The Louis XIV and the virtuoso engraver

On 03 July 2020, by Philippe Dufour

The meeting between the young Louis XIV and the sculptor Jean Varin resulted in an exceptional medallion, whose extremely rare version in gold will be the key piece in a numismatics sale.

Louis XIV (1643-1715), 1643, gold medallion, 92.96 g, 50.9mm, on the obverse: "LVDOVICVS.XIIII.D.G.FR.ET.NAV.REX", draped bust in armour of Louis XIV bareheaded with long curling hair, from the right, with the Cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit; on the back: "ANNA.D.G.-FR.ET.NAV.REG.", veiled draped bust of Anne of Austria from the right, with long hair falling over her shoulders, engraved by Jean Varin (unsigned).
Estimate: €40,000/60,000

This chubby child's face is that of a future great monarch, Louis XIV (1643-1715), here aged only five. He was born of the alliance of two of Europe's leading dynasties at the time: the Bourbons and the Habsburgs. In 1643, the year in which this spectacular gold medallion was struck (92.96 g; diameter 50.9 mm), the little Dauphin became king a few months after the death of his father, Louis XIII. Because he was so young, a regency council was set up, consisting of the Queen, Anne of Austria, the king's uncle, Gaston, Duc d'Orléans, and Cardinal Mazarin. To celebrate his accession, the traditional medallion was created to mark this power as yet under guardianship. On the obverse, the boy king is already shown as a war leader, in armor and drapery, with the Cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit, while the other side features a veiled, draped bust of his mother. It was commissioned from Jean Varin (1604-1672), and though this masterpiece is unsigned its creator is evident from its refinement and attention to detail. As we know, the Liege-born sculptor, one of the most illustrious medallists of the 17th century, shot to fame rapidly. He moved to Paris in around 1626, and soon attracted the eye of Louis XIII and Richelieu after executing their busts. He became close to the young Louis XIV, and from 1647 until his death he held the post of Engraver General of the French Mint. The medallion here played a specific role, as a gift presented to the young king's entourage and a few foreign monarchs. Bought from the prestigious Ratto company in Paris on September 23, 1948, the piece could then be established as an "emblem of rarity and beauty", having escaped the drastic melt-down program affecting this type of royal product from the 1680s onwards. It is all the more desirable, as emphasized by leading specialist Fernand Mazerolle (Jean Varin, 1932), as even the Bibliothèque National de France's Medallion department does not possess the gold version…

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