placed between them. This machine can deliver a strong blow to produce a high relief, or a delicate touch to add the finest finish. In the Paris Mint large medals can be struck with comparative ease and rapidity. A hydraulic press of nearly two million pounds pressure is utilized for testing the dies process, and were usually worked over by the chaser afterwards; indeed, it was not until the beginning of the 16th century that dies, hitherto used only for coins executed in low relief, were employed for larger and bolder work. The medallists of those days always cast in bronze or lead, and only proceeded to use silver and gold as a luxurious taste began to demand the more precious metals. There is little doubt that the material to be preferred is dull silver (mat or sable - sand-blasted), as the work, with all its variations of light and shade, can be better seen in the delicate grey of the surface.

The medal, properly considered, is not sculpture. Vasari was happy in his definition when he described the medallic art as the link between sculpture and painting - that is to say, painting in the round with the colour left out. Less severe than sculpture, it need not be less dignified; it is bound down by the conventions of low relief, and by compulsions of composition and design, dependent on shape, from which sculpture, even when the relief is the lowest, is in a great measure free. In the medal, otherwise than in sculpture, elaborate perspective and receding planes are not out of place. The genius of the modern Frenchman rebelled against the rule that commonly governed the medal during the decadence, and has triumphed in his revolt, justifying the practice by his success. The modern medal and the plaquette aim at being decorative yet vigorous, reticent and dignified, delicate and tender, graceful and pure; it may be, and often is, all these in turn. Imagination, fancy, symbolism, may always be brought into play, allied to a sense of form and colour, of arrangement and execution. By the demonstration of these qualities the artist is to be differentiated from the skilful, mechanical die-sinker, who spreads over the art the blight of his heavy and insensitive hand and brain. So with portraiture. Accurate likeness of feature as well as character and expression are now to be found in all fine works, such as are seized only by an artist of keenly sensitive temperament. It is thus that he casts the events and the actions of to-day into metallic history, beautifully seen and exquisitely recorded; thus that the figure on the medal is no longer a mere sculpturesque symbol, but a thing of flesh and blood, suave and graceful in composition, and as pleasing in its purely decorative design as imagination can inspire or example suggest. It is thus that the art, while offering easy means of permanent memorial, has afforded to men of restricted means the eagerly seized opportunity of forming small collections of masterpieces of art at a small outlay.

Table of contents


In France the example of Oudine, coming after that of David d'Angers, did much to revolutionize the spirit animating the modern medallist, but Chapu, by his essentially modern treatment, did more. To Ponscarme (pupil of Oudine) is chiefly due the idea of rendering mat the ground as well as the subject on the medal, the suppression of the raised rim, and the abandonment of the typographic lettering hitherto in vogue, together with the mechanical regularity of its arrangement. Degeorge, with his semi-pictorial treatment, was followed by Daniel Dupuis, whose delicate and playful fancy, almost entirely pictorial, makes us forget alike the material and the die. J. C. Chaplain is unsurpassed as a modeller of noble heads, including those of four presidents of the French Republic - Macmahon, Casimir-Perier, Faure and Loubetand his allegorical designs are finely imagined and admirably worked out (see Plate); but L. Oscar Roty (pupil of Ponscarme) is at the head of the whole modern school, not only by virtue of absolute mastery of the technique of his art, but also of his originality of arrangement, of the poetic charm of his symbolism and his allegories, the delicate fancy, the exquisite touch, the chasteness and purity of taste - wedding a modern sentiment to an obvious feeling for the Greek. Though expressly less virile than Chaplain, Roty is never effeminate. To Roty belongs the credit of having first revived the form of the plaquette, or rectangular medal, which had been abandoned and forgotten along with many other traditions of the Renaissance (see Plate). Alphee Dubois, Lagrange, and Borrel must be mentioned among those who are understood to engrave their own dies. Followers are to be found in Mouchon, Lechevrel, Vernon, Henri Dubois, Patey, Bottee (see Plate) - all sterling artists if not innovators. Medallists of more striking originality but less finish, and of far less elegance are Michel Cazin, Levillain (who loves as much as Bandinelli to make over-display of his knowledge of muscular anatomy), Charpentier, and their school, who aim at a manner which makes less demand of highly educated artistry such as that of Roty or of Chaplain. It is learned and accomplished in its way, but lumpy in its result; breadth is gained, but refinement and distinction are in a great measure lost. It may be added - to give some idea of the industry of the modern medallist, and the encouragement accorded to him - that between 1879 and 1900 M. Roty executed more than 150 pieces, each having an obverse and a reverse.

