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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Worlds Columbian Exposition Medal
Date: 1893
Medium: Bronze
Dimensions: Diameter: 3 inches (7.6 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Janet Marqusee, Class of 1952, and John E. Marqusee, Class of 1951, for the Frank and Rosa Rhodes Collection
Object Number: 94.007.181
This medal commemorates the World’s Columbian Exposition. Held in Chicago in 1893, the Exposition was the last and arguably the greatest of 19th century Fairs. It celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyages and it was a reflection and celebration of American culture and society.

This medal was made by the Scoville Company in Waterbury, Connecticut. The U.S. Mint made the dies for the medal.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was born in Dublin, Ireland before his family immigrated to New York City when he was still an infant. As a young man he was interested in art and by age 13, he was apprenticed to a cameo-cutter. He began classes at the Cooper Union and National Academy of Design before leaving for Paris in 1867 where he studied at the École. In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War forced him to move to Italy where he set up his studio in Rome. He later worked in both Paris and New York. After 1900, he settled in Cornish, New Hampshire where he gathered a community of artists around him. He taught at the Art Students League in New York City and is counted as one of the greatest American sculptors and monument builders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To see other work by Saint-Gaudens in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 72.083, 94.007.182, 94.007.183, and 94.015 in the keyword search box.

Medallic art is a type of small-scale sculpture. The tradition of making medals is rooted in the portrait medal tradition that became popular in the Renaissance. The process of striking medals began in the 17th century when it surpassed the older method of casting. Striking is a method where a metal die (with a design in relief) is essentially stamped, with great force, onto a blank piece of metal. This technique can rapidly produce multiple copies. The invention of the engraving machine for die sinking and casting in the 19th century allowed artists to concentrate on medal designs rather than the actual engraving and cutting of the die. The pantograph machine allowed artists to render medals in a larger size in wax, clay or plaster before reducing and engraving them later mechanically. Two dies are made for each medal, one for each side (unless the medal has only one side.)

On the obverse we see Christopher Columbus taking his first steps onto the shore of the New World. Notice how he dramatically holds out his arms and looks up to the sky as his men raise a flag in the background. This scene was actually just one of the many historical re-enactments that took place at the Fair. On the reverse, notice the burning torches that are tied with ribbons and the Spanish galleon ship upon stylized waves. Look at the globe at the top that is flanked by two female angels. One holds a long horn in one hand and a wreath in the other. The second angel is seen holding a tablet in one hand while turning to gaze upon the globe that sits behind her.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.