This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
OF the various branches of sculpture, the art of the medallist is one of the rarest in which excellence is attained. To the lay reader this may seem strange, for the model in relief looks easier than the round, and to cover the area of a few inches easier than a large surface. As between an art that admits of exact measurement, and one that does not, it is not unusual for the latter to seem the less difficult, because success in it depends much on feeling and judgment, qualities in which no one thinks himself lacking. But, as has been well observed, feeling is a poor guide, and real judgment can be acquired by doing much careful and exact work, and in no other way. For the designing and execution of such a medal as would be worthy of bestowal on successful competitors for the honours of this magazine, one naturally turned to the fountain head of sculpture in this country - our Royal College of Art at South Kensington - where, in modelling, it is well known that the best traditions of the ancients are preserved and inculcated by a great teacher who, but for the subordination of personal ambition to a sense of duty, might be no less famous as a great artist. But the little time at the disposal of Professor Lanteri for the execution of commissions, outside the College, is always engaged far in advance. It was hopeless to look to him for our "Arts and Crafts" medal, for it had to be put in hand without delay. With his usual courtesy, however, he was ready to find the right man for the work - or the right woman, as it might very well have turned out to have been. He invited his cleverest pupils to submit designs for the obverse of the medal. The emblem on the cover, it had been decided, should be adapted for the reverse. The result was the acceptance of the beautiful composition which we are at last enabled to show our readers. Our photograph was taken from a plaster cast from the "pattern" in bronze.
Of course, the original sketch in plasticine that was submitted to us was less complete in detail than our finished medal. But the artist, from the first, had in mind a well-considered scheme of line and mass, and he has departed but slightly from its original tentative expression. Does the average reader know the medallist's method of procedure ? Perhaps not. Let us explain, then, that at first the complete subject is sketched upon a slate, in clay or in plasticine - the latter preferably, for it remains moist, while the former soon dries and cracks. Figures, draperies, and accessories are broadly indicated so as to get an idea of the general effect. It was in such a form that Mr. Morton first submitted his design. The next step was to remodel the figures in the nude, which, of course, necessitated careful study from life. The draperies are added later. It will be seen at once how well the feeling for the form has been preserved beneath such portions as have been covered.
The idea of the sculptor, we think, though simple, is well expressed. Art, typified by Architecture, holds in her hand a statuette, suggestive of the ideal beauty, that Crafts, typified by the intently gazing artisan by her side, will presently, with her aid, attempt to emulate. In his left hand is a pair of sculptor's calipers; upon his right hand he rests his chin as he bends forward in wrapt admiration of the beautiful model. In easy juxtaposition in the foreground are the palette of the painter and the mallet of the sculptor, which are the only accessories to the figures, if we except the useful vertical lines of the seat which are in agreeable contrast to the curved lines which predominate in the composition. The grouping of masses and the arrangement of lines are nicely conceived to fill the space of the medal, and the arrangement of the drapery is simple and decorative. In fact, harmony characterises the whole design, in which we recognise the attainment of Unity, that priceless desideratum in a work of art.
Professor Lanteri has kindly permitted us to reproduce a medal by himself, our admiration for the masterly character of which we do not doubt will be shared by the artistic reader. It illustrates so well a passage in his admirable guide to
"Modelling," that in giving it we cannot resist the temptation to quote the following lines from the book*:- "In any branch of sculpture the treatment is different for different proportions, and that is more especially the case with medals; the smaller they are the more need for simplifying the working. The Greek understood this better than anybody else, and Pisano after him. If you look at any Greek statuette of the good time, it strikes you as a whole by its grand aspect, and you do not take heed of its proportions, because it impresses you in the same way as a life-size work would. Nowadays details, as numerous as they are useless, take away from the largeness of the work, and the public rejoices in this photographic sculpture, and says: 'How beautifully done,' where they ought to say, 'How pretty!' 'How trivial!'
Bronze Plaques. By Alexandre Charpentier.
Exhibits, from the Permanent Collection, shown at the recent Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the Leeds City Art Gallery.
Medal, by Professor E. Lanteri, Royal College of Art.
"If you model your medal at once in the actual size, you will certainly make every touch in the scale of its general proportion, and will not feel the desire to overload it with wrinkles, crows' feet, and details of hair; large planes will receive the light, and a few touches on them will give an air of fineness without looking poor.
* Chapman & Hall, publishers. We may add that since our reference to Professor Lanteri's "Modelling," in our first issue, we have received so many inquiries concerning the scope of the work, that we have determined to review it at length at an early date.
"A medal ought always to be treated broadly, but to model with breadth does not mean that you should carry this to boldness or insolence, as is often done in these days - fortunately more in painting than in sculpture. The medal ought to show style more strongly than work on a large scale. By style I mean simplified truth, divested of all insignificant detail, in fact, the typical aspect."
One of the great medallists of the age is Alexandre Charpentier, two admirable examples of whose work we reproduce on the opposite page, from bronzes shown at the recent Arts and Crafts' Exhibition at Leeds. It is true they are not medals, but they elucidate some of the most important truths of the medallist's art, especially the artistic value of broad and simple treatment of surfaces. The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth, which we also illustrate, shows a form of modelling in such low relief as to be almost akin to painting.
Lenormant, who freely concedes the great superiority of the English over the French artists of the Middle Ages in seal engraving, considers this example a notably fine one; he is especially impressed by the skill with which the sculptor, using so small a space, has contrived to introduce without confusion so much detail.
The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth (Obverse).
From the original in the British Museum.
The obverse of the seal bears the Latin inscription: "Elizabetha - Dei - Gracia - Anglie - Francie - et-Hiber-nie-Regina-Fidei-Defensor." We see the sovereign crowned and seated upon her throne, with her feet upon a cushion; she holds in her right hand the sceptre, and in her left the orb surmounted by a cross.
In the field, to the right and left are clouds, out of which come two hands which lift the mantle of the Queen. One notices also, on each side, a rose, and below it the quartered arms of England and France, surmounted by a crown and encircled by the Garter. On the reverse of the seal, the inscription is the-same as on the front. The Queen, mounted on horseback, looks towards the left; she is crowned and holds the sceptre and orb. Over head are clouds out of which are pouring rays of glory. In the field to the right, the rose of England is surmounted by a crown; to the left the French fleur-de-lis is similarly crowned, as is the harp of Ireland.
IN making your palette, avoid overrunning the regular gamut of colours. That is, if you are painting a picture low in tone do not go higher in your key of colours than yellow ochre and light red. If, on the contrary, the key of your picture is to be high, keep your colours in harmony by not descending into the deeper notes.
Reverse of the Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth.
From the original in the British Museum.
If you observe this rule strictly you will find it almost impossible to produce an unharmonious picture. An amazing richness and depth of tone can be obtained with a palette made up of Prussian blue, raw and burnt sienna, white and black. In a somewhat higher key a harmonious picture can be built up of ultramarine, yellow ochre and light red. A touch of vermilion or of chrome yellow in one of these pictures would upset it completely. White and black are necessary to every palette, but one must avoid the abuse of them. A dab of white too much takes all the sap out of a tint, and gives it the dry look known technically as "chalky." A dab of black too much deprives a tint of all its transparency and makes it "dirty." The simpler your palette is, the more rich and harmonious will your picture be. Richness does not come from the use of gorgeous colours, but from the judicious combination of any colours you may use.