Monday 5 October 2015

The Medallion of William Wake by Jean Dassier and a brief biography of the Dassier Family.

A Medallion of William Wake, (1657 - 1737).
 Archbishop of Canterbury.
by Jean Dassier, 1725.
The First in a Series of Medallions 
of European Protestant Reformers.
Struck in Geneva.
The photographs and information in large measure below
taken from the website of the estimable Ben Weiss.
For anyone interested in the history of Medallions a visit to his website will be invaluable.
Jean Dassier, 1725,
  Bronze, 43 mm

(These Most Truthful Portraits of Illustrious Men, Who Have Labored for the Revival and Restoration of the True Christian Religion and Polite Literature in Europe, Jean Dassier, a Genevese, Offers, Presents, and Dedicated to the Right Reverend Father in Christ, William Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan, 1725.)
Ref: M.I. 462/73; Eimer 76/500; Eisler I, 209/1a
This is the Dedicatory medal for Dassier's Series of 24 medallion portraits Protestant Reformers  (Reformauteurs de l'Eglise) each 28 mm in diam in struck in silver and bronze in Geneva in 1725. Dassier was encouraged in this project by Jean-Alphonse Turrettini (1671 - 1737) of Geneva a keen numismatist and propogandist for the protestant faith - The son of Francois Turretin, he studied theology at Geneva under Louis Tronchin and after travelling in England, Holland and France was received into the "Venerable Compagnie des Pasteurs" of Geneva in 1693. Here he became pastor of the Italian congregation, and in 1697 professor of church history, and later (1705) of theology.

In 1711 Jean Dassier collaborated with the French medallist Jerome Roussel to produce a series of 60 medals representing Les Metemorphoses d'Ovide which were struck in Geneva. Another edition was struck in 1717 dedicated to Phillipe d'Orleans Regent of France.

The set of 24 medallions of  Protestant Reformers followed Jean Dassier's 1723/4 series of 73 small portrait medallions of the great men and women of France from drawings provided by his cousin Jacques Antoine Arlaud (1668 - 1743) miniaturist to the Regent, Phillipe d'Orleans. These had been selected from the engravings by Charles Perrault in Hommes Illustres qui ont paru en France pendant ce siècle, pub Paris 1696 - 1700. This series which celebrated the achievements and cultural glories of the reign of Louis VIV, was trumpeted in the Mercure de France in August of 1723 and was sold in Paris by the Genevan goldsmith Jaques le Double in his boutique in the Place Dauphine.

These medallions of the Protestant Reformers were very different from the previous set in that they celebrated the achievements of anti Catholic, German, Dutch, Swiss and English Protestant reformers including Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Nicholas Ridley and John Knox, which were virulently opposed by Louis XIV. They celebrated the efforts of Turettin and Wake to unite the protestant states.

The Dassiers seemed to have been able to perform a balancing act with their art, pleasing various opposing forces, Protestant and Catholic, and later the English Prime Minister Walpole and his opposition, even including Oliver Cromwell in the series of English monarchs 

Jean Dassier visited England in 1728 in the hope of gaining a position at the Royal Mint which was ultimately unsuccessful but cemented his relationship with English patrons. In February 1730 the initial pieces for the Rois d'Angleterre were presented at the court of George II and Queen Caroline by the prelate from Zurich, Johann Heinrich Ott, an aide to Archbishop Wake. Wake himself discussed the project with the Queen and in June 1731 a subscription campaign, with a flyer in both English and French was initiated to finance series of Kings and Queens of England. The smaller series of Medallions of British worthies was commenced also at this time.

Thee versions of these sets of medals which were partially gilt were distributed to prestigious clients. There are some in the Royal Collection and a set in the British Museum.

Although he received support from high place there were critics of his work in particular George Vertue who criticised the initial proofs for the medallions of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queen Mary for their lack of authenticity. Vertue is believed to have supplied engravings by himself based on originals by Hans Holbein for Edward VI, Isaac Oliver for Elizabeth I and Antonis Mors. Vertue wrote in his notebook in April 1733 that the set of worthies was to be produced including medals of Chaucer Shakespeare Milton, Camden, Bacon, Selden, Harvey, Boyle, Spenser, Locke, Clarke, Duke of Marlborough and Newton in the event only eight came to fruition. 

These medallions were produced at about the same time as those by Rysbrack and Scheemakers for the Temple of British Worthies Stowe House and those by Guelfi for Queen Caroline's Grotto.
Vertue says that the Dassier medallion of Shakespeare is based on his engraving. The medal of Milton perhaps, should be viewed as a pendant to that of Shakespeare, and is based on an authentic pastel taken from life, engraved by Vertue and ratified by Milton's daughter Deborah.

William Wake (1657-1737) was educated at Oxford and, through a succession of appointments, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1716. He was the author of several theological works and many volumes of sermons. Wake was also a numismatist and an ardent collector of medals, including those by Jean Dassier. He was particularly impressed with the special nature of Dassier's medallic work, noting that previously the most elegant and ingenious monuments had been erected to princes and heroes whose atrocious deeds had brought about the ruination of nations and peoples. By contrast, to Dassier's great credit, he had chosen to commemorate those men who were accomplished in the arts and sciences, and in particular those who had employed their talent for the glory of God. (Eisler).

As is indicated in the legend on the reverse of this medal, Dassier dedicated this series of medals to William Wake.

Wake is probably the most important character in the history of the Dassier medals with English subjects and was the main link between the Swiss Medallists and English society. It is tempting to suggest a link between the Dassiers and Louis Francois Roubiliac who arrived in England in about 1730 certainly they influenced him in his remarkably naturalistic portraits particularly that of Martin Folkes but it is also distinctly possible that he exercised a strong influence on the younger Jacques Antoine Dassier, son of Jean Dassier, who arrived in England in 1740. He took up his position as third engraver to the Royal Mint in April of 1741. The first three medals of the series of British worthies are displayed in London in June 174.
The later series of British worthies by Jaques-Antoine Dassier, commenced with the portrait of Martin Folkes, followed by de Moivre and Alexander Pope. He had issued a prospectus reported in the press both in England and abroad for 13 medals (only 12 were produced). Eisler suggests that wax portraits were made in England and the medals struck by his brother Antoine in Geneva (they are signed A Dassier).
Archbishop William Wake, 1736.
Oil on canvas, 127 x 102 cm.
Lambeth Palace.
Archbishop Wake
Thomas Gibson
124.5 x 99.1 cm
Christ Church, Oxford.
Archbishop William Wake
Thomas Hills d.1734.
National Portrait Gallery.
Archbishop William Wake (1657 - 1737). 
After Thomas Gibson (1715 - 42).
Engraved by Michael van der Gucht (1688 - 1720)
347 x 245 mm approx. c 1716 - 20)
Image from British Museum.

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