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devotion to Minerva, that another was a professed worshipper of Apollo, or at best, that our whole religion was a mixture of Paganism and Christianity. Had the old Romans been guilty of the same extravagance, there would have been so great a confusion in their antiquities, that their coins would not have had half the uses we now find in them. We ought to look on medals as so many monuments consigned over to eternity, that may possibly last when all other memorials of the same age are worn out or lost. They are a kind of present that those who are actually in being make over to such as lie hid within the depths of futurity. Were they only designed to instruct the three or four succeeding generations, they are in no great danger of being misunderstood: but as they may pass into the hands of a posterity, that lie many removes from us, and are likely to act their part in the world, when its governments, manners, and religions, may be quite altered; we ought to take a particular care not to make any false reports in them, or to charge them with any devices that may look doubtful or unintelligible.
I have lately seen, says Eugenius, a medalic history of the present king of France. One might expect, methinks, to see the medals of that nation in the highest perfection, when there is a society pensioned and set apart on purpose for the designing of them.
We will examine them, if you please, says Philander, in the light that our foregoing observations have set them: but on this condition, that you do not look on the faults I find in them any more than my own private opinion. In the first place then, I think it impossible to learn from the French medals either the religion, customs, or habits of the French nation. You see on some of them the cross of our Saviour, and on the others Hercules's club, In one you have an angel, and in another a Mercury. I fancy, says Cynthio, posterity would be as much puzzled on the religion of Louis le Grand, were they to learn it from his medals, as we are at present on that of Constantine
the Great. It is certain, says Philander, there is the
I could mention a few other faults, or at least what I take for such But at the same time must be forced to allow, that this series of medals is the inost perfect of any among the moderns in the beauty of the work, the aptness of the device, and the propriety of the legend. In these and other particulars, the French medals come nearer the ancients than those of any other country, as indeed it is to this nation we are indebted for the best lights that have been given to the whole science in general.
I must not here forget to mention the medalic history of the Popes, where there are many coins of an excellent workmanship, as I think they have none of those faults that I have spoken of in the preceding set. They are always Roman Catholic in the device and in the legend, which are both of them many times taken out of the holy scriptures, and therefore not unsuitable to the character of the prince they represent. Thus when Innocent XI. lay under terrible apprehensions of the French king, he put out a coin, that on the reverse of it had a ship tossed on the waves, to represent the church. Before it, was the figure of our Saviour walking on the waters, and St. Peter ready to sink at his feet. The inscription, if I remember, was in Latin, “ Help Lord, or else I perish.” This puts me in mind, says Cynthio, of a pasquinade, that at the same time was fixed up at Rome. Ad Galli cantum Petrus flet. But methinks, under this head of the figures on ancient and modern coins, we might expect to hear your opinion on the difference that appears in the workmanship of each. You must know then, says Philander, that, till about the end of the third century, when there was a general decay in all the arts of designing, I do not remember to have seen the head of a Roman emperor drawn with a full face. They always appear in profil
, to use a French term of art, which gives us the view of a head, that, in my opinion, has something in it very majestic, and at the same time suits best with the dimensions of a medal.
Besides that it shows the nose and eye-brows, with the several prominencies and fallings in of the features, much more distinctly than any other kind of figure. In the lower empire you have abundance of broad, Gothic faces, like so many full moons on the side of a coin. Among the moderns too, we have of both sorts, though the finest are made after the antique. In the next place, you find the figures of many ancient coins rising up in a much more beautiful relief than those on the modern. This too is a beauty that fell with the grandeur of the Roman emperors, so that you see the face sinking by degrees in the several declensions of the empire, till, about Constantine's time, it lies almost even with the surface of the medal. After this it appears so very plain and uniform, that one would think the coiner looked on the flatness of a figure as one of the greatest beauties in sculpture. I fancy, says Eugenius, the sculptors of that age had the same relish as a Greek priest that was buying some religious pictures at Venice. Among others he was shown a noble piece of Titian. The priest having well surveyed it, was very much scandalised at the extravagance of the relief, as he termed it. You know, says he, our religion forbids all idolatry: we admit of no images but such as are drawn on a smooth surface: the figure you have here shown me, stands so much out to the eye, that I would no sooner suffer it in my church than a statue. I could recommend your Greek priest, says Philander, to abundance of celebrated painters on this side of the Alps that would not fail to please him. We inust own, however, that the figures on several of our modern medals are raised and rounded to a very great perfection. But if compare them in this particular with the most finished among the ancients, your men of art declare universally for the latter.
Cynthio and Eugenius, though they were well pleased with Philander's discourse, were glad however to find it at an end: for the sun began to gather strength upon
them, and had pierced the shelter of their walks in several places. Philander had no sooner done talking, but he grew sensible of the heat himself, and immediately proposed to his friends the retiring to his lodgings, and getting a thicker shade over their heads. They both of them very readily closed with the proposal, and by that means give me an opportunity of finishing my dialogue.