Unicorns may be more popular as art pins and pendants than the Winged Horse Pegasus. But in medallic art Pegasus flies higher. This was evident recently as Pegasus medal specimens were gathered to illustrate the 2012 Medallic Art Company annual calendar. More than the 12 different specimens in the firm’s medallic archives were found to showcase one for each month in 2012.
Pegasus is popular as a device on medals, and for good reason. Pegasus is the symbol of Inspiration for artists, The Muse to prompt their actions, the Courser to guide their creations. Pegasus with his outstretched wings is an ideal element to feature on a medal – not only for the shape of its wings fitting well in a circle – but also for the universal understanding as a symbol for Inspiration for all artists, and for all art media.
But he hasn’t always been such a symbol. A mythical creature in Greek mythology, Pegasus was ordered by Zeus to bring lightning and thunder to Olympus according to mythological chronicles. By the Middle Ages, Pegasus became more a symbol of Wisdom and Fame.
Only in modern time is his relationship with mythical Muses recalled with influence on poetry. Muses were said to inspire poetry, and from this the Winged Horse became an inspirational symbol for all artists, for all art forms, music, painting, and, of course, sculpture and medallic art, in addition to poetry.
Medallic artists have shown Pegasus flying in the air without a ground line – the wings can be conveniently shaped to fit the curve of a circular medal. Or Pegasus can be shown with a globe, flying over or touching the globe. Paul Manship shows his Pegasus symbol over the sun on two of his medals. A Poetry Society Medal shows a flying Pegasus over a single star.
For the Architectural League of New York Frank Eliscu displays Pegasus in repose atop a three-column pillar. He fashioned Pegasus’ head in regardant pose looking back over his wings.
Ernest Haswell fashions Pegasus flying over what looks like gears. This is in contrast to Albino Manca’s flying Pegasus in a Suermanish pose leaping over tall buildings for a medal in honor of another sculptor, Henry Hering. This was for the National Sculpture Society award medal bearing Hering’s name.
Several medallic artists researched Pegasus early mythological origin where Greek hero Bellerophon captured Pegasus and rode bareback into battle defeating the dreaded monster Chimera. Pegasus helped the Good Guys win that combat.
For one of those Manship medals with Pegasus over the sun, a musician is shown riding the Winged Steed. We know it is a musician because he is holding a lyre. On the reverse an artist is shown holding a pallet. Manship was a master of symbols and tied in all the arts together with flawless use of only three symbols for this Art Directors Club Medal creation.
For that other Manship medal the sun serves as a reserve – a circular cartouche – where a recipients’ name can be engraved on the struck award medal. That’s the reverse iconography. The obverse shows a kneeling female with lyre again in one hand, and a winged angel statue in the other. The repetition of the winged image on both obverse and reverse is Great Medallic Art. One could expect no less from Manship in this medal for the art organization, Saint Paul Institute.
Rene Chambellan displays Pegasus in an ethereal view amid clouds as a scientist below peers in a microscope. A similar view of Pegasus in clouds is shown by Laura Gardin Fraser for the Centennial Medal of the American Numismatic Society in 1858.
Forty years earlier for the same organization sculptor Chester Beach created the Peace of Versailles Medal ending World War I. Beach shows Pegasus being led by a male and female figure. Bellerophon is shown astride Pegasus as symbol of Victory from the early Greek mythological history. That’s good use of mythical symbols.
The most artistic use of Pegasus in this group, however, is Marcel Jovine’s Brookgreen Gardens Medal. The sculptor is shown carving the head of Pegasus on the obverse with mallet and chisel. It’s a close-up view with the horse’s mane flying in all directions. Jovine modeled a nose and mouth on the horse that’s uncanny, it’s so realistic. The reverse is dominated by the wings that curve around half the medal’s circumference.
First two-part medal. I have saved a favorite for the last. It is the first two-part medal issued in America. Created by Frank Eliscu at the top of his career, he modeled a Pegasus for the Plant Dedication Medal for Medallic Art Company’s new headquarters in Danbury, Connecticut.
This led, with further Inspiration, a year later to create the two-part medal shown here. The obverse shows the Hand of God releasing Pegasus. Inspiration is released for the use of Man is the symbolism implied here.
The two interface surfaces – shown when the medal is parted into the two halves – displays Pegasus in fine flying form. The two surfaces are convex and concave reliefs of the same image, both made from a single sculptural model.
The reverse shows Man and Inspiration in harmony. The heads of both are shown in artistic repose. The harmony is accomplished, the creativity is produced, the work is done.
I liked that medal so well, I wrote the leaflet that accompanied the medal when issued. I even signed my name to it. That was the only leaflet among dozens I wrote for company medals that I signed. In that leaflet I wrote about the first two-part medals in Europe, artist Eliscu’s efforts in creating the model and the symbolism represented in the design. I mentioned all the firsts the firm had issued before.
Here is how I ended the leaflet:
So innovation is not new to Medallic Art Company. It is proud to have produced Frank Eliscu’s Inspiration medal and to have added it to a growing list of famous firsts. Here, then, is America’s first multi-part medal, inspired by Inspiration itself, stimulated by the invention of a new medallic art form in Europe, created by a talented and gifted artist in Connecticut.
It remains only for art lovers and collectors the world over to accept it for what it is, a thing of beauty and a joy forever!