A ustria. - The two leading medallists of the Austrian school are Josef Tautenhayn (see Plate) and Anton Scharff, both highly accomplished, yet neither displaying the highest qualities of taste, ability and "keeping," which distinguishes the French masters. About 330 pieces have come from the hand of Anton Scharff. Stefan Schwartz, Franz Pawlik, Staniek, Marschall and J. Tautenhayn, j unior, are the only other artists who have risen to eminence. Germany. - A characteristically florid style is here cultivated, such as lends itself to the elaborate treatment of costume, armorial bearings, and the like; but delicacy, distinction, and the highest excellence in modelling and draughtsmanship - qualities which should accompany even the most vigorous or elaborate designs - are lacking in a great degree. Professors Hildebrand and Kowarzik have wrought some of the most artistic works there produced.


Although sculpture so greatly flourishes in Belgium, medal work shows little promise of rivalling that of France. The influence of the three brothers Wiener (Jacques, Leopold and Charles) - good medallists of the old school - has not yet been shaken off. The remarkable architectural series by the first-named, and the coinage of the second, have little affinity with the spirit of the modern medal. Lemaire has perhaps done as well as any, followed by Paul Dubois, J. Dillens (a follower of the French), G. Devreese and Vingotte (see Plate)--whose plaquette for the Brussels Exhibition award (1887) is original, but more admirable in design than in finish.


In Holland not very much has been done. Patriotism has called forth many medals of Queen Wilhelmina, and the best of them are doubtless those of Bart van Hove and Wortman. Baars is a more virile artist, who follows Chaplain at a distance. Wienecke is interesting for the sake of his early Netherlandic manner; the incongruity is not unpleasant.


The medal is also popular in Switzerland. Here Bovy is the leader of the French tradition and Hans Frei of a more national sentiment. The last-named, however, is more remarkable as a revivalist than as an original artist.

Great Britain

In England only two medallists of repute can be counted who practically confine themselves to their art - G. W. de Saulles, of the Royal Mint, best known by the Diamond Jubilee medal of Queen Victoria and by his medal of Sir Gabriel Stokes, and Frank Bowcher (see Plate) by that of Thomas Huxley. These artists both cut their own dies when necessary. Emil Fuchs, working in England in the manner of the French medallists, but with greater freedom than is the wont of the older school, has produced several examples of the art: the medals commemorative of the South African War and of Queen Victoria (two versions), all of 1900; and many portrait medals and plaquettes of small size have come from the same hand. Besides these, the leading English sculptors have produced medals - Lord Leighton, Sir Edward Poynter, Hamo Thornycroft, T. Brock, Onslow Ford, G. Frampton and Goscombe John; but, practising more continually in sculpture, they do not claim rank as medallists, nor have they sought to acquire that class of dexterity which constant habit alone can give. Alphonse Legros, who has cast a certain number of portrait medals, is usually included in the French school.

United States

Among American medallists Augustus St Gaudens (see Plate) is perhaps the most prominent; but he is not, strictly speaking, a medallist, but a sculptor who can model in the flat.

Authorities. -F. Parkes Weber, Medals and Medallions of the 19th Century relating to England by Foreign Artists (London, 18 94); Roger Marx, "The Renaissance of the Medal in France," The Studio (vol. xv. 1898); M. H. Spielmann, "Frank Bowcher, Medallist, with some Comment on the Medallic Art," The Magazine of Art (February 1900); Spink & Son's Monthly Numismatic Circular (passim), 1892 onwards (in English, French and German); Roger Marx, Les Medailleurs francais depuis 1789 (Paris, 1897); Les Medailleurs francais contemporains (Plates) '(Paris, 1899); La Monnaie de Paris a l'Exposition Universelle (Paris, 1900); Cent ans de numismatique francaise (2 vols., 1893-1895); F. Mazerolle, L. 0. Roty: Biographie et catalogue de son oeuvre (Paris, 1897); J. F. Chaplain: Biographie et catalogue de l'c uvre (Paris, 1897); Dr H. J. de Dompiere de Chaufepie, Les Medailles et plaquettes modernes (in Dutch and French) (Haarlem, 1897); A. R. v. Loehr, Wiener Medailleure, 1899. (Vienna, 1899); A. Lichtwark, "Die Wiedererweckung der Medaille," Pan, 18 95, pp. 34-4 0; 1896, pp. 311-318; Die Moderne Medaille (a monthly magazine, passim) (Vienna); L. Forrer, Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, vol. i. A - D. (London, 1902).

(M. H. S.)

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Simple English


A medal is a small metal object that is given as an award for doing something very important or made to commemorate something. There are medals for sports, military, academics, etc. There also exist medals that have religious meaning.

Military medals are also called "Orders" or "decorations".

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