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Thickness: 19.200 mm
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Cast gunmetal medal of Louis XIV of France by Jean Warin
Paris, AD 1665
Bernini's façade of the Louvre
By 1665 Jean Warin, sculptor, medallist and controller of the Paris Mint, was to be found living in an hôtel next door to the Mint (itself attached to the Louvre). He was enormously rich and also owned several other properties in the area. Louis XIV's decision to extend the Louvre must therefore have come as a blow when it became clear that some of Warin's houses would have to be demolished (with minimal financial compensation) to make way for the new building. In addition, the king had invited the renowned Italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Warin's perceived rival, to design the palace. Warin was called upon to execute the foundation medal for the project. His resentment can only have been increased by Bernini's rush to return to Rome, so that there was not enough time to engrave dies to make the desired struck medal. In fact, its production seems to have provoked an unpleasant artistic tug-of-war between the two artists.
Warin at first claimed that the entire façade could not be reduced to the size of a medal, and was only convinced when he was shown a drawing to the correct scale. On producing the medal he was criticised not only for leaving out some of the windows and substituting columns for pilasters but, by Bernini himself, for the medal's excessive relief. This exceptionally high relief may however have been deliberate, a first shot by Warin in his attempt to surpass Bernini in the arena of the three-dimensional sculpted portrait bust for which the Italian was so famous. It was immediately noted that the portrait on the medal looked like such a bust. This was no coincidence. Warin had decided to execute a marble portrait of the king in direct competition with Bernini. On the bust's completion, Bernini, then in Rome, was informed that his enemies were celebrating Warin's work as the most remarkable that had ever been made.
M. Jones, A catalogue of the French me-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)