The medalist says "of Mérovée"

The medalist says

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Title: Medalist says "of Mérovée".

Author : FREMIET Emmanuel (1824 - 1910)

Creation date : 1867

Date shown: 451

Dimensions: Height 238 - Width 151

Technique and other indications: frame, bronze, cedar (wood), oak (wood), copper (metal), ebony (wood), cabinetry (wood), ivory, marquetry (wood), walnut (wood), sculpture (technique)

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 89EE810 / OA 10440

Medalist says "of Mérovée".

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: August 2005

Historical context

King Mérovée pushes back Attila in 451

In 451, the triumphal entry of Mérovée into Châlons-sur-Marne marked his undisputed victory over Attila. During the Ve century AD, the Roman Empire was dismantled by barbarian invasions. Gaul was then dominated by the Franks in the north and the Burgundians in the south-east.

Image Analysis

A historic medalist

The so-called “Mérovée” medal, designed by designer Brandely and produced by cabinetmaker Diehl (1811-circa 1885), presents a silver high relief, executed by sculptor Frémiet (1824-1910), which shows the triumphal entry of Mérovée following his victory over the barbarian leader. Standing on a heavy chariot drawn by three oxen, he is surrounded by his army and followed by prisoners. Military trophies, heads of cattle and curious fantastic silver animals accompany the main subject. The oak ensemble is of a massive and monumental construction (2.38 meters high); it contains a series of small drawers intended to receive medals.
This piece of furniture does not belong to any trendy stylistic movement when it was created in 1867. It offers an astonishing and instructive variation on academic models. Indeed, the composition and the ornaments appear as classic motifs disguised in Merovingian fashion. The hero's entrance borrows its composition from the Roman triumphs; the emperor is replaced here by a king dressed in animal skins, the dashing quadriga has become a trio of oxen in full effort; the weapons of the upper trophy are axes, helmets with outstretched wings and heavy shields, and the classic bucranos have become protomes of cattle. All the iconographic stereotypes of the Gallic world were called upon to an academic composition to give this historical event a universal significance.


A pedagogical mistake?

Merovée as a Roman Emperor, this is the way the XIXe century of evoking the emancipation of Gaul, the emergence of an independent "nation", freed from the yoke of Rome and capable of resisting the onslaught of the invader. The victory of 451 seems to be seen as the birth certificate of a nation that will be France. Contemporary history places this event during the reign of Clovis. This shift testifies to the hesitations of historians of the mid-19th century.e century, for which the period of the High Middle Ages is still a vague area, between the glorious but Roman Antiquity and the dark Middle Ages. This period of "national antiquities", the name of the museum founded by Napoleon III at the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye to accommodate the product of excavations carried out in France, arouses passions. It provides archaeological evidence of the existence of a culture specific to French soil before the construction of cathedrals. Nevertheless, the differentiation with the Gallo-Roman period is still unclear and its evocation by the artists of the XIXe century is hesitant, especially since the products of the excavations do not constitute sufficiently glorious models in their eyes. This French "prehistory" is therefore still evoked throughout Roman Antiquity.
This way of celebrating a historical event likely to awaken national feeling is quite symptomatic of the Second Empire. Presented at the Universal Exhibition of 1867 in Paris, the medal can only appear as an additional step in the construction of a clean past, in which all European countries are then engaged. On the eve of 1870, the mention of a French victory over barbarians from the east cannot be ignored.

  • heroic figure
  • Middle Ages
  • nationalism
  • patrimony
  • sculpture
  • Second Empire


Anne-Marie THIESSEThe creation of national identitiesParis, Le Seuil, 1999.

To cite this article

Nicolas COURTIN, "The so-called" Mérovée "medalist"

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