The world of the medal in the early 19th century was solidly
dominated by French artists.
The exploits of Napoleon Bonaparte as artillery officer, conquering
general, first consul of the republic, and emperor of the French were
recorded in a steady stream of medals. These recalled the earlier
official medallic history of King Louis XIV.
These artists had to possess amazing flexibility, many serving King
Louis XVI before he went to the guillotine, the First Republic,
Consulate and Empire.
Even greater agility was required in 1814 and 1815. Napoleon was
dethroned; Bourbon King Louis XVIII was restored, only to have
Napoleon return from Elba for the Hundred Days; Louis XVIII fled and
returned after the emperor’s final defeat and exile in 1815. The
ultimate flexibility was displayed by the French medalists whose work
became part of the great project of English publisher James Mudie, who
was described by Leonard Forrer in his Biographical Dictionary of
Medallists as an “Issuer of a series of medals, styled ‘National
Medals,’ commemorating British Victories over the French, under the
reign of George III ... to which various British and foreign artists
contributed ...” (Forrer IV:186).
Several artists created medals commemorating great French defeats
with the same verve they had shown in marking Napoleon’s victories.
Among them was Nicolas Guy Antoine Brenet, creator of more than 50
Napoleonic medals under the direction of Dominique Vivant Denon. Among
Brenet’s contributions to Mudie’s series was the 41-millimeter medal
marking the decisive July 22, 1812, victory in the Battle of Salamanca
and the British seizure of Madrid on Aug. 12.
The obverse shows a winged victory urging on British troops toward
the mountains following the rout of French Marshal Marmont’s division,
clearing the road to Madrid. Hero of these victories was Arthur Duke
of Wellington, shown on horseback entering the Spanish capital,
welcomed by a jubilant Spanish couple. The “Iron Duke” would march on
until Napoleon’s ultimate defeat at Waterloo.
Though designed by Brenet, this medal has little of the muscular
smoothness of his Napoleonic works. The British troops show the
rigidity of toy soldiers and the stiffly upright Wellington appears to
dwarf his mount.
Forty medals comprise the Mudie series, known today in silver and
bronze, occasionally in white medal and rarely in gold. All are
described in Lawrence Brown’s British Historical Medals, Volume I.
These medals make a fascinating counterpoint or companion to the