Jean Warin teaching the young Louis XIV history by medals.

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Conti Museum, Monnaie de Paris. Photo: the author, 2018.

I recently revisited a painting, Jean Warin instructing the Young Louis XIV in the appreciation of medals (ca.1645), at the Monnaie de Paris. I have been thinking about that picture for many years now. Looking closely at the strange double portrait, and the coins and medals in its boarder, has prompted me to extend the analysis I published in my book Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV (2015). I include here new specifications about the sources for ancient coins and modern medals in the border with additional illustrations.

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François Lemaire (attributed), Jean Warin instructing the Young Louis XIV in the appreciation of medals (ca.1645) (with later additions), oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the Musée de la Monnaie, Paris.

Jean Warin instructing the Young Louis XIV in the appreciation of medals, ca.1645, attributed to a lesser-known artist François Lemaire, shows the celebrated medal-maker Warin and Louis as a child.[i] Warin was a fine engraver and celebrated sculptor and his expertise in engraving dies for struck medals established his monopoly as royal medalist, working for both Louis XIII and his son.[ii] Evidently he had refined his own numismatic practice through a study of ancient coins, and many of his designs emulated classical precedents. This equipped him with knowledge of numismatics that he could pass on to his royal patron, a mutually beneficial exercise that would enable him to form a close relationship with the monarch, and ensure the continued support of his profession.

A border of assorted coins and medals frames the two figures in Lemaire’s painting—a curious later addition of the 1660s—evokes the role that this lesson in history played in the formation of the future king.[iii] Louis at seven is depicted to the right of the main panel, but above him, top center, he appears as a young man.

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Jean Warin, NULLA DIES SUB ME NATOQUE HAEC FOEDERA RUMPET [“never in my name will this treaty be broken”] (1663). Silver medal. © Département des Monnaies, médailles et antiques. BnF.

It is accompanied by other numismatic portraits of celebrated heroes of the ancient world:

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(Top left) Alexander the Great: deified on an 3rd century Imperial Roman coin (coin of the Macedonian Koinon). It is likely that the artist or patron thought this to be an ancient Greek coin of Alexander.


(top right) Constantine the Great: Siliqua, Constantine I, c. 337. Diademed head of Constantine I looking upwards. RIC7 131A


Hercules: Giovanni da Cavinno after Alessandro Bassiano (?), Hercules, modern medal, Padua, c. 1520-70.


(bottom right) Julius Caesar: Inscription DIVI-IVLI [divine Julius]. Laureate head Julius Caesar right; behind, lituus. Border of dots. Silver denarius, 40 BC. RRC 526/2


And Henri VI: HENRICVS • IIII • D • G • FRANC • ET • NAVAR • REX• [Henri IV king of France and Navarra], 1604. Silver. British Museum M.2231

Warin’s medal takes pride of place among these great men at the central apex of the panel. The addition of these coins and medals brings reflected glory to Warin, who likely commissioned this painting, with his portrait of his famous patron occupying a central position within medallic history. By placing the king among such illustrious predecessors from the ancient and recent past, Louis XIV is presented as the inheritor of their glory and their historical agency. Just as Caesar determined the narrative of ancient Rome, Louis XIV would forge the path of history in his own time.


Valerio Belli, ΑΛΚΙΒΙΑΛΗΣ (Alcibiades), c. 1520-30. medal. BnF (Belli.087)

Warin holds a medal in one hand that he points to with the other, and the gesture invites comparison between the subject of this portrait and the young king. It is a modern medal by Valerio Belli from the early 16th century that depicts the ancient Greek general Alcibiades. However, it is possible that seventeenth-century painter or painter responsible for its inclusionthought it to be Alexander the Great.[vi] The life of Alexander would have provided many scenarios for the young prince to ponder and hone his own skills at decision making, and leadership, which Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) would later argue was the purpose for the study of history by princes.[vii] Indeed, the ancient Macedonian general would become the young king’s alter ego, with Charles Le Brun’s famous Alexander paintings of the 1660s long thought to allude to the French king.[viii] With the later addition of Warin’s 1663 medal of Louis XIV, the medalist’s upward-pointing gesture emphasizes the symbolic function of this coin drawing a connection between it and that of his patron—the new Alexander.

The temporal distance between child and adult, ancestor and ancient precedent are collapsed within the unifying field of the painting. An Arcadian landscape provides the perfect ahistorical backdrop. The young king and his instructor have left the present through their study of medals, the usual constraints of time no longer apply to them, and they are able to move freely from past to present to future by way of the medals before them. Here the medal is presented as a conduit in history—a token that could transport its bearer to another time.

When medals such as those were assembled in an amateur’s cabinet they would provide a retreat from the present. The cabinet was an atemporal realm where chronologies and histories could be assembled tray by tray.[ix]

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Médaillier, with drawers from Louis XIV’s Cabinet des Médailles at Versailles. Louvre. OA11852.

