I have yet to uncover any biographical details of this Swiss family name, other than to discern that during the turn of the 20th century medal sculpting must have been a family affair. Henri-Édouard seems to be the most productive. I primarily wished to share this work for their purpose is today rather novel – these are awards for accomplishments of basic living, decorated with humanistic deities and nymphs – the progress and mere existence of modern living standards would appear to have reached near spiritual proportions of celebration. It was a peculiar combination of social-realism and erotic tokens that somehow describes the marketing zeitgeist of the burgeoning industrial age.
In artwork, the rise of science and technology was frequently paired with fanciful illustations of ancient metaphor; this neo-classical rendering was perhaps an emphasis of Newtonian triumph. The early scientists worked under significant repression from the church, something that was freshly in mind during these times, leading to a popular sense that science had uncovered a more authentic ‘divinity of nature’. This created a cultural connection between the wisdom of ancient, previously suppressed philosophers, their myth-making imagery, and modern progress. A curious juxtaposition that captures the sense of excitement during a brief window in history. The wonder of human invention would lose much of its glamour as the world wars approached.
It just makes one contemplate how things have changed. This was spurred by my mother discovering in a box of things a little gold medal I had won once for extemporaneous speaking. I admired the coarse ‘realness’ that it had compared to computer drafted engraving goods these days, and the little blank ribbon waiting for my engraved initials. As with this family of medalists, in addition to commissions for governments and institutions the artists regularly produced blank trophy items – agricultural scenes for market shows, family scenes to celebrate weddings and childbirth. These items would be hand engraved with names, inscriptions and dates. Hand engraving was an art, and a few decades before this period comprised a major part of independent jeweling.