Charles Guillaume Diehl
Medal Cabinet

Medal Cabinet
Charles Guillaume Diehl (1811-1885), Jean Brandely (active between 1867 and 1873), Emmanuel Fremiet (1824-1910)
Medal Cabinet
1867
Cedar, inlaid walnut, ebony and ivory in an oak frame; silver plated copper and bronze
H. 238; W. 151 ; D. 60 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / René-Gabriel Ojéda


Medal Cabinet (detail)
Medal Cabinet (detail)
Medal Cabinet (detail)
Medal Cabinet (detail)
Medal Cabinet (detail)
Medal Cabinet (detail)

Médailler [Medal Cabinet]


Although more of a specialist in producing small pieces of furniture and objects, it was the joiner, Diehl, who produced this imposing medal cabinet, created for the Universal Exhibition of 1867. The design of its form, marquetry and bronzes were entrusted to Brandely, and the sculpture to Frémiet, while Diehl put all his skill into the cedar and walnut veneers, and the marquetry decoration. Attracting much attention during the Exhibition, observers found it difficult to pinpoint the style of this medal cabinet. "Merovingian style", a "Gaulish piece" and even "a large, Gaulish piece in the Roman style", were all mentioned.

The meaning of this object lies in its bronze decoration. For his only collaboration in the discipline of furniture, Frémiet chose his favourite themes: animals and soldiers. The central bas-relief depicts Mérovée's victory over Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451. Frémiet had modified Brandely's design, giving more importance to the animals than to the people. The bronzes on the frame expand on the central subject, particularly the Frankish trophy woven with mistletoe above the door. Medals also feature, as on the 18th century medal cabinets, as a reference to the function of the piece.

Diehl probably wanted to sell this medal cabinet to the Emperor. The patriotic inspiration of the subject could well have pleased Napoleon III, who, having founded the Musée des Souverains in 1852, had created in it a section for Merovingian antiques. But his hopes were dashed. Moreover, the cabinet-maker only received a bronze medal for this piece and for three others in a similar style that he exhibited the same year – a medal he refused. Although these creations were recognised as the most innovatory in the exhibition, their influence did not last.


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