Coins and medals from the ancient and modern world could be selected at will to invite comparison between figures of the present and the past; those that they would hope to emulate, and those whose crimes and errors must be avoided. Seventeenth-century French antiquarian Charles Patin described medals as a means “by which we are made aware of the rules that form our moral philosophy,” through the example of those who came before. [x] A collection of medals was a visual and tactile library of history where the numismatist could select a piece, examine it, and have seemingly unmediated access to the time from which it came. Such was the utility of numismatic collections in seventeenth-century France. They were a resource through which the grand narrative of history could be assembled and discoursed upon, for study and leisure.

Text adapted from: Robert Wellington, Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV: Artifacts for a future past. (Ashgate, 2015),

[i] On Jean Warin and this painting see Jean-Luc Desnier and Evelyne Robert, “L’art de la médaille selon Jean Varin,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts CXX (1992): 1–14.

[ii] On Jean Warin more generally see François Mazarolle, Jean Varin: conducteur de la monnaie du moulin, tailleur générale des monnaies, controleur générale des poinçons et effigies: sa vie, sa famille, son oeuvre, 2 vols. (Paris: Bourgey & Schemit, 1932); Nicole Darding, “Jean Varin: de Liège à Paris,” Art & Fact 15 (1996); Mark Jones, “Jean Warin,” The Medal 11 (1987); Jones, A catalogue of the French medals in the British Museum, vol. 2, 1600-1672, 177–87.

[iii] Radiography has revealed that the six medals in border of this painting were a later addition. It has been suggested that this painting was commissioned by Warin in ca. 1645, but that the other medals were added to the border in the 1660s after the medalist had produced. See: Desnier and Robert, “L’art de la médaille selon Jean Varin.”

[iv] Desnier and Robert identify this as a medal of Warin’s design, but misdate it to 1662. Ibid, 3.

[v] The coin lower left has an ancient Greek appearance, lower center, is a medal of Henry IV, Louis’ grandfather by Guillaume Dupré from 1604, lower right is an ancient coin of Julius Caesar ca. 40 BCE, upper right a contemporary coin of Constantine, upper left an Alexander inspired by Hellenistic examples. Idem.

[vi] It has been suggested that this coin represented Alcibiades and it was a later addition to the painting that made a covert reference to Louis de Bourbon prince de Condé (known as le Grand Condé) who had betrayed Louis XIV during the Fronde, defecting to Spain to fight against France with the Spanish Habsburgs. However, this theory has been disproven by radiography carried out on the panel in the early 1990s that has shown that it was was part of the original composition of the painting, ca. 1645, at which point Condé was celebrated as a hero for leading significant military victories for France. This led Jean-Luc Desnier and Evelyne Robert to surmise that the Alcibiades medal may have been selected for its aesthetic appeal, and rarity alone, see Desnier and Robert, “L’art de la médaille selon Jean Varin.” However, Mark Jones has recently presented a convincing case that this medal was thought to represent Alexander the Great. Mark Jones, “Some aspects of the Medallic History of Louis XIV” in Médailles du Louis XIV et leur livre (forthcoming, 2015)

[vii] Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, Discours sur l’histoire…. (Paris: S. Mabre-Cramoisy, 1681), 1 ff.

[viii] See Donald Posner, “Charles Lebrun’s Triumphs of Alexander,” Art Bulletin 41, no. 3 (1959): 237–48.

[ix] The inventories of Louis XIV’s cabinet at Versailles show that the medals were arranged according to size, metal and era, see below for further detail.

[x] Patin, Histoire des médailles, 11–12.

Renewal of the Alliance


J-B Nolin and J Le Clerc, after C Le Brun, The renewal of the alliance with the Swiss…18 Nov 1663, from the History of the King tapestry series. 1680 (mid 20th century reprint from original plate).

After the revelation that my successful Australian Research Council DECRA application was vetoed without explanation by the Australian Education Minister, I bought a copy of one of the prints that was the subject of my ill-fated grant at a Paris flea market.


I removed it from its grotty frame and studied the lines, hatches, dots and lozenges. As I did I began to wonder again: What would the Kangxi Emperor of China thought of the meticulous rendering of clothes, the fine concentric and hatched lines that described form, and the curious mise-en-abyme of borders within borders.


Would the Shah of Persia even have looked at the copy given to him in the last years of Louis XIV’s reign, when the French sent an envoy to Isfahan in the hope to gain a hold in international trade increasingly dominated by the Dutch and English. And what of the king of Siam, Phra Narai. Did he look at the magnificently dressed king in his petticoat breaches and see his equal?


Finding this print today has reminded me of what really drives me to study these extraordinary documents crafted with unfathomable skill, and made to communicate across the world and into the future.


