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Guillaume Dupré

French, c. 1574 - 1642

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Guillaume Dupré was both a sculptor and a medalist, and his earliest recorded work was a medal dated 1597 of King Henri IV of France and the king's mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées. This medal first brought the artist to the notice of the king.[1] Dupré was most probably trained under the sculptor Barthélemy Prieur (died 1611) and was to marry his daughter, Madelaine, in 1600. Their children included Abraham, who also became a bronze-founder and medalist (see NGA 1957.14.1167.a,b).

In 1600, Guillaume Dupré accompanied the court to Lyon, where it was based for the conduct of a campaign against the duke of Savoy. It was here that Dupré must have encountered Italian medals.[2] The effect is immediately evident in Dupré's medals, which included a portrait of the king and of Lyonnaise worthies.

The court returned to Paris in 1601, and Dupré produced a medal for the marriage of Henri IV and Marie de Médici in that year. Dupré's medal celebrating the birth of the dauphin in 1603 (NGA 1957.14.1151.a,b) was extraordinarily successful. The king was so delighted with it that he granted quite exceptional privileges, giving Dupré a monopoly on the effigy and the right to disseminate it as he wished. In 1604, Dupré was appointed Contrôleur Général des Poinçons et Effigies des Monnoyes de France (controller general of puncheons and effigies for the coinage of France). During 1608 he worked on the decorations of both the Louvre and the Tuileries. His sculptures included a clay figure of the dauphin, documented to 1604; a funeral effigy of Henri IV in a competition of 1610; and a marble bust of Dominique de Vic, now in the Louvre, Paris.

Dupré became the "first sculptor" to the king in 1611 on the resignation of Barthélemy Prieur, although the royal commissions went to Giambologna's associate Pietro Francavilla rather than to Dupré. He continued to produce medals for the court such as those of Louis XIII (NGA 1957.14.1161.a,b) and the queen regent (NGA 1986.29.2.a,b).

In 1612 Dupré was invited to visit the court of Mantua. The newly succeeded Duke Francesco IV had close connections with the French court because his mother, Leonora de' Medici, was sister to the queen. The large portrait medal that Dupré produced (NGA 1957.14.1156) was something new, both in Italy and France--larger in scale than any Italian portrait medal and inspired directly by Pilon's Valois court portraits.[3] In Italy, Dupré travelled to the courts of Florence (NGA 1957.14.1157) and Venice to produce medals that are uncompromisingly his in style, uninfluenced by the conventions of the contemporary Italian medal.

Through the patronage of the chief minister of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, Dupré became Commissaire Général des Fontes de l'Artillerie de France (general commissioner of casting for the artillery of France). He continued to produce medals (NGA 1942.9.154.a,b), though fewer of them, and made medals for the Savoy court (NGA 1957.14.1165.a,b).

Dupré was the most brilliant French medalist of the period. He handled the personal portrait with a directness and force that were markedly original and individual. His directness was not Netherlandish or German, and the occasional courtly character of his medals had no touch of Italian grandiloquence.

The National Gallery of Art collection contains a superb series of his medals.

[1] Mark Jones, A Catalogue of the French Medals in the British Museum, 2 vols., London, 1982-1988: 2:no. 1.

[2] Jones 1982-1988, 2:37.

[3] Stephen K. Scher, The Currency of Fame: Portrait Medals of the Renaissance, exh. cat. Frick Collection, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., New York and Washington, D.C., 1994: 314-315.

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