Medal of the Universal Exhibition of 1878

Medal of the Universal Exhibition of 1878

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Title: Universal Exhibition of Paris, 1878.

Author : OUDINÉ Eugène-André (1810 - 1887)

Creation date : 1878

Date shown: 1878

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 04-001746 / MEDOR2001

Universal Exhibition of Paris, 1878.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: December 2007

Doctorate in Art History

Historical context

The decorations of the Universal Exhibition of 1878

This medal was made by Eugène André Oudiné (1810-1887), one of the most important sculptors and engravers of the 19e century, on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition held in Paris in 1878. This was a very large international event, bringing together more than 52,000 exhibitors and welcoming 16,100,000 visitors. Taking on an international character, they tended to express universal values ​​and political propaganda to the glory of the French Republic.

Image Analysis

The use of allegory and symbol

Like a coin, a medal is an art object with two sides. On its obverse, it usually bears an effigy of a character, and on its reverse, an allegorical figure or scene that symbolizes the event or evokes the person commemorated. Making use of strong and clear symbolism, it must be immediately readable and understandable. This medal made by Eugène André Oudiné for the Universal Exhibition of 1878 features several allegorical and mythological characters. In the distance, in the background, we can see the Palais du Champ-de-Mars, the most important building erected for this international event. A woman embodying the French Republic, organizer of the Exhibition, is depicted crowning several other allegories, including personifications of arts and industry. At the bottom of the image, an elongated figure embodies the city of Paris, as recalled by the emblem placed to its right. The medalist artist here takes up the existing codes in the commemorative and academic sculpture of his time by draping his figures in the antique style and endowing them with the perfectly idealized physiognomy befitting the representation of allegory.


The art of the medal, inheritance and perpetuation

Commemorative and honorary, without economic value, the medal is distinguished from the currency with which it is related. An object of art and a collector's item, the medal serves to honor and distinguish the military, artistic, intellectual, industrial or sports elite at major events such as universal exhibitions. While the use of large medallions dates back to Antiquity, the distribution of the medal did not appear in Western Europe until the end of the Middle Ages. Marked by a peak in the XVIe century, then with a decline, the art of the medal experienced an undeniable revival from the end of the Second Empire. It remained a craft practice until the Second World War, after which the improvement of machines and industrial minting considerably modified the manufacture of these parts. That of the Universal Exhibition of 1878, sculpted by Oudiné, reveals to us how much the aesthetics of medals were influenced by sculpture. It also demonstrates the importance of decorum and official symbols in upholding the historical traditions of the Republic, on par with commissioning of statues and monuments and commemorative ceremonies. Although considered a sub-discipline in the hierarchy of Fine Arts, the art of the medal remains a lasting and precious witness to the political, cultural and military history of its time.

  • Universal exhibitions
  • medal
  • Paris
  • Champ-de-Mars


Marc GAILLARD Universal Exhibitions from 1855 to 1937 Paris, Les presses Ile-de-France, 2005. Dominique PASCALL Madness of medals and decorations Paris, Flammarion, 2003 Anne PINGEOT 1878, The first Universal Exhibition of the Republic Paris, RMN, 1988 Jean BABELON The medal in France Paris, Larousse, 1948.

To cite this article

Claire MAINGON, "Medal of the Universal Exhibition of 1878"

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