The many lives of Louis XIV prints and medals

Art historians working on histories of global exchange in the early modern period are often faced with the challenge of writing histories of travelling objects without the objects themselves, as they are so often lost or destroyed. The multiple copies produced of Louis XIV prints and medals that I’m working on has saved me from that fate, but they have presented me with other interesting conundrums. These objects don’t just have one life, but many lives accrued through the various itineraries that each different copy made around the world.

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The surviving examples of these prints and medals rarely bear physical marks of experience. It’s almost impossible to tell which particular print or medal went where and when and who they once belonged to. But I would like to argue all of the accumulated lives of travelling multiples transfer, at least conceptually, onto each and every copy of the prints from the same plates and medals from the same dies that do survive.

The problem of the ‘histories of belonging’ has been raised by Avinoam Shalem in relation to things with histories shared by many cultures. As Shalem points out, in the discipline of art history we tend to take a positivist approach to travelling objects that focusses on their physical and material transformations. “Questions of alteration and adaptation, and even destruction, are linked to the object’s corporal characteristics,” he rightly observes. But how do we account for changes that happen on the level of an object’s ‘anima’ to use Shalem’s term. Or as he puts it: “The thoughts that objects carry with them, not only physical, tangible evidence but… ideas and memories.”

The solution, Shalem suggests, is to view the object not just in terms of its place on a two-dimensional grid (imagine an object going from point a to point b on the map above), but to see it within a many layered series of connections that can account for simultaneous meanings across a variety of contexts.

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The diagram above is my first attempt to create a layered schema for a networked study of Louis XIV multiples. Here I have located the medal and print album at its origin point in France, I have then linked the different geographical locations via intermediaries who conveyed the gifts (in red). The recipients of gifts are indicated with a representative thumbnail of the gift that they received. If the gift was received in France, they are connected to both their place of origin, and the site of reception.

I admit, that this layered diagram doesn’t quite answer Shalem’s call for a multi-dimensional model for the networked study of objects. While perhaps a little more advanced than the route plotted on a map, is still underpinned by a positivist tendency for empirical data: the who, what, where and when of the object exchange.

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The diagram above is my attempt to capture the multivalence that we need for our histories of travelling objects. The intangible experiences that an object undergoes throughout its life – the ‘ideas and memories’ of those through whose hands it passes – are not erased with each subsequent experience but accrued. The object does not cease to be French, and to mark the lives of members of its ruling family when a copy of this medal was gifted to the Amerindian warrior Nescambiouit. Nor should we forget that it once was given to an African man who played at being a Prince at the French Court. The extraordinary journey of an object just like that one that went to Persia only adds to its appeal as a symbol of global networks of exchange in the early modern world.

Following James Clifford’s call in his 1997 study, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Centuryfor an examination of the transitions, contact zones, and networks of people, I have not expressed world views in my layered diagram in terms of cultures, but of individual actors.

Each of the agents named here led an exceptional life. Louis XIV and Shah Sultan Hosayn enjoyed extraordinary privilege, but neither of them left the lands over which they were sovereign. Aniaba and Nescambiouit became extraordinary through their experience of travel to the Court of France – a great rarity for people native to Africa and Canada at that time.

The kind of networked study of travelling objects that I would like to propose, is not one that makes broad generalising claims about cultural contexts, but one that explores the individual agents and networks involved in the exchange of diplomatic gifts.

Sadly, many, if not all of the travelling objects that I am working on have likely suffered the ultimate transformation. They have been lost and they are presumed destroyed. There are only two examples of the Gold Famille Royale medal presented with a loop that survive to my knowledge.

BnF copy

One of those medals (above) is held in the collection of the Bibliothèque national de France. It was recently lent to château de Versailles for the Visiteurs de Versailles exhibition (also travelling to the Met this April). At the Versailles exhibition, this object was displayed as a place holder for the many the copies of this object that once travelled the world, even though this particular copy never left France.

fam royale installation

What fascinates me is the potential for extant copies of these medals to bear the burden of the histories of their sister objects that didn’t make it. Just as Clifford argued that travelling people bring back ideas from the outside world to their place of origin to create a networked culture, I’d like to propose that each and every multiple from a set takes a share in the many thoughts and ideas that were accumulated by other copies of the same object. This metaphysical network imbues these objects with a simultaneous plurality of meanings. And yet these objects sit mute in our collections, patiently waiting for us to tell the extraordinary stories of the life-changing travels of their siblings.

Robert Wellington, February 2018.

This post is an extract from a paper to be delivered at the CAA annual conference, 2018 in Los Angeles as part of the panel: Travel, Diplomacy, and Networks of Global Exchange in the Early Modern Period, part 1. (Wednesday 21 February, 10:30-12:00, room 404A)