Diameter: 193.000 mm
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Cast bronze medallion of Henri IV and Marie de Medici, by Guillaume Dupré
Paris, France, AD 1605
To celebrate the birth of the dauphin
The period preceding the coronation of Henri IV (1553-1610) as king of France in 1589 was one of great turbulence, with the wars of religion dividing French Catholics and Protestants, leading to infamous events of violence, such as the St Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572. Henri's accession as king was not unifying; as the son of Jeanne d'Albret, heiress to Navarre, he was a protestant, on the side of the Hugenots. Crowned king of Navarre in 1572, he married Margaret of Valois, the sister of Charles X, in an attempt at unity, but he became a prisoner at court. In 1584, on the death of the brother of Henri III, he became heir presumptive to the kingdom, and after the assassination of Henri III in 1589, became king of France. Opposition from the nobility forced Henri to convert to Catholicism in 1593 and the Edict of Nantes of 1598 tried to curb sectarian violence. Henri's second marriage to Marie de Medici (1573-1642) in 1600 and the birth of an heir (later Louis XIII) in 1601 helped to quell uncertainty. However, his murder by a Jesuit in 1610 prompted further disaster.
Guillaume Dupré (about 1574-1640) is credited as being the first French artist to fully exploit Italian techniques of medalmaking. Henri commissioned versions of this medal in silver and gold in 1602/3 to celebrate the birth of the dauphin Louis. Dupré gained permission to make variants of the work, protected by royal patent, of which this bronze medal version is an example, with the date of 1605 under the King's arm. Henri crowned Dupré's success by appointing him as chief modeller of portraits on coinage in 1604 and giving him a workshop in the Louvre, free from interference from craftsmen's Guilds.
M. Jones, The currency of fame: portra-1, exh. cat. (New York, 1994), pp. 